Making a Scott Bakula-worthy quantum leap last week from a garage-stuffing Ford Explorer to the sweet but petite, snow-racing Audi S5 Coupe, I had more than a few adjustments to make - and not just to the car's fighter jet-styled sport seats, which literally killed my back.
The new S5 also put me at about rear bumper level with most of the SUV traffic on the road, though with the optional Quattro permanent all-wheel drive system and some very aggressive, high-performance winter tires, the little Audi promised to offer as much high-speed, pass-beating confidence as even the biggest body-on-frame behemoth.
Introduced last year with a swath of updates to the A4 and A5 platforms, the two-door S5 shares the same svelte but elegantly rounded lines as the new A5, toughened up considerably with a punchy storm drain grille, aggressive (and optional) adaptive headlights plus brighter-than-ever LED lamps, as well as a complex, curb-level air splitter on the lower lip.
That's blended with pretty touches including aluminum caps on the side mirrors, thick aerodynamic lines along the rocker panels and a slipstreamed trunk and tail - and, of course, those larger-than-normal coupe doors, which call out for very large parking spots for comfortable entries and exits (especially with those super-low sport seats).
But the biggest news is what the S5 is missing, and what it got instead: The grunty, '71 Firebird-mimicking V8 has been swapped for a new supercharged, direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 rated for 333 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque.
In this instance of downsizing, it totally works - though you do need to put a bit of pedal into it to bring things to a boil.
Revved up (and redline is only 5,500 RPM), the engine can take you into seriously speedy territory with very few problems, even at the top of Hoosier Pass. With some fantastically sexy exhaust noises, especially when you paddle shift the S5's optional seven-speed S-tronic transmission into lower gears for an enthusiastic hill climb.
The more austere V6 also translated into cruising mileage in the high 20s, cresting into the 30s at times, which you'll appreciate when refilling it with required 91 octane.
The S model sport heritage is very much alive and can be further accentuated with the optional drive select and dynamic steering controls - a very sporty mode tightens the throttle and steering response for aggressive, dry road-oriented careening, or can lighten it for comfort mode (or you can dial up a combination of your own using the improved MMI interface).
Blend that with the Quattro system, set up for a standard 40/60 torque split through its sport-oriented differential, and it's a fearsome runner, capable as hell.
The principal issue, I might imagine, is figuring out which of the vast range of Audi automobiles suits your lifestyle and, more importantly, budget.
The S5 Coupe stickers at $52,300 but my tester's Prestige package (adaptive headlamps, a jarring but highly effective side assist warning light system that blinks when cars pass in your blind spot, plus navigation and a sterling Bang and Olufsen sound system) added $6,650 to the tab; adaptive cruise control, Nappa leather, 19-inch five-bar wheels and beautiful carbon fiber inlays for the doors and the center console catapulted the S5 to a tall $66,895.
I mention this because the S5 is still not a very large car and the sub-$70K range can get you plenty more real estate; Audi's litany of S- and even RS models means superb performance options across the entire line (the insane RS5, for instance, debuts at $68,900). Let your wallet be your guide, I guess.
As for the S5, two adult-sized passengers can be wedged into the rear seats - the front seats power-slide forward, and the rear seats are separated by a hard utility tray or the fold-down center armrest/ski pass-thru gate.
But driver and front passenger will have to sacrifice their own foot space to keep the rear folks happy.
Trunk space is more forgiving with 12.2 cubic feet, and even Volkl 177s can be loaded through the interior with right-elbow room for the driver.
The coupe's low roofline also means overly large A-pillars so cornering visibility is just a tad impaired. I would instead suggest going very fast in a straight line.