Words: Sammy Chan
Photography: Sammy Chan
Published: July 11, 2018
The bad news first? The Audi RS5 forgoes the sonically pleasing naturally aspirated 4.2L V8 in favour of a smaller and more petit 2.9L twin-turbocharged V6. The good news? This understated powerplant punches well above its paygrade. It delivers the same figure of 444 hp (feng shui be damned) but more importantly and thanks to forced induction, torque has swelled up from 317 lb-ft to a staggering 442 lb-ft.
This 2.9L has a slightly shorter stroke than the 3.0L V6 found in the similarly powerful and refined Audi S5 and with one extra turbo. That means the RS5 pushes out max torque from just 1,900 rpm right up until 5,000 rpm, a meaty and unrelentless wave that you can ride all day long. 0-100 km/h comes in a swift 3.9 seconds, which is uncoincidentally the same as the V8-powered Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe ($86,300) and the more hardcore BMW M3 CS ($113,500).
It’s one hell of an engine with an astonishingly playful nature, a stark willingness to push aggressively, and yet be calm and well-mannered when puttering about traffic. Bottom line: it’s quick. Good thing then, that the optional carbon ceramic brakes are equally as potent and grabby, though unnecessary if you find yourself outside of a track. Best to spend the $6,000 elsewhere.
The shrunken V6 fundamentally changes the way you drive the RS5 and how it reacts to driver input. No longer is it a linear build up to 8,250 rpm. Now there’s boost and most of it lives down low in the rev range, but it only comes after a slight delay. I am not too sure if it’s turbo lag but the relationship between pedal and engine seems to have a delayed fuse that may surprise drivers expecting an instantaneous kick. The surge of torque does come, just rather unexpectedly - perhaps it is just the inevitable Faustian consequence in a world of turbocharged engines.
The RS5 is mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic similar to the S5 but with different ratios. No, Audi’s dual-clutch transmission doesn’t make the cut since it can’t handle the extra torque (the BMW M5 made the same switch) but long story short, it is not missed. This 8-speed provides short gearing so you’ll be shifting often, but it’s a smart gearbox that plays in the strength of the powerband, always keeping maximum boost on tap. Upshifts are quick though we noticed a bit of jerkiness when downshifting via the paddles, most notably from second to first.
Yes, Audi still uses the same Torsen AWD system sending by default, 40% of power to the front axle and 60% to the rear. Under certain conditions, the RS5 can also divert up to 85% to the rear, and the differential allows that 85% to be split to just one rear wheel, or evenly to both. That allows RS5 and fun to be used in the same sentence. That differential really works overtime in keeping the rear end playful, meaning mid-corner when you need some extra rotation, simply push on the gas and it will magically turn, giving the RS5 some much needed agility.
No, this Audi does not feel nearly as sharp or as honed as its competitors. More specifically, the RS5 is not as demanding from the driver as a BMW M4 or Mercedes C63 and in my opinion, the RS5 borders on the lines of a grand tourer rather than a dedicated sports car. With all-wheel drive traction, the RS5 instills a surprising amount of confidence to the driver than the latter two but it doesn’t push you to drive fast or aggressively, rather it’s more suited towards leisure cruising at a steady and controlled pace.
The RS5 is unusually comfortable whether travelling on the highway or over broken pavement in Toronto, positively adding to its roadtrip capabilities. The adaptive suspension is so well tuned that it simply soaks up reverberations and spits on the tarmac, even on these 20-inch wheels. There are two damper modes to choose from but the latter Dynamic mode is way too stiff for anything but the track, so don’t even bother. I tried it and couldn’t even adjust the navigation screen without knocking the volume button.
The RS5 carries some stunning sheetmetal with flared fenders, a unique honeycomb grill (front license plates be damned), and those iconic fist-sized exhaust tips that let it stand out from the civilian S5. Audi has been on a bit of a roll lately with their modern design language, and I’ve frankly fallen head over heels on this 5’er lineup. I’m not too sure what is going on with those fake air vents on each side of the head- and taillights, though.
