The second-generation Audi RS5 muscle coupe loses the sonorous old V8 in favour of a torquier turbo six. It's fast, grippy and loaded with tech, though driving purists may long for more character
Audi’s answer to the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 S has just arrived. It’s the new 2018 Audi RS5 coupe, and beneath the evolutionary skin is an almost entirely new car.
The second iteration of the hardtop RS5 sits on Audi’s new MLBevo architecture, which helps cut weight and add stiffness. All up, the car is a significant 60kg lighter than before – significant given it's AWD.
It’s also sporting lines developed by newish design boss Marc Lichte, inspired by the Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTO.
But the major change is to the engine, which is now a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 unit related to the S5’s 3.0 TFSI.
The heartbreaking part is the death of the raucous naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 that powered the outgoing model (and the B8 RS4 Avant), which had an aggro exhaust note and a capacity to rev out past 8000rpm that made it something special.
When the M3/M4 returned to an inline six, it felt like it was just returning to the halcyon days of the E46, but the Audi losing its eight feels somehow more dramatic – even if it does cut fuel use to 8.8L/100km and get the CO2 emissions below the 200g/km barrier.
The good news is that this 31kg lighter new unit makes the same 331kW of power as the V8 did, but from 2500rpm earlier and across a broader part of the rev band. It also offers a massive 170Nm more torque – total output now being 600Nm between 1900 and 5000rpm.
The other great piece of comparative data is pricing. The new RS5 costs $156,600 before on-road costs, which is about $20K less than the old one's price at launch in 2010, and makes it more affordable than the $163,611 Mercedes-AMG C63 S, though it's $5000 more than the M4.
That means this new one should manage more than the 500 sales the old RS5 managed in Australia over its life cycle (out of a global production run of 13,000 units, showing how sizeable our market is for this type of car).
For those interested, the average buyer is late 40s, with 90 per cent being men. Well-paid ones...
The shorter-stroke Audi TFSI engine with the odd displacement (Alfa Romeo has also brought the old 2.9 back, funnily enough) has its two turbochargers between the cylinder banks, reducing lag by improving airflow and improving efficiency.
Naturally, this engine sends torque to the road through a quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, defaulting to send 40 per cent of output to the front wheels but capable of channeling up to 85 per cent to the rear wheels. The standard electromechanical sports diff then transfers torque latitudinally at the rear to where the traction is.
The AWD traction helps the RS5 dash to 100km/h from standstill in just 3.9 seconds, six-tenths faster than the 60kg heavier old atmo model, matching the more powerful AMG's 375kW/700Nm twin-turbo V8’s time, and beating the M4 by 0.2sec (and the cheaper M4 Pure by a solitary one-tenth).
This is despite the fact that Audi has binned the S tronic dual-clutch auto in favour of an eight-speed tiptronic, with a hydraulic torque converter/lock-up clutch, familiar in conception to the S4/S5 but beefed up here to handle the torque and fitted with different ratios.
A bold move that’ll improve daily driving, but which isn’t a traditional performance car option.
At standstill, the RS5 certainly has the presence to match its German rivals, sporting big inlets with a honeycomb pattern, a wider and flatter single-frame grille, bolsters on the guards, bold diffusers, 20-inch wheels, and the choice of gloss black, carbon or matt aluminium details. You can even option a carbon-fibre roof.
Okay, it’s no DTM touring car, but it’s still pretty brawny.
Under the body there’s an updated five-link suspension set-up at the front and a new five-link arrangement at the rear in place of the old atmo V8’s trapezoidal-link.
There’s also lowered suspension including hydraulically activated adaptive dampers (Dynamic Ride Control) fitted, plus the option of carbon-ceramic brakes over and above the standard 375mm/330mm units.
Okay, so that’s your quick breakdown of the car. But what’s it actually like?
Well it's bloody fast, for one. Instant grip and scarcely a moment of lag, just an overwhelming surge of torque sent to the road without a jot of fuss. Whether it's straight-line pace or point-and-shoot slingshotting out of corners, your eyes will be watering.
