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2018 Audi RS5 first drive review

By Daniel Gardner, 14 Dec 2017 Reviews

2018 audi rs5 green front side action header W

Audi chamfers previous-generation RS5’s hard edges with more liveable 2018 sports coupe

AUDI chamfers the previous-generation RS5’s hard edges with the far more liveable - yet still blazingly fast - 2018 RS5 sports coupe

WHAT IS IT?
The second-generation of Audi’s hottest A5 coupe. While the outgoing version packed a high-revving 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8, the 2018 Audi RS5 has dropped two cylinders but gained a brace of turbos to compensate.

Power is unchanged at 331kW but torque is up from 450Nm to 600Nm, while a reduction in fuel consumption is a byproduct of boost, and all at a cost that has increased by about $1000.

WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Mid-sized hyper-performance coupes are never going to constitute a majority volume for a car maker, but Australia has a surprising appetite for two-door sports cars that pack a heavyweight punch and look great. You need look no further than the popularity of Ford’s Mustang, the Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe or BMW’s M4 for that proof.

But Audi’s offering weighs into the competitive segment with its Quattro four-wheel drive system as a unique selling proposition while its closest rivals stick to rear-wheel drive.

A blast across Tasmania’s amazing network of driving enthusiast roads is the perfect test to gauge how the new version stacks up against some serious competition from Mercedes and BMW, as well as the previous-gen version that divided critics.

RIVALS
BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe

THE WHEELS VERDICT
For the return of the RS5 Coupe, Audi has addressed two of the most commonly cited criticisms of the first version. A boost to torque has resulted in a far more tractable car without sacrificing pace and, while the switch to V6 power has forfeited the scream of an atmo V8 at 8000rpm, the replacement sound still sings the RS anthem. RS5 owners will also appreciate the effect downsizing has had on the fuel bill.

Secondly, the new suspension set up now offers a genuinely comfortable setting as well as harder, sportier modes and that imparts a balance that will stand the RS5 strongly on the track or when wearing a GT cruiser hat.

The BMW M4 might have the edge for ultimate fair-weather driver engagement, but for battling changeable and unpredictable roads, the Audi offers a blindingly fast form of transport that won’t punish you when cruising more sedate roads.

THE WHEELS REVIEW
When you’re weighing into a battle as fierce as the war between the big three German brands and the halo high-performance coupe segment, you need every conceivable weapon in your arsenal to stay relevant and competitive.

Performance is the most obvious necessity which, for Audi’s second generation RS5 Coupe, comes in the form of a 331kW twin-turbo V6. The new unit is closely related to the 3.0-litre single-turbo engine that powers the new Audi S4 and S5 siblings, but its downsize (a 3mm shorter stroke) to 2.9 litres reveals a closer relation in the Porsche family.

Under the bonnet of the Cayenne S, the same V6 produces a little more power at 324kW but less torque, and torque is one of the key attributes of the new RS5.

With a hearty 600Nm on tap the new RS5 has found an extra 170Nm despite having two cylinders amputated and a capacity reduction of 1.3 litres. The immense grunt in a car that has also lost weight over the outgoing model, addresses one of its predecessor’s most frequent criticisms.

Its glorious naturally aspirated V8 revved to a dizzying redline with a fantastic accompanying soundtrack, but when trying to coax the gen-one RS5 without drawing attention, its performance fell into a lake.

Not so for the new RS5 however with bountiful torque available from idle and peak grunt in at a low 1900 rpm thanks to the willingness of two small turbos to get spinning with little or no lag. Where the previous model encouraged you to wring the engine out to a seemingly non-existent limiter, the V6 is the opposite and rewards short-shifting to stay in the fattest torque zone below 5000 rpm.

Acceleration from standstill is eager and once the six-pot has taken a deep breath from its turbos, launches from the line with pace that is concurrent with an official 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds, but the milestone speed is when the Audi is just getting into its stride and continues to build pace enormously fast.

