The 2021 Audi RS5 Sportback and I got off on the wrong foot.
My last experience with an Audi RS5 involved the previous generation – with its wonderful naturally aspirated V8. Awfully similar to the engine used in the Audi R8 supercar of the same era, it remains till this day a remarkably charismatic powertrain.
The replacement – found in the current, second-generation Audi RS5 – sees two cylinders lopped off and two turbochargers added on. As far as speculation goes, there's no better way to theoretically demagnetise a powertrain. According to the paper, gone is the V8 bark and gone is any twinkly treble due to the introduction of exhaust-mounted compressors.
After ticking it over, I was greeted with sounds that instantly supported my fears. It's not as sonorous, but judgement ought to be reserved for the drive.
Which we'll cover off after the formalities of course. As mentioned, a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine provides gusto here with 331kW and a big 600Nm from 1900–5000rpm. That's a solid spread, no question there.
Our car was tickled with a handful of options, namely an RS design package in red that adds Alcantara and coloured details throughout the cabin, 20-inch wheels, Audi rings and badges in black, adaptive dampers and carbon inlays.
Its list price starts from $150,900 before on-roads. Our car, $161,200.
|2021 Audi RS5 Sportback|
|Engine||2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6|
|Power and torque||331kW at 5700-6700rpm, 600Nm at 1900–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||9.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||12.4L/100km|
|Boot volume (seven-seat/five-seat/two-seat)||480/980L|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C63|
Hilariously, a handful of black plastic badges cost $700, whereas black 20-inch wheels are $400. If you want a sign that options make car brands money, there you have it.
Now, back to the drive. After departing the Audi dealership, my drive took me around some of Sydney's quintessential inner-city roads. Here, numerous poor repairs, oodles of traffic, and continual changes between new and old road surfaces are rife.
The optional adaptive suspension does a wonderful job in its most comfortable setting. Even over temporary repairs that use large sheets of metal to patch up the road – unbelievably we still do that here – the ride remains surprisingly comfortable.
While I can't speak for fixed-damper versions, I'd argue that a four-door grand tourer like this should ideally be fitted with adaptive suspension as standard. For reference, it's a $4400 option, so an easy one to overlook.
The powertrain felt potent around town, which is something the old car's engine lacked. The sparkly naturally aspirated V8 needed to be strung out for maximum pleasure, whereas this twin-turbo V6 does not. Merging lanes by flexing its mid-range is addictive and fun – just be wary of the speed it puts on.
I also noticed something quite unusual happening. Three to four seconds after lifting off and overrunning the engine, it became louder. The sound led me to believe its ignition cycle was changing, as when you pressed the pedal to begin accelerating, it popped and 'parped' quite aggressively back into forward progress.
It's a cool sound, something genuine, and definitely not programmed in for sound's sake. Its authenticity was later confirmed after reading the tech documents. It explains that the engine rolls into what the brand calls 'B cycle' – a combustion process designed to improve efficiency. You can also discern that it's some result of mechanical know-how, and not some engineer having a laugh with a laptop after a stein or two.
It intrigued, as did the performance on offer. I possibly had called this wrong. After moseying about town running errands and doing atypical Audi RS5 things – like a trip to Bunnings – I headed out to good roads north of Sydney.
Here is where typical RS5 things were conducted. With its engine and dampers dialled firmly into Sport mode, the RS5 Sportback gives back once again. The chassis balance is delectable and composed, but not an outright hooligan, despite Audi's electronically actuated sport differential being fitted as standard in our market.
Modern all-wheel-drive systems can be calibrated to feel overly rear-biased and taily, but not here. Instead, a safe amount of understeer will rear its head when the going gets tough. That doesn't mean you can't provoke it into scenarios that rear-drive cars most favour; however, its default strategy appears to be to wash out of a corner.
There's an option for the car to generate fake sounds, so be sure to flick that nonsense off. It actually takes away from the baritone burble that you get from the twin-turbo V6. In terms of six-cylinder twin-turbo powertrains, it sounds better than a Nissan GT-R and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio.
The powertrain is as gutsy as they come. Surprisingly, it revs strongly for a V6, with a rich, buttery torque reserve offered in spades through the middle of its rev range.
In terms of fuel use, the Audi RS5 Sportback used 12.5L/100km versus an official claim of 9.4L/100km. A far from good result there.
