The new-look, new-gen Audi RS5 promises big gains over its V8 predecessor by downsizing to a V6 – so how does it go?
The second-generation Audi RS5 is a quick car, of that there is absolutely no doubt.
Built on a completely new platform shared with other new-gen Audis including the A4, A5, Q5 and Q7, it ups the ante by swapping out a 4.2-litre V8 for a newly-developed 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 motor lifted from the Porsche Panamera 4S – but with a few tweaks from Audi Sport.
But while Audi’s engineers have tweaked the engine to deliver higher outputs, the result is a bit of a mixed bag, at least when it comes to noise.
Gone is that deliciously soulful growl that only a naturally aspirated V8 can produce, and in its place, a less visceral song from a smaller, yet far more potent engine. While it gets the same 331kw of power, torque has swelled to a more serious 600Nm – up 170Nm on the old eight-cylinder unit.
And, it’s not just the extra grunt that counts, either. The new RS5 makes its full complement of torque across a much wider torque band – between 1900-5000rpm – whereas the current powerplant can only maintain its peak of 430Nm from 4000-6000rpm.
The result is a devastatingly fast coupe capable of rocketing from standstill to 100km/h in a claimed 3.9 seconds – eight-tenths faster than its predecessor. But here’s the thing, speak with Stephan Reil, Audi’s head of technical development, and he’ll tell you in no uncertain terms that the latest RS5 can go two-tenths better, and the 3.9 second claim is conservative.
After our drive from Toulouse in the south of France, to the tiny Principality of Andorra in the breathtaking Pyrenees mountain range, we’re inclined to believe him.
Just punching the start button reveals an unmistakably tuned, high-tempo idle. Nail it, though, and the effectiveness of quattro all-wheel drive in concert with launch control is celebrated with the kind of drama-free acceleration that sees you hurtling towards the next hairpin (common in these high-mountain parts) at a genuinely serious velocity.
There’s little or no lag to speak of, too, even out of the gate. That’s because the new engine is a ground-up design, which places both turbos within the hot vee for minimal piping, short gas flow and immediate throttle response.
The Audi is a lot more measured in its power delivery, effectively noise-cancelling the very heart of its mechanical rage at full throttle, despite the standard RS Sport exhaust. Some might even find it a bit dull in that regard, but no one will doubt its ability to cover ground at a scorching pace, no matter what the weather brings.
And while it lacks the intoxicating exhaust note of the V8, you still get some crackle and pop on the overrun, as well as a full-blown RS model that won’t intimidate first-time RS buyers.
Audi has also dropped the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, too, necessitated by the new-found torque loads and its inability to deal with it. The cut off, we’re told, is around 550Nm for that particular gearbox.
Audi’s solution comes in the form of an eight-speed ZF automatic, capable of seamless shifting, while bringing a level of refinement unmatched by a dual-clutch gearbox. It’s a laidback driving experience if left to its own devices, at least in auto, but that’s not to say you can’t dial up a decidedly quick-shifting repertoire.
Knocking the svelte Alcantara-wrapped shifter down a notch into Sport brings a more frenzied shift map to the RS5 experience. But for those quick-fire blap, blap, blap downshifts, you’ll want to use the paddle-shifters, with the transmission set to manual.
The old RS5 wasn’t the most agile coupe in the segment, but this thing is 60 kilos lighter, with more than half that weight-loss attributed to the new lightweight powertrain up front. Still, at 1655kg, excluding the driver, this new version isn’t exactly a lightweight contender when compared with the 1537kg M4 Competition.
The new platform rides on a bespoke five-link suspension front and rear, but recalibrated by Audi Sport with claims of quicker response rates and better ride comfort. And it doesn’t disappoint.
It’s not immediately evident as we make our way out of Toulouse, but once we start to make our way up into the mountains, those weight-saving measures start to come into play. The first hairpin reveals a more willing partner on turn in. It feels lighter on its feet and more confidence inspiring through even the tighter bends. It all flows better now, with more precise body control thanks to a raft of improvements under the skin.
Along with variable ratio steering, the RS5 gets a locking rear differential, which works in concert with quattro system’s purely mechanical centre diff providing a 40:60 front/rear torque split under normal circumstances. Yep, there’s a ton of grip available, but push too hard, and the car will revert to its inherent understeering characteristic.
Ride comfort, though, is simply outstanding, at least over the relatively well-maintained roads on pre-planned drive routes in this region. Our tester was fitted with RS Sport suspension and Dynamic Ride Control with adjustable dampers, and the results are impressive.
Pitch and roll are beautifully sorted, even under very high lateral loads. Left in Comfort, the RS5 delivers a level of pliancy unrivalled in the class. Shifting to the most focused Dynamic setting not only tightens up body control further, but also does nothing to upset ride comfort. It’s a remarkable accomplishment given our car was riding on 20-inch rims shod with ultra-low-profile 275/30 series tyres (standard on Australian delivered cars).
It stops brilliantly too, not surprising given the massive 400mm ceramic rotors up front – if you option them – 375mm steel discs if you don’t. You won’t of course need them for Australia, but they’re some of the most progressive we’ve experienced on a road car in this segment.
It’s still relatively conservative, but Audi Sport boss Stephan Winkelmann was determined to give the new RS5 a more distinctive look and stance in his quest to bring further exclusivity to full-blown RS models.
It definitely looks the business, and positively menacing in your rear-vision mirror. Audi design chief Marc Lichte, looked to the heavily-muscled Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTO for styling cues, which is why the new version sits even lower with a wider stance than the rest of the A5 range. But it’s the more aggressive grille, bumper and driveway-scraping front splitter that further separates the RS5 from the rest of the A5 range, or for that matter, its S5 sibling.
But inside is where the RS5 leaves the rest of the field in its diamond-stitched leather wake. The bar was already set high, but swathes of Alcantara (including the flat-bottom steering wheel) and some of the finest metal work in business all amount to a top-notch look and feel.
Also, making up the RS5’s standard equipment inventory is Audi’s much lauded Virtual Cockpit – essentially a 12.3-inch high-resolution customisable instrument display, as well as a raft of high-end creature comforts and up to 30 driver assistance systems.
Highlights include adaptive cruise control with stop and go function including traffic jam assist (semi-autonomous driving), park assist, rear-cross traffic alert, exit warning, turn assist, camera-based traffic sign recognition and Audi pre-sense city, basic and rear.
Detailed specs and pricing will be revealed closer to the car’s arrival later in the year, but be assured of a sub-$160K plus on-roads price tag.
We came to France with the notion the new Audi S5 was all anyone would ever need in an Audi GT, but even after a relatively short time behind the wheel of the new RS5, it’s clear this car has evolved into a more serious proposition with more of just about everything – except the right noise.
But maybe that’s the price of progress?
MORE: Everything Audi