Beefy brakes are efficient at scrubbing speed but prolonged punishing starts to reveal their limitations. There’s no hiding 1730kg of heft when it comes to stopping repeatedly and the $11,900 optional front carbon ceramic brakes would be a wise investment for track use.

While it was undoubtedly satisfying whipping a 4.2-litre V8 up to 8000 rpm, having to repeat the process every time gusto was required could get tiresome, but owners of the new RS5 will love the effortlessness of the V6 and the corresponding effect on fuel consumption.

The official figure for the B8-based model was 10.5L/100km versus the 8.8L/100km of the new B9 car, but given the dramatically different power delivery, those two figures will certainly be driven further apart during real-world driving.

The bark of a high-revving atmo V8 will be missed by all who had the pleasure of sending eight cylinders into motorbike territory, but the good news is that the RS5 V6 anthem is still addictively moreish, especially under load at low rpm and with the twin oval tailpipes switched to their shoutiest setting. Australian spec cars get the noisier sport exhaust option as standard.

There’s grip to match the power too and on Tasmania’s changeable roads the unfaltering Quattro traction is welcome. Unlike the Haldex-based systems, the RS5 all-paw system feels more rear biased and when pushed hard in corners the tail tries to shake loose before the nose.

Not that you’re ever likely to find that limit with huge grip that allows full power to be applied mid corner rather than the ginger approach normally required for something similarly powerful but with just two driven wheels.

Despite its heft, the Audi has an agility that defies its mass and the turn into corners feels almost as if the RS5 has rear axle steering. Feeling the standard Sport differential manage torque nearing the tractive limit only boosts your confidence in the car further.

Unlike the first RS5, which made its manic performance potential apparent from the first turn of the key, the 2018 interpretation initially feels comparatively mild with a long accelerator range of movement, muted exhaust note and light steering.

Even with the drive setting set to its most placid, the previous RS5 felt like it was looking for a fight and often got one, but for the new version, the ‘comfort’ mode genuinely is comfortable.

The fact that you can tear up your favourite remote back road but also enjoy the road trip to get there is a big improvement for the new RS5. That’s not to say the most comfortable setting is soft. Far from it. If the button fell off and you were left stuck in just the one mode, comfort would serve all driving styles admirably – even the track.

The RS5’s cabin also deserves an honourable mention and strikes a good balance of comfort and luxury but with the clear sporty connection from supportive and highly adjustable seats, top-notch upholstery and sharp design. If it was our money we would find it hard not to splash $3300 on the RS Design package for the Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector as well as a number of red stitching and Alcantara throughout.

Tradition and heritage are also handy attributes to fall back on when fighting over discerning sportscar customers and Audi has pulled out the stops here too.

For previous high-performance Quattro models, Audi has been quick to draw a line between the 1980s rally dominating Ur Quattro and why not? Given the success of the car and its cascading effect on the automotive landscape that can still be felt to this day, it makes a lot of sense to talk about heritage.

For the RS5, however, the car maker is making extra links to a lesser known racer and the 1990s 90 Quattro IMSA GTO. Look closely at the front and rear lights and you’ll see a small vent on each side that harks back to the jaw-dropping racer, says Audi. At the front of the car, the little vertical slot is actually functional.

It might not have quite the presence of an IMSA GTO American track hero, but the new RS5 undoubtedly carries the stance of a true RS Audi and backs that look of intent up with the credentials to match.

A genuinely liveable and comfortable ride in comfort mode does not emasculate the RS5 any more than dropping a pair of cylinders has robbed performance. It might not sound quite as spine-tingling as the previous version, but Audi has listened to the original RS5’s critics and the result is simply better.

SPECS

Model: Audi RS5 Coupe
Engine: 2894cc V6, dohc, twin turbo
Max Power: 331kW @ 5700-6700rpm
Max Torque: 600Nm @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Weight: 1730kg
0-100k/h: 3.9s
Fuel economy: 8.8L/100km
Price: $156,600
On sale: Now