Of course, that six can't hope to have the dramatic note of the old V8, which practically begged you to hit the redline, nor does the tiptronic have the preternaturally rapid and decisive shifts under load of a DCT (though it's remarkably fast at double-downshifting in the paddle-operated manual mode, at least).
The quattro system means the RS5's default is a pretty safe and rock-solid GT, though that rear diff sending torque latitudinally across the rear axle gives you a hint of tail-out attitude. Yes, the RWD M4 and C63 feel edgier, but Audi knows what its brand stands for.
Seriously, this car just hangs on, and on, allowing you to rack up some genuinely rapid corner speeds, provided it's safe to do so (or if you're on a track).
Also fitted is a new electromechanical power steering system, which feels a little more remote and disconnected than the M4's. You can adjust the levels of resistance, but if Audi wants to tune feel and feedback into its set-up, it should have a chat to fellow VW Group brand Porsche over in Stuttgart/Leipzig.
Thus, the RS5 is absolutely brutally fast and grips tarmac like a GoPro mount's sucker grips a windscreen. Alas, it doesn't sound as good as the old car (or a C63 AMG S), even though in a drag race it'd win, and its steering could be chattier.
Technically amazing, but emotionally a touch distant.
Where the RS5 really shines against the M4 or C63 is its all-rounder qualities. Its 8AT, the way its dampers become much more pliant in comfort mode, and the low resistance, low-speed steering all mean it's extremely amenable to being a chilled-out daily driver.
It's cushier and smoother than almost any other muscle car when you want it to be, and that's a genuinely excellent trait considering it'll spend most of its life doing precisely that.
It feels like an S5 with a higher ceiling (the tricky diff helps), whereas the M4 has few of the traits of the calmer 440i.
To the cabin, which is typical Audi. It's the very height of appointment, craftsmanship and Teutonic glamour, with some edge added by lashings of Alcantara, Nappa leather, red stitching and metallic switchgear.
The illuminated door sills and ambient LED lights with 30 colours to choose from are fitting, while the big-bolstered and electrically adjustable bucket seats are as supportive as the world's best mum.
The tablet screen is controlled by a familiar rotary dial, has Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and photo-quality navigation. The 12.3-inch (1440 x 540 pixels) Virtual Cockpit digital instruments are typically vivid.
There's also a 755-watt, 19-speaker sound system with a 16-channel amp, and three-zone climate control adjusted by sensor switches, which display what is happening on a separate screen.
Options include a Technik package with head-up display, Qi wireless phone charger and Matrix LED headlights. You can also buy carbon-fibre exterior bits for $10,900, a carbon-fibre roof (an Audi first) for $4900, a carbon engine cover ($1200), and carbon ceramic brakes for $11,900.
In terms of space, Audi claims there's 26mm more front shoulder room, and 23mm more knee room in the back seats. The rear seats have space for two kids or a pair of small adults at a pinch, and flip 40:20:40. The boot is a smidgen bigger than before, at 465L, and comes with a cargo net. Room for a few golf bags.
Tech-wise, Audi has fitted more than 30 driver-assistance systems (say that last bit five times quickly). There's adaptive cruise control that works from zero to 250km/h, a traffic jam assist system, turn assist, park assist, cross-traffic assist, exit warning to stop you 'door-ing' passing cycles, lane assist, autonomous braking that senses pedestrians, and a predictive efficiency assistant.
Audi is the Volkswagen Group's hub for partial-autonomous-car development, and the RS5 is clearly being used as a showcase alongside the even more advanced new A8 limo.
So that's our launch review of the new RS5. Commendations are in order for its reduced and competitive price. It also goes like the clappers, grips the road like velcro 98 per cent of the time, and has the kind of cabin design, quality and tech most brands would kill for.
However, its engine note and the steering feel mean absolute purists after the most visceral experience they can get might still look at the M4 Pure or C63. Horses for courses.