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HENRY PAYNE

Odd couple: Audi S5 Sportback vs. Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

My comparison cars this week have much in common. They are muscle models from notable performance brands. They bear fresh, head-swiveling colors: one District Green, the other Sinamon Stick red. Both have elegant “T” shifters, sculpted 20-inch wheels, elevated sticker prices and multiple words in their badges.

Yet the stunning Audi S5 Sportback and Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus will rarely be cross-shopped.

The interior of the 2020 Audi S5 Sportback is a pleasant place to be with quilted leather seats, digital screens and a T-shifter.

Despite their focus on raw speed, their branding is aimed at entirely different customers. They are monuments to sales savvy, of the ability of marketing geniuses to conjure emotion for sheet metal. If they appeared in the movie "Caddyshack," the Audi would be driven by Chevy Chase and the Charger by Rodney Dangerfield.

True to those stereotypes, these two hot rods satisfy their customers in dramatically different ways while arriving at 60 mph at the same time: just over 4 seconds.

After flogging them all over Michigan, I found them as divergent as German chocolate and American apple pie with a big scoop of ice cream.

The S5 Sportback is the performance version of the A5 Sportback, one of the most elegant designs in autodom. An offspring of the A7, which combines hatchback utility with fastback sex appeal, the compact-sized A5 is a class smaller while giving away little in the beauty department.

The 2020 Audi S5 Sportback is positioned between the standard Audi A5 and the full-blown Audi RS5.

My S5 swan manages to be even more alluring than the standard A5. Credit its color — as irresistible as Jaguar’s British Racing Green — shard-spoked wheels, blacked-out grille and mirror caps, quad pipes. It turned a lot of heads across Oakland County.

But its performance was more understated, matching its buttoned-up clientele. Under the hood was a 349-horse turbocharged V-6 — a nice step up from the standard A5’s 228-horse turbo-4, but shy of the ultimate, 444-horse six-shooter in the RS5 Sportback. Like the Cadillac CT5-V I recently tested, the S5 aims to find that performance sweet spot between boulevard cruiser and track monster.

Made in America (almost). The 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus is actually assembled in Canada.

Its behavior is sweet, too. Not too tart, not too bland. Fire it up and the Audi authoritatively clears its throat like the host of a formal meal. I punched the Drive Mode to Dynamic (Comfort, Auto and Individual are also available), and the driveline subtly firmed with a dab of rev match on downshifts. Bravo, sir.

Not the Charger.

Turn the key — SNORRT! — and it’ll wake the neighbors (“What is that noise you’re driving?” asked mine). Growling at idle it sounds like a T. rex that hasn’t been fed for a week. If the Audi is eye-catching, then the Charger is in-your-face. The standard Charger is menacing enough, but Scat Pack turns the dial to 11. The front end is littered with air intakes, topped off by a big ice cream — er — hood scoop.

The fenders are swollen with Dodge’s Widebody treatment, like biceps from obsessive gym workouts. Charger is tattooed with badges — a Scat Pack Super Bee in the front grille, “392-Hemi” on its flanks.

The 2020 Audi S5 Sportback features a 3.0-liter turbo-6 mill that sends 349 horsepower to all four wheels. Expect a bit of turbo lag before it kicks in.

That 392 means 392 cubic inches — 6.4 liters of V-8 muscle — which is the Scat Pack’s secret sauce. Like the S5 Sportback, the 392 is middle ground between the standard V-6 Charger and the insane 707-horse Charger SRT Hellcat which starts at the same price as the Audi S5 ($69,000) and will turn your hair white with its off-the-charts power and demonic supercharger whine at full throttle.

With 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, Scat Pack packs plenty of punch.

Prowling the M-32 two-lane west of Gaylord, Michigan, the big V-8’s power was instantly accessible when needed. WAAAUUURRGGH! ... and I was past slower traffic in the blink of an eye. The eight-speed transmission clicked off quick shifts while the speedo approached triple digits. The sound was deafening, my goosebumps an inch high.

