Audi’s all-new twin-turbo coupe brings the heat to a segment that’s red hot.
WHAT IS IT?
The second generation of Audi’s most potent coupe below the flagship R8.
WHY ARE WE DRIVING IT?
This is the first RS offering built on the MLB evo architecture, and given our deep regard for the S4/S5, we have high hopes for it on our first sample on European roads.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The Audi RS5 secures a niche as being the only all-wheel-drive offering in this segment, so outstanding all-weather traction is a given. It also delivers terrific day-to-day liveability thanks to its ride, equipment, and ergonomics. It’s not as ferocious as the real hard man of this class − that’s the C63 S coupe − but nor does it punish your pelvis the way that car’s unforgiving ride does.
PLUS: Tenacious traction; mostly absorbent ride; polish and usability; equipment and interior
MINUS: Slightly restrained engine character; is it sufficiently thrilling at the limit?
THE WHEELS REVIEW
IT’S THE power figure that first grabs your attention. Not because the RS5’s number is huge; more because it brings a curious sense of deja vu. Let me explain. The previous-gen 4.2-litre atmo V8 that powered the original RS5 (introduced in 2010) delivered a soaring, super-sonorous 331kW. In the interests of reducing consumption, Audi binned that engine, co-developed (with Porsche) this new 2.9-litre V6 with a pair of turbochargers nestling between its banks, and tuned it specifically for the RS5 application, and manages to extract – yes – exactly 331kW.
What are the odds? According to Audi Sport’s head of technical development, Stephan Reil, ‘coincidence’ is not a concept his department deals with. “Our target was to match the outgoing engine,” he explained to me at the RS5’s launch in the French Pyrenees mountains.
“It’s important that customers know they are getting vastly more torque, much better consumption, with no reduction in power.”
But why not more than 331kW?
I had to ask: is Audi Sport declaring an official withdrawal from the power war that rages in every high-performance segment? That 331kW figure is well short of the 375kW that Alfa extracts from a similarly sized turbo V6 in the Giulia QV, and is likewise 44kW down on arch-rival Mercedes-AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 C63 S.
Reil just shrugs. “We believe 331kW is ample for this car. Besides, customers buy power, but they drive torque.”
We leave it there, feeling fairly certain Reil and his team have a little up their sleeve for the inevitable Plus version.
Anyway, does it matter? Does an on-paper power deficit really influence enjoyment, when there’s 600Nm on tap from just 1900rpm, and a quattro system to get it all cleanly to the ground ? We hit some spectacular mountain roads to find out.
First impressions are of just how polished and cultured this car is; not just the powertrain, but the ride refinement and pretty much everything. Boot it and there’s an urgent, insistent snarl to the engine, but it’s never truly visceral or manic even with the (standard for Australia) sports exhaust in the open position. Likewise, on overrun there are some distant percussive thuds and pops, but it remains very much a backing track, not an in-your-face vocal remix. This engine feels very much like a more muscular version of the S5’s V6, rather than a really spine-tingling bespoke RS offering, which purists may lament. There’s no questioning the mid-range shove, but it doesn’t quite build to the same frenzied crescendo as those rivals mentioned earlier.
That vast wodge of torque arrives early and pretty much lag-free, and doesn’t taper until 5000rpm, so obviously the RS5 feels properly rapid. And not just on the move either; the claim of 3.9 seconds for 0-100km/h feels entirely credible, thanks in no small part to all-paw traction. For crucial sprinting ability, this car will almost certainly have the jump – literally – on its rear-drive rivals.
The eight-speed torque converter auto plays a key role here too, giving shorter initial ratios and a taller top than the old seven-speed dual-clutch unit. Reil tells me that the shift speeds almost match those of the outgoing gearbox, while low-speed manoeuvring and an uphill reverse-park test demonstrated that it can do that basic stuff without having a fit.
The shifts are beautifully crisp and quick, but best exploited via the paddles. There’s a feeling that in Dynamic, the box is not quite as telepathically gifted as the best calibrated dual-clutchers from more expensive rivals like Porsche and Ferrari.
The quattro system is set up to provide its best approximation of a rear-drive feel (torque split is normally 60 rear:40 front, but the system is capable of sending around 80 percent rearward) and it largely succeeds. Floor the throttle out of tight turns and there’s a seat-of-the-pants sense of imminent oversteer, but then the all-wheel drive’s massive tractive qualities just slingshot you out of the corner. Perhaps with ESC off on a track, where you could push harder, you could prompt some tail-out action, but not on the road. That said, the ESC Sport setting does provide the leniency for a wag here or there.
The massive rubber is integral to this feeling of otherwise utter plantedness. Aussie cars will roll on 275/30R20 rubber on all four corners, so front-end bite is huge, and only the weight (down 60kg, but still hefty at 1665kg) provides any sense the laws of physics are involved.
The cars we drove were fitted with the dynamic steering option which quickens the ratio as lock is wound on; a system that has had its detractors. I can’t side with them in this application. I found it predictable and incisive, with ideal weight in the Comfort setting. Dynamic makes it heavier, but also brings a slight off-centre stickiness. Keep it in Comfort and I’d argue this is the best steering Audi in the company’s line-up, bar the R8. Even with that huge front footprint, there’s no tramlining or corruption, at least not on the smooth surfaces we drove on.
There were plenty of corners, not surprisingly for a mountain region, and these put a bit of a strain on the brakes. They withstood the punishment pretty admirably, but eventually began to wilt a little with a softening pedal. Carbon ceramics are on the options list, as is a carbon roof. Otherwise Aussie cars will be well loaded: dynamic ride control is standard, as is the sports rear differential, virtual cockpit, and LED lights. All for a tag that should be just under $160K.
Audi knows its customers don’t want a car that’s as focussed (and compromised) as a C 63 S coupe, so the RS5’s day-to-day liveability and GT qualities stand applauded as its core USPs.
Model: Audi RS5 coupe
Engine: 2894cc V6, (90°) dohc, 24v, twin turbo
Max power: 331kW @ 5700-6700rpm
Max torque: 600Nm @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 3.9sec (claimed)
Price: $157,900 (estimated)
On sale: June