Audi S5

I went to Hell and back to test-drive the new Audi S5. Hell, Michigan, that is, the farming community, west of Detroit, with tortuous roads that pose the perfect test for the German maker's new coupe.

The "S" stands for sport, and this is the high-performance version of the A5, which in 2007 became the first two-door in the company's U.S. lineup in 16 years. The lack of a two-door was a lamentable absence that Audi chief designer Walter de'Silva set out to rectify with a coupe he proudly insists is "the most beautiful car I've ever designed." The S5 plays on that theme while significantly bumping up the performance package.

The A5 was distinguished by a muscular silhouette and an in-your-face front end, its bold, split grille elegant yet menacing when you see it racing up in your rearview mirror. In S-trim, the coupe gets more aggressive bumpers, four oval tailpipes and silver side-view mirrors, while the radiator goes platinum gray, with inlaid chrome trim.

In the S5, the A5's 265-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 is supplanted by a 354-hp 4.2-liter direct-injection V-8. While some European V-8s focus on the high end, perfect for those with access to the Autobahn, the Audi V-8 is almost American in character, pulling hard from the moment you let out the clutch. Straight-line performance is impressive (0 to 60 in 4.9 seconds), but there are no straights in Hell, just off-camber corners and fast, diminishing radius turns. We found it possible to use throttle and steering in combination to deftly maneuver through the most devilish corners of Hell. With some European muscle cars, that would require aggressive shifting, but we hardly dug into the S5's manual six-speed, itself a pleasure to work.

The chassis is more than up to the task, and the oversized brakes proved their worth when we whipped around a corner and screamed to a stop well short of a country school bus.

Inside, Audi managed to upgrade its already impressive cabin standards. No other automaker has been able to match, segment for segment, the quality and refinement of Audi interiors. Our test car was outfitted with matching leather and Alcantara suede. We've even warmed to the MMI, the Multimedia Control Interface, which performs like a mouse to operate the S5's well-stocked electronics bay. If you're an audiophile, these numbers might be as important as engine statistics. The optional Bang & Olufsen audio system makes 505 watts of perfect pitch sound.

At about $55,000, well equipped and delivered, the S5 isn't for everyone. But we'd gladly go to Heaven...or Hell...for a chance to drive it again.

Visit www.audi.com.

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