Audi facelifts its RS5 coupe to compete with the M3 and C63 AMG – but can it eclipse those benchmarks?
The updated Audi RS5 has seen its price cut by $13,900 to $161,400 but it still carries enormous weight on its shoulders. It sits just one level below the mighty Audi R8 supercar and competes head to head with the iconic BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupes. But is it a match for its direct rivals?
The answer to that question is an absolute ‘yes’. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine another segment where the three main choices are all so good. But in the case of the premium coupe sports segment, the RS5, M3 and C63 AMG all represent the near-apex of German engineering (maybe with Porsche the pinnacle...). So why pick the Audi over the rest?
For a start, it’s the only car in its segment that is all-wheel drive, meaning it sends drive to every tyre as part of Audi’s Quattro system. This changes the entire dynamics of the RS5 compared to the M and AMG, both of which direct drive only the rear wheels. Arguably, the average driver can go faster in the RS5 than they could in its two main rivals, given it tends to do a lot of the hard work for you. The flipside is the M and AMG demand more input for a similar result and hence provide greater driver engagement. The Audi simply digs in and does.
The Audi RS5 is powered by a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8, which produces 331kW of power and 430Nm of torque. Power is transmitted to the backs and fronts via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Recent updates to the RS5 have seen its fuel efficiency improve by 0.3L/100km to 10.5 litres of 98RON per 100km; better than both the M3 at 11.2L/100km and C63 at 12.1L/100km.
The all-important 0-100km/h figure has also improved by one tenth to 4.5 seconds. This is still 0.1 slower than the standard C63 AMG, which makes a full 170Nm more from its 2.0L-larger engine, but faster than the soon to be replaced BMW M3; its 4.0-litre V8 reaches triple digits in 4.6 seconds.
From the outside the 2013 Audi RS5 is the ultimate portrayal of the A5 range, with a sharp and athletic stance now sporting wedge-shaped headlights that incorporate xenon lamps and gorgeous thin strips of LED daytime running lights – a fad that Audi is largely credited for starting and evolving. The grille has also been updated while the taillights and rear bumpers have been mildly reconfigured.
Our test car came coloured in Sepang Blue with pearl effects on the outside and black Nappa leather with contrasting stitching in rock grey for the inside. Optional 20” alloy wheels (5-arm rotor design) put the price up an additional $3,900 while dynamic steering ($2,400), sports exhaust system ($2,400) and aluminium style package ($1,400) brought the total price to $171,500 plus on roads.
The mostly black interior with chrome and carbon fibre highlights is very much a typical-Audi interior, with high quality materials and a pervasive sense of refinement all over. The recent updates have introduced a new flat-bottom steering wheel and minor updates to the infotainment system.
Beyond the cabin class, the Audi RS5 is an absolute joy to drive. Apart from the sensation of being in control of one of the fastest point-to-point cars around, the roar of the engine is a constant reminder of what lurks beneath the bonnet.
The seven-speed gearbox works harmoniously with the V8 in nearly all situations, including in traffic, but in dynamic mode with manual gear control using the paddles, the whole package is absolutely manic. The rapid-fire gearshifts, both up and down, are Formula One-like in their urgency, showcasing just how far everyday road cars have come. The high-tech V8 engine revs freely to more than 8250rpm, screaming an orchestra-worthy soundtrack as it extracts maximum power.
The Audi RS5 is by no means conservative in its power delivery and overall demeanour. But it’s certainly more methodical in its approach to cornering than its key competitors. There’s none of the brutish character that you get from a C63 AMG, which can at times be like a soccer hooligan after a home-team loss, or the – admittedly brilliant – balance and finesse that is prioritised over outright corner-exit speed in the M3.
It also rides very firmly, which can be a deterrent to driver enjoyment, particularly when the BMW rides superbly across all surfaces. But what the RS5 lacks in comfort, it makes up in cornering ability. Pushed hard into a corner the RS5 grips on without much regard for the laws of physics. Mid corner you’d expect that at any moment life will flash before your eyes with the end in sight, but instead, the RS5 continues on unfazed.
Through our usual testing roads of Brisbane’s Mount Glorious and Nebo, the RS5 felt like a much faster version of a Mitsubishi Evolution, go-kart-like in its precision and agility. There’s a sense of invincibility that comes with driving this Audi, which is certainly not there with the rear happy C63, particularly, which always keeps you on edge.
During our week with the RS5 in Brisbane, we had tremendous amounts of rain that helped further justify why the Quattro system is ideal for a car with this much power. As with most rear-wheel drive muscle cars, trying to extract any ounce of performance in the wet is generally a time-wasting exercise, but the RS5’s AWD system makes it look easy. Be it out of corner or off-the-line acceleration, the Audi’s Quattro system minds not if it’s dry or wet; it just gets the job done.
The steering feel is much improved compared with other Audis, but up against the brilliant systems in the C63 and M3, it's a sore point that highlights the lack of dynamic involvement compared with those rear drive rivals. The steering is quick and accurate, but also unremarkable and too heavy in dynamic mode.
When it comes to just regular driving, the RS5 can be put into auto mode, which eases the aggression of the transmission and lightens the steering. Comfort mode goes to an economy-focused extreme, slinking into tall gears at every opportunity and making the steering far too light.
If you must justify the purchase to the other half, you can argue that the RS5 has a decent sized cabin that can actually accommodate four adults for short trips. There’s heaps of room in the boot and the front seats are comfortable and supportive around corners.
The rear seats are also useful and not just a gimmick. They can actually be used if needed – though they're perhaps best kept for short adults or children when undertaking long journeys.
The few things that did present some challenges with the RS5 were lack of a reversing camera, even as an option. The low front nose, which can be hard to accommodate in car parks and tight spaces and the multimedia system which, like most current model Audis, is unnecessarily complicated to perform simple task – an area where BMW’s iDrive shines. On a more personal front, the large exhaust tips seemed like a step down from the quad-exhaust pipes on the S5.
When it comes to purchase time, the choice between an Audi RS5, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe and BMW M3 Coupe is incredibly difficult, but here are some facts to consider. Firstly, the RS5 is currently the newest, with the M3 soon to be replaced and the C63 AMG coupe around halfway through its life.
The RS5 suits a certain driving style that values precision and pinpoint accuracy over engagement and then there’s the fact that there are far more Ms and AMGs floating around than RS5s.
All three are equally incredible cars and if money was no object, you should buy them all. But what Audi should be credited for is creating a first iteration car that has managed to match its iconic Germans rivals in nearly every respect.