The eight-speed torque converter auto is a delight, however, and equally as creamy in how it manages input. Due to its fluid coupling nature, any of the engine's unwanted harshness is subdued, but not blunted or dulled. It does a wonderful job of feeling poised and connected under load, yet supple at lower speeds. Dual-clutches have their place, but here torque converters reign supreme.
Steering response is up there with this segment's best. In all modes it feels authentic, but its regular mode the most so.
In ways, I see this driveline's appeal over a larger twin-turbo V8. The Audi's V6 builds boost more noticeably, instead of feeling 'always on' like some larger-capacity, higher-cylinder-count cars can. Versus a naturally aspirated V8, the best parts of its performance are far more usable on public roads.
It's just the sound that might turn some purists away. However, it's still a fun experience to learn its quirks and manipulate it almost like an instrument.
While conducting such behaviour from inside the car, you're treated to plenty of luxury. High-quality nappa leather seats complete with hexagonal stitching come as standard and are well bolstered as well as low-set. That latter point may be an issue for some, as due to the low roof line, one does sit quite deep into the hull of an Audi RS5. Climbing out is exactly that – an exercise that requires effort.
Infotainment has been updated for the 2021 model, with a 10.1-inch touchscreen system replacing the old MMI system with a tactile controller. Despite the system being far smarter, faster, and sharper than before, this reviewer does miss the rotary dial interaction point. The old system was easier and less distracting to use while driving.
Still, the new system brings with it connected data-driven brains, which enables it to fetch carpark pricing by the hour and local fuel prices, among other things. It'll also dial emergency services in the event of an accident.
Other pleasantries include a 19-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo (which is fantastic), a large opening sunroof, wireless phone charging and head-up display.
In terms of more basic amenities, storage is fair. Its door pockets are a decent length, but the armrests above impede on the space, which means an average-sized bottle doesn't fit.
The two larger cupholders in the centre console are more ergonomically sound, and there's also a small, covered storage area where the old MMI rotary dial used to be. Lastly, its centre armrest storage area is shallow and dominated solely by a wireless charging pad.
Into the second row, the contentious roof-height issue pops up again. Not only does it pose the same issue in terms of ingress and egress as the first row, but its swoopy nature also causes rear head room to be slim. There's also the concern of big, dominant pillars causing a cosy atmosphere around rear occupants. Some will feel cosseted, others a bit claustrophobic.
This feeds into the final point about the roof line, which is loading children into the second row with support seats. You're forced to wedge kids in who use a rearward-facing seat, as the gap between the roof and the seat area is minuscule. Using a forward-facing seat is easier, but the low hip point does require some deadlifting prowess from an awkward height and angle.
In a nutshell, an Audi RS4 Avant is far easier with kids. Offspring aside, behind my own driving position, my knees came close to brushing up against the first-row seat backs. General foot room was fair, however.
The seat base itself is mounted on quite the angle, which means you sink back and have your thighs well supported as a result. Once settled, the third zone of climate control can be adjusted from the back of the car, and there are two USB ports, a 12-volt power outlet, and rear air vents to boot.
When two-up, the centre armrest can be used and includes a pair of cupholders. The door pockets in the second row are close to useless, with enough space for a wallet or purse at best. Boot space comes in at 480L, and extends through to 980L with the second-row seats folded. Not huge, but decent enough to stow a fold-up stroller alongside a fortnight's worth of groceries.
Finally, every safety system the brand offers on its A5 range is fitted as standard. That includes things like radar cruise control, active lane-keeping assistance, lane-change warning with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and the like. The wider Audi A5 range wears a five-star ANCAP rating having been tested back in 2015.
The 2021 updates bring its infotainment up to today's standards, but the rest of the package remains as it was. That's no big deal either, as the twin-turbo V6 and torque-converter automatic powertrain is one of great might.
Throw in the neutral, predictable handling and confidence of Quattro all-wheel drive, and you get the Swiss Army knife of family cars – so long as your kids use forward-facing or booster seats.
If you're moving up from a previous-generation Audi RS vehicle with the old V8, don't be scared. This powertrain still retains a great demeanour. Despite being wildly different, it's more road-friendly and definitely quicker where it needs to be.
For me, the hard choice would not be trading my old car in, but more so picking between this and the Audi RS4 Avant. If you value universal style and appeal, however, the decision has already been made for you.
Swoopy roofs and four-doors are a thing, especially when backed by Audi RS performance.