Audi's RS5 ’bahn-stormer offers a near-perfect blend of liveability and outright performance.
At face value, one could loudly and forcibly damn those do-gooding European commissars for the ever-more stringent emissions targets being forced upon us. Yes, we all want a future for our beautiful green and blue planet. But does that brighter future for our kids have to come at a cost to the joy of motoring? Can’t we just regulate cows to stop farting?
Instead, carmakers are building more efficient engines – invariably with turbocharging – and a reduction in cylinders and cubic centilitres. And to be fair, they have, for the most part, done a bang-up job of it, building smarter cars with surprising levels of power all while sipping less of the finite oil-based resource that is petroleum.
Case in point? The all-new 2018 Audi RS5, which has received a heart transplant – a svelte 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 in place of the old naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8.
That V8 in that application proved an inspiration. A lovely orchestral beast that was truly something special. A heartbeat so loud and musical, a choir of angels could not hope to replicate it with the same exultation of spirit. But Audi’s engineers can… Almost.
Let’s get straight to the point. The V6 unit lurking under the snout of the new Audi RS5 is not as sonorous, raucous or angry as the V8 it replaces. It is, however, just as powerful – 331kW, the same as the old V8, albeit available lower and further across the rev range between 5700–6700rpm over the V8’s peak power at an astonishing 8250rpm. So that’s a tick.
So too the extra torque, and by extra we’re not talking a dozen Newton metres. Try an extra 170Nm (600Nm over the V8’s 430) and all that shove is available wayyyyyy lower in the rev range, coming on song between 1900–5000rpm (the V8 required the tacho needle hovering between 4000–6000rpm before peak torque kicked in). Another tick, then.
It’s also faster than its V8 older brother with a claimed 0–100km/h sprint time of 3.9 seconds against the V8’s comparatively pedestrian 4.5 seconds. Clever innit?
So that’s the mores. Next up, the lesses. This, the second-gen RS5, is lighter than its predecessor by some 60kg thanks to its new MLBevo architecture. It’s also cheaper, but only just. Starting at $156,600 plus on-road costs, the 2018 Audi RS5 quattro is $626 less than the last of the V8-powered RS5s. Chump change really, at this price point. Remarkably, that pricing places it firmly in the same league as its natural enemy, BMW’s M4 Competition, which will need $156,900 of your hard-earned to roll into your garage.
Standard equipment highlights for the RS5 include: Nappa leather RS-branded sports seats with diamond stitching, an RS-specific 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver’s display, RS-badged flat-bottom steering wheel, 20-inch alloys inside which nestle some contrasting red brake calipers, LED headlights, privacy glass, a panoramic glass roof, and a nifty gloss-black exterior styling package.
Plenty of tech, too, to help keep you safe and on the black stuff. Audi says there are more than 30 bits of cleverness in play. Highlights include adaptive cruise control that works between 0–250km/h (impressive), lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and side-door exit warning (to warn you if you are about to open your door on a cyclist or car), park assist, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian avoidance, and driver attention alert. There’s the usual suite of airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating awarded in 2015.
There’s a certain familiarity, a comfort, sliding inside the Audi RS5. Those honeycomb-stitched seats hug you nice and tight, while the perforated leather RS steering wheel looks and feels the business. It’s typically Audi in its execution – refined, understated, crisp.
Tying everything together is, of course, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, the very configurable driver instrument display that continues to impress every time we are faced with it.
Infotainment comes courtesy of an 8.3-inch colour display controlled easily (and handily) by a rotary dial in the centre console. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, although, annoyingly, without a touchscreen the user experience is less than stellar, requiring the use of the rotary dialler to scroll through apps. It’s counterintuitive to how a smartphone works. Small gripe, then.
Audi claims there’s more room in the back row in this new-gen RS5, although it’s still pretty cosy back there for a couple of average-sized adults. My little toddler, though, was happy enough installed in row two, even if the act of installing her seat, and subsequently her, required a level of contortion I thought I’d left behind in about 1985. She was also impressed with the ambient LED lights, configurable in a palette of 30 colours. It did get pretty old pretty quickly, though. There is only so much “Daddy, make it red. Daddy, make it blue” you can hear before you feel compelled to fire up the rather excellent 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System. Loudly.