Downsizing does have its benefits, namely in weight and fuel consumption. The engine has shaved off a bit of weight and it shows - the front nose is more eager to change direction and dig into the tarmac. Understeer only shows up when you’re really testing its limits, otherwise the RS5 stays planted and grippy. Fuel consumption is exceptional, and we averaged 12.4 L/100km with roughly half city and half highway driving.
Alas, the biggest detriment to downsizing is the exhaust noise, or lack of it. At low rpms, you can floor the throttle and hear nothing but wind as the RS5 slices through the air. Only when you get on the gas hard and select Dynamic mode, will the V6 finally come alive with burbles on overrun and a deep baritone snort on upshifts. It’s not a bad noise, but not an exciting one either. I just drove the RS5 back to back with a Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 with a petit four-cylinder engine, and I hate to admit it but the AMG sounded much better. The RS5 feels muted, relaxed, and unstrained, like a purring lion with strep throat. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video above to hear the full soundtrack for yourself.
If exhaust noise is of great importance, and you want your car to sound as sporty as it looks, then this might be the deal breaker. That massive wall of torque is a decent trade off considering how dramatically it changes the RS5’s driving behaviour but alas, the high-revving V8 wail will be dearly missed, a trait that the rivaling AMG wisely provides.
Predictably, the interior of the RS5 is a purpose built man cave. You won’t find any fancy wood veneers or decorative leather stitching. It’s all functional and clean, and will appeal to a lot of buyers seeking that type of refinement. Black plastics run rampant but are put together with a solidity that few automakers can pull off without looking chintzy or cheap. The final garnish of Alcantara is delicately sprinkled on the steering wheel and gear shifter as part of the $1,500 RS Interior Design Package.
The bottom spoke of the steering wheel suffers from a bit of an underbite, but it does feel firm and solid under grip. The fully digital instrument cluster is as interesting as always, providing drivers with a clear-cut high-definition display of anything and everything they could desire from their RS5, from the navigation to the speedometer. The fit and finish is a typical German spectacle, and the shortcut buttons above the gear shifter to program radio channels are a nice touch.
While the front seats are supportive and come with a massage function, you sit terribly high up, almost hatchback-like, to the point where I am almost touching the headliner. The rear seats are usable for adults, though a bit snug for my six-foot figure in both head- and legroom. If you find yourself ferrying around passengers often, best to take a look at the upcoming four-door RS5 Sportback instead.
By selling its soul to emission regulators, the Audi RS5 has thoroughly changed how it is meant to be driven, as well as the way it sounds. Most enthusiasts will find the overall changes positive, as the gigantic wave of torque offers mind bending acceleration to the point where you will forgive the lack of sound waves penetrating into the cabin.
The entrance price stands at $82,500, which is a significant $21,000 more than the S5 which also offers a potent amount of performance (we’re talking 354 hp, 369 lb-ft, and a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds here), comfort, and refinement, just without the extra letter. Their interiors are nearly identical as well. The RS5 we drove was fully decked out in over $30,000 of options with an eye-watering final price of $115,585.
Does the RS5 justify its own premium? That’s a hard decision. The prestige of the RS badge is attractive, as is the power, but ultimately if you’re looking for a touring car, the S5 isn’t a bad way to go. If you’re looking for a thoroughbred sports car to tackle corners with verve and vigour, best to check out the M4 and C63 instead. But if you’re eyeing a more laid back yet exhilaratingly quick grand tourer in the disguise of a sports car, then the drop-dead looks, upscale cabin amenities, and phenomenal road manners of the RS5 will fit the bill rather nicely.
Model: 2018 Audi RS5
Paint Type: Misano Red
Base Price: $82,500
Price as Tested: $115,585
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 444 hp @ 5,700 - 6,700 rpm
Torque: 442 lb-ft @ 1,900 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.3