Audi RS5 — battle of the brawn grows in intensity
You might want to hang on before buying an M4 or a C 63 AMG, says Michael Taylor. The RS5 is back
The two-year wait for RS5 fans is over, with Audi Sport (nee Quattro) finally delivering its hotshot A5 coupe to rival BMW’s M4 and Mercedes-AMG’s C63 coupe.
It gains plenty of everything from the new 2.9l, biturbo V6 engine, but loses its V8 predecessor’s unconquerable mountain of emotion and engagement. In tangible terms, it’s a better car in every way, but it’s not as good in the stuff you can’t measure.
People loved the first-generation RS5 for a huge range of reasons that went far beyond its performance figures. It was a quick-ish car, but not the fastest in a straight line, nor the one with the most torque and certainly not the one with the best fuel economy.
But for sheer emotion, engagement and a saturating, all-pervading warmth and genuine joy from its 4.2l, naturally aspirated V8 engine, it stood behind perhaps only Maserati’s Gran Turismo and Ferrari’s 458 Italia.
Time catches up to us all, sadly, and the times of the naturally aspirated V8s have almost drawn to a close. Emissions laws have caught up with them and so the RS5’s second generation sports a 2.9l V6 up front.
The subject of a fierce and unco-ordinated tug of war between Porsche and Audi over who developed it, the engine is nonetheless strong, delivering 600Nm of torque from just 1,900r/min.
Wherever it comes from, the modular engine was chopped from the block of Porsche’s new V8 turbo motor, so they’re both taking credit for it.
It’s mated to an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission, plus a proper all-wheel drive system, all stuffed into what is Audi Sport’s first car off its modular MLB Evo architecture, which plays host to everything from the A4 to Q7.
Moving to the A5’s MLB Evo architecture gives the RS5 big advantages in weight, ride, refinement, electronics features and performance, as the lesser S5’s crushing all-round abilities have already demonstrated.
What Audi Sport has ended up with is a mind-bogglingly fast point-to-point car, regardless of weather conditions, road surface, tightness of the corners, gradient or anything else, save traffic density and policing. What it hasn’t ended up with is something that tugs at the driver’s heartstrings like the V8 did, nor something that delivers the delicacy and accuracy of the facelifted RS5’s electric power steering, because these are the two most obvious features the RS5 doesn’t have anymore.
Other than that, it’s a very fine GT sports coupe. It doesn’t matter whether you drive the stock RS5 or one fitted with the RS Dynamic Package (which combines dynamic steering, a sport rear differential with torque vectoring, even lower suspension, Dynamic Ride control, 20-inch wheels and an RS exhaust), you still have steering that is accurate, direct and, ultimately, a bland eraser of road features, handling nuance and the car’s intentions.
Don’t confuse that for making the car slow or hard to handle. In fact, it couldn’t be easier to pick up the RS5 and hurl it at unfamiliar roads. It’s hugely stable under braking, it changes direction assuredly and it slingshots itself out of corners at a rate that would shame a Group B rally car.
There are few performance cars out there with the RS5’s sheer breadth of ability, capable of switching its active dampers from a Comfort mode for cruising to a surprisingly compliant Dynamic mode to a self-made mix of whatever you prefer with the Individual mode. Regardless of the mode its ride quality will be smoother than the rock-hard C63 and it will be suppler than BMW’s junior GT-style M4.
Its optional carbon ceramic front brake discs are 400mm across and a set of six-piston callipers grab on to them and they’re immensely powerful, fade resistant and accurate. So accurate, in fact, they make you wish their engineers had finished their work earlier so they could have popped over to help the steering crew.
No matter how late you stand on the anchors, the car will haul down faithfully from speed and, if you push hard, it will fall into understeer on turn-in and no amount of fiddling will rectify it by the time the apex has arrived and gone. The sports diff and the torque vectoring help, but only so much can be done with an architecture seemingly set up to push gently at the front and to do it earlier than its foes.
While the V8 in the old RS5 gave it a significant upgrade on the S5, that’s not the case anymore. The current S5 has 260kW of power and 500Nm of torque from a single turbo, 3.0l V6, while the RS5 engine is slightly smaller, but uses two turbochargers. Its predecessor didn’t use any turbochargers, instead relying on capacity and an 8,000r/min rev limiter to deliver the 331kW of performance, but not much torque.
With only 430Nm of torque, and even that much delivered at 4,000, the old RS5 hit 100km/h in 4.5 seconds, and was easily outpaced by the 4.1 second M4 and the 3.9 second C63. Or it would have been, had the C63 been on sale at the same time.
The RS5’s 3.9 second sprint is quicker than both the old RS5 and the S5, though that second part is not so obvious in the real world. At 1,655kg, the RS5 is 60kg lighter than the old car, despite the addition of a pair of hair dryers, but its torque peak arrives at 1,900 while the S5’s torque peak hits earlier, at 1,370, so it’s even easier to drive.
Another missing feature is the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which Audi Sport simplified down to a stronger, faster-shifting version of the S5’s eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s stupendously fast to change up gears, both left to itself and forced in the paddle-shifted manual mode, though it could be quicker to react to the less critical downshift.
Downshifting is one of the more engaging things to do with the RS5, because it brings in all manner of crackles and burbles and fluffs on the overrun.
It’s not harsh anywhere and it revs and pulls cleanly from any part of the rev range, any time, in any gear, but it’s not remotely aurally exciting, especially when Alfa Romeo’s Giulia Quadrifoglio biturbo shows how it could be done, even with a V6.
The four-seat coupe’s interior comes with bucket RS seats with electronic adjustment, a flat-bottomed, multi function steering wheel and Audi’s digital instrument cluster (complete with a G-analyst), plus a high-mounted multimedia screen.
LED headlights are stock items, as are three switchable levels of stability control, adaptive cruise control, a whole swag of electronic safety stuff and Audi’s smartphone interface, which will let you make calls from the CarPlay system, but not through the MMI if you’re connected to the CarPlay system.