But all of this is peripheral to the essence of the RS5, which remains, as ever, as a high-performance grand tourer. And, despite dropping two cylinders and possibly a little bit of its soul, the news is good because the RS5 is as accomplished and as usable as it ever was.
And it starts with that twin-turbo 2.9-litre V6, an engine the RS5 shares incidentally with Volkswagen Audi Group stablemate, the Porsche Panamera 4S.
Clever packaging sees the RS5’s two turbochargers nestling inside the 90-degree vee of the V6, said to not only improve emissions (thanks to essentially shorter plumbing), but crucially, for a car of this nature, reduces turbo lag. This new engine is also around 31kg lighter than the V8 it replaces, contributing to the RS5’s overall 60kg weight saving over the outgoing model.
And that adds up to a level of performance its predecessor cannot match. Throttle response is instantaneous and the surge of speed slaps you with the ferocity of a jilted lover. It’s at once intoxicating and soulful, a blend of straight-line speed and sure-footedness that is impossible to not like. There’s a maturity at play, too. This is no street brawler, all aggressive swagger and bravado. This is instead a refined grand tourer, equally adept at doing the school run as it is linking corners.
Play around town at docile speeds with drive select set to Comfort and the RS5 displays excellent manners. There’s no harshness, no jarring to the Audi’s ride. The adaptive dampers play their part perfectly and gobble up bumps, imperfections, and road joins with a subtlety that belies its inherent sporting underpinnings.
But it’s out in the open, where the roads are long and the corners beckon with a glint in their eyes, that the RS5 begins to reveal its true self. That it is fast is without question, but its real card trick is, of course, its handling.
Thanks to Audi’s quattro AWD underpinnings, the RS5 is nigh on impossible to disturb off its intended line. I mean, you probably could, but geez you’d have to be really trying hard and at a level of driving that would see you arrested in most countries.
Simply, the RS5 is as sure-footed as you want or need it to be, with the torque-vectoring sport diff at play to send power front and rear as needed. There’s no all-rear wheel bias, the maximum drive sent backwards 70 per cent. Standard is a 60:40 split, while the fronts can, if needed, take 85 per cent. All this adds up to a rewarding experience, filled with the confidence of knowing the RS5 will go exactly where you want it.
Of course, with drive select set to Dynamic, the RS5 loses some of its plush ride, becoming an altogether firmer beast. It’s not unbearable, though, and if your bent for bends is on a nice piece of smooth blacktop, you won’t be disappointed. The steering weights up nicely as well, but it does lack a little connection. And the eight-speed ZF auto holds onto revs as long as you need them to. Controversially, Audi has ditched its seven-speed S tronic double-clutch transmission in favour of the ZF, which is better able to cope with the RS5’s 600Nm lashings of torque.
It’s a shame really, as the gearshifts have lost the razor-sharp edge honed to near-perfection under the old regime. There’s fun to be had using the paddle-shifters, and there’s certainly no indecision on the ZF’s part. But there just isn’t the same decisiveness afforded by the old S tronic. Personally, I found leaving it in auto with the transmission lever set to ‘S’ for sport more rewarding, such is Audi’s excellent tuning of the eight-speed auto. This allows the revs to build freely and quickly, but sadly without that visceral thump-in-your-chest, burn-a-hole-in-your-heart soundtrack that has been muted by the loss of those two cylinders.
Pulling up the RS5’s 1735kg heft are some big vented and drilled stoppers, 375mm with six-piston calipers. You can option even larger 400mm carbon-ceramics ($11,900!), but really, unless you plan to track your RS5 regularly, why would you? The steelies work just fine, offering a consistent surety when called upon.
Audi covers the RS5 with its pretty standard three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty along with three years’ roadside assistance. Servicing intervals are 15,000km or every 12 months, whichever comes first.
The pleasures to be found in the Audi RS5 are multitudinous. It’s an accomplished grand tourer – a perfect blend of around-town comfort and performance. Sure, we can mourn the loss of that glorious V8-orchestrated soundtrack of yesteryear, but the pleasure in a car like this lies in more than just an exhaust note.
From its hunkered-down good looks to the comfort levels afforded by its interior, or the benign way it handles traffic and imperfect city streets to when let off its chain and allowed to stretch out, the RS5 is a grand tourer befitting the name.