Words: Sammy Chan
Photography: Sammy Chan
Published: November 22, 2021
The RS 5 is Audi’s answer to the BMW M3, Mercedes-AMG C 63, and Lexus RC F. Here in Sportback form, it’s a four-door sports sedan loaded up with 444 horsepower, quattro all-wheel drive, and stunning good looks. Not many automakers manage this, but Audis seem to look better and better with each iteration. With BMW focused on beaver-teeth kidney grills and Mercedes growing overly soft on their silhouettes and headlights, the sleek yet understated RS 5 stands out more than ever. The front grill is nicely tapered, bronze-finished wheels are new for 2022 and grace all four corners, and the signature RS black exhaust tips complete the rear aesthetic. Overall, it’s not a substantial difference from the A5 or the S5, but there’s enough here to be able to differentiate one from across the street.
There are just a few interior changes for the 2022 RS 5, namely the new steering wheel borrowed from their SUVs. It feels much better to grasp at the 9- and 3-o’clock positions than the outgoing, concave, and somewhat wonky wheel, and aesthetically it looks better too. The paddle shifters feel great and emit positive feedback, but aren’t as premium and race-car-like as the AMG’s. The rest of the buttons and their placement are well thought out - our favourite is the RS Mode button, which works much like BMW’s red M buttons or Mercedes’ dials, where you can program individual driving modes to tailor your desired powertrain intensity, steering effort, suspension stiffness, and exhaust volume.
As with most Audis, the 12.3-inch display flanking the steering wheel steals the show. Vibrant, rich in colour, and higher definition that most living room TVs, it’s a beautiful unit that shames BMW’s messy digital cluster. Add to that Audi’s masterful design of the button placement on the steering wheel to control the screen, and you never have to take your hand off the wheel to alter any media or connectivity feature. Furthermore, the RS 5 Sportback offers hatchback practicality, four proper doors, and rear seat accommodations that mirror that of traditional sedans. It seems the penalties that used to be inherent to these niche, fastback shapes have quickly diminished.
A few nitpicks as always, even with such a well-packaged vehicle. The seating position is too high up for a performance sedan, and is like we’re sitting on top of the car rather than inside it. Typical of sport sedans, the rear windows only open about halfway, and the massaging seats are really more like lumbar tickles than anything therapeutic. But we quickly looked over these aspects the moment we fired up the engine.
Now we get to the real reason why someone would spend $100,000 on a compact performance sedan. The RS 5 is loaded up with a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 producing 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. It’s wickedly fast, but the ride to those unholy speeds is incredibly gentle and polished. You hit 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds but you never feel like you are getting thrashed around. The RS 5 takes care of you, and doesn’t forget the ‘premium’ title in its name.
There’s a deliberate sense of urgency to how it reacts to the throttle but it’s definitely more relaxed than the M3 or C 63. That’s not a bad thing in the slightest. In fact it exposes the RS 5’s main advantage over its rivals, and that’s how it manages to expertly blend its impressive performance with everyday usability and ride comfort.
The ride in the RS 5 Sportback is unparalleled compared to the M3 and C 63. Supple, soft, and absorbent when taking it easy on the road, but firm, grounded, and stiff when the road turns twisty. It doesn’t compromise at all, and its high-speed stability is unparalleled in this segment, cruising along the highway at triple digit speeds in such a smooth and quiet manner. We can see how some will find that a bit sterile, clinical, and perhaps lacking character. The BMW M3 rattles you to the moon but it definitely feels more special with its vibrating exhaust vocals and wild straight-six power delivery. The V8 underpinning the C 63 is already a riot on its own, and is an experience that an engine with two fewer cylinders just can’t replicate.
The RS 5 favours understeer too, which adds a sense of safety for drivers, rather than a tail-happy rear-wheel drive vehicle that just wants to paint the next guardrail Sonoma Green. When taking it easy, or when driving spiritedly at five-tenths, the RS 5 feels great and every one of the 444 horses are genuinely approachable. The front tires grip tightly, the sport differential cleverly distributes torque between the rear wheels for optimal acceleration, and you can feel the grip ebbing and flowing through your fingertips as you manage the rear end with the throttle. At times, the steering feels too twitchy, reacting to the slightest degree of lock, but you do get used to its darty behaviour.
It’s only when you start pushing the RS 5 that the front tires begin to wash out and you start missing the tail balancing act of a RWD or rear-biased AWD system. With the RS 5, comfort reigns, and performance comes second. It’s still dizzyling capable and if you were to ask us which car we would take on a cross-country road trip, it would the Audi. It lacks the track-focused mentality that BMW has built the M3 around, but it never loses sight on what its intended audience expects from it: to be comfortable and luxurious while supporting a spirited drive with a spectacular powertrain, gobbles of torque, and dreamy sheetmetal to amalgamate it altogether.
And onto what is likely the biggest upgrade for the RS 5, its new exhaust system. It seems Audi has remedied our main criticism of the 2018 RS 5 we drove, in that its vocals were too sterile, and it lacked the character demanded by a hardcore RS model. This new 2022 RS 5 roars to the limiter, smolders your ears with trumpet burbles on overrun, and spits outs angry barks on hard downshifts. A huge difference from the last model, and is a pleasant and engaging noise for a V6, though it sounds almost identical to the Porsche Macan GTS, which oh-so-coincidentally uses the same V6 powertrain.
The RS 5 doesn’t win us over with riveting performance or a boisterous exhaust soundtrack. Instead, the RS 5 successfully marries all the realistic expectations of a sports sedan with daily usability, everyday comfort, and high-speed stability normally reserved for larger GT sedans. Its interior appointments are first-rate, the coupe-like design offers a great deal of road presence and curb appeal, and its remarkably satisfying to drive despite its understeery behaviour at the limits, but we doubt many of its owners will ever push that far. It may lack the thunder and lightning to truly make our hair stand on end, but the RS 5 is undoubtedly one of the most civilized performance sedans out there.
Model: 2022 Audi RS 5 Sportback
Paint Type: Sonoma Green
Base Price: $88,400
Price as Tested: $104,890
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
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.1 / 9.4 / 11.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.9