The Audi’s eight-speed automatic is also silky smooth, but the engine exhibits noticeable turbo lag before its 349 ponies hooked up for quick passes. The American V-8 is an endangered species, long live the American V-8.

The big, 20-inch wheels on the 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus.

Through the twisty bits the mid-size A5 antelope is noticeably lighter, more agile. The Audi is aided by all-wheel drive which helps put down traction on corner exit. It tips the scales at a porky 3,925 pounds — but that’s still 400 pounds lighter than the full-size rear-wheel drive Charger elephant.

Jump in the elephant after the antelope and it’s noticeably more physical. But thanks to modern electronics — and a Scat Pack full of suspension upgrades — Charger is remarkably nimble at speed. The Widebody mod adds 3.5-inches of track width for better stability and fat Pirelli P-Zeros increase confidence with very corner.

With all 485 horses fed through the rear wheels, power application requires more care than the Audi. Charger’s electronic Mode selector tweaks suspension and powertrain dynamics to suit your style. I preferred Individual mode, tuning everything to Track (the steering is magnificent) while leaving the traction-control on to manage torque.

Based on the Audi A5 sedan, the 2020 Audi S5 Sportback is a gorgeous sculpture in District Green with on-demand power and a utilitarian hatchback.

Its remarkable to have these electronic gizmos at your fingertips in a Dodge — same as a German chariot. It’s a big reason the gap between luxury and mainstream has shrunk so dramatically over the last decade.

That and the interior. The Audi cockpit is a lovely place to spend time, but so is the Dodge. Both have consoles wrapped in carbon-fiber trim. Both have Alcantara/leather thrones and useful cubby space. Audi’s premium appeal is in its digital displays which I always geek out over: configurable screens, Google Earth behind the steering wheel ... oooooh.

But on trips, I used Android Auto in both cars. The Audi’s nav system isn’t up to speed with smartphones so Google Maps takes over its fancy center screen. Same as Charger.

With its T-shifter, digital UConnect infotainment and healthy storage space, the 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus interior is ergonomically efficient.

The Audi’s interior is more serene thanks to its more, um, gentlemanly engine note. But if your passengers don’t mind that, the Charger gives 'em 5 more inches of rear leg space (35 vs. 40 inches). The S5 strikes back with its yuge cargo bay which, thanks to its hatchback design, gains 5 cubic feet of space (21.8 vs. 16.5) over Dodge.

Hatches are one of my favorite things — but they’ll cost ya given their extra engineering. On such little things do these utilitarian muscle cars differ.

But the yawning marketing gap remains. Turbo-6 vs. V-8. Audi vs. Dodge. Violin vs. electric guitar. I think Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield will be very happy with their choices.

The 2020 Audi S5 Sportback is a size smaller than the Audi A7 Sportback that established Audi as a leading design brand.

2020 Audi S5 Sportback

Vehicle type: Front-engine, five-passenger performance hatchback

Price: $52,895, including $995 destination fee ($69,240 as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6

 Power: 349 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.2 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,925 pounds 

Fuel economy: EPA, 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined 

Report card

Highs: Sleek bod; excellent hatchback utility

Lows: Gets pricey; nav system still not up to Google Maps standard

Overall: 3 stars

The 2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus packs serious, 485-horse heat wrapped in a muscular body that includes Widebody fenders for 2020.

2020 Dodge Charger Scat Pack Plus

Vehicle type: Front-engine, five-passenger performance sedan

Price: $41,990 including $1,495 destination fee ($54,065 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter V-8

 Power: 485 horsepower, 475 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 175 mph

Weight: 4,373 pounds 

Fuel economy: EPA, 15 mpg city/24 highway/18 combined 

Report card

Highs: Family muscle car; great soundtrack

Lows: Heavy; drinks fuel

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.