Last April, we called the Audi S5 coupe “haute couture in coupeland.” This is still true, but there’s hauter and hotter couture now: the 444-hp 2018 Audi RS5. With wider fenders, more protuberant aerodynamic bits, more sporting togs inside, more power and special all-wheel-drive machinery underneath, the RS5 is edgier and more pointed. Less mainstream than the S5. Tom Waits to the S5’s Tom Petty.
Where the S5 wears essentially the same bodywork of the base A5 coupe, the RS5 grows front and rear fenders sufficiently – 15 mm wider than standard – to warrant front headlight and taillight housing extensions so that they flow with subtlety into those bulging fenders. A unique black honeycomb-latticed grille sits up front, with aluminum or optional black trim riding below the grille. At the rear, a diffuser-like finisher sits under the bumper, flanked by large oval tailpipes, a now-standard bit of Audi RS kit. The trunk lid edge is fitted with a small gloss black lip spoiler.
More power, greater torque; you might think Audi enlarged the old RS5’s V8, but no, sir. The RS5 now uses a twin-turbo, 2.9-liter V6. The RS5’s two turbos are placed in the valley of the engine’s two banks of cylinders. Shorter turbo plumbing reduces turbo lag, the delay between mashing your foot down on the throttle and the expectant onslaught of boost and real power, an issue for turbo engines.
The end result is a relatively quiet monster of 444 horsepower (on 21.5 psi maximum boost pressure) that rockets the RS5 to 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds where the old V8 car needed 4.5 seconds (itself no sloth-like figure). This engine also gives a wider, more useful band of torque and power than the old V8. The new engine also yields better mileage, with 26 combined mpg (though this is an estimate), up from 23 combined mpg. Full preliminary figures are 18/26/21.
My sample RS5 used the optional active exhaust system with valves in the tailpipes and a connecting cross pipe ahead of the rear mufflers. With those valves open, the 2.9-liter engine sounds larger than it actually is, with a solid baritone voice.
The exhaust blats on hard upshifts like most new high-performance turbocharged cars, but the exhaust is never overwhelming and, compared to some top-performance cars, somewhat remote. The soundtrack is therefore bassy, slightly guttural and lacking in virtually any treble frequencies, mostly a good thing. Audi fits a small helper speaker at the base of the windshield that emits a soft induction noise, but it’s active only below 3,000 rpm. Higher engine speeds are on their own, auditorily.
The RS5 uses an evolved version of the same 8-speed automatic of the S5, which retains a traditional torque converter (“Tiptronic” in Audi-speak) rather than employing an automated dual-clutch manual (“S tronic” in Audi parlance). It’s really no matter, though, because this automatic shifts crisply and when you expect it to, whether you’re playing the shift paddles yourself or leaving it to its own devices. One other benefit of using this automatic? Trundling off sedately from a dead stop is smoother than with any dual-clutch unit.
As the highest-performance A5 variant, the RS5 strikes just about the best balance between handling agility and ride comfort a good company can muster. Set to attack the twisties, you’d hardly want for more grip or surer feet.
The RS5’s Quattro all-wheel drive can vary the apportionment of power through a center differential from extremes of 70 percent front and 30 percent rear to 15 percent front and 85 percent rear, depending on grip and driving behavior. The RS5 uses its own special electronic stability control software, given both the higher grip level of the car and the more pointed performance mission. It also rides 7mm lower than the S5.
“Drive Select” allows adjustment of the drivetrain and suspension, varying the shock damping, exhaust sound, transmission behavior and the steering’s weight and directness in three pre-fixed menus or one customizable “Individual” set of parameters you tune to your own proclivities. However, unless you’re on glass-smooth tarmac, the stiffest “Dynamic” suspension setting rapidly becomes a high-frequency, innards’-scrambling experience. Best to keep the suspension’s “Dynamic”ism to solo Andretti moments.
By contrast, leave the suspension in “Comfort” or “Auto” modes, and excellent ride quality totally belies the unforgiving nature of extremely low-profile 275/30R20 tires. Interestingly, the shock absorbers’ oil lines and valving that control relative stiffness or compliance are cross-connected (left front to right rear and right front to left rear), giving a better handle on body roll, among other deeper characteristics. Put simply, from a conceptual standpoint, race car engineers take a similar cross-jacking or weight-jacking approach. (This bit of trivia will earn you free beer or free scorn at the bar).
Gigantic, 15.7-inch diameter carbon-ceramic front brake rotors are part of an optional Dynamic Plus package. At $9,350, it’s a fairly stiff price, though that also includes the sport exhaust, Dynamic Ride Control and an interesting tire pressure and temperature monitoring system.
The car in the photos has the standard iron front brakes, still very large at 14.8 inches. The carbon-ceramic units stop no quicker than the standard ones but will withstand repeated abuse like a champ. If you plan on track use, I’d urge consideration of the carbon brakes, but for the vast majority of people the standard brakes are just peachy. Keep in mind though, at 3,990 lbs., the RS5 is a borderline heavyweight, which can make track use a lumbering affair.
The juiciest driver assistance hardware, like traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera view, and lane keeping assistance, is optional for the RS5, as is navigation with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which places an elaborate map and gauge presentation front and center in the instrument panel, if you so desire.
Frankly, I cannot imagine ordering any Audi without its navigation and “Multi-Media Interface” (MMI) rotary dial infotainment interface. It is by far the class of the field. Not just in terms of the actual interface, but also the useful information that arises without prompting and the way those options are presented without having to scroll through sub-menu after sub-menu, or having to compensate for a poor physical interface, as on current Lexus cars.
An often-infuriating, complex set of choices is therefore made elegant, simple and downright pleasing with Audi’s MMI system. There is no better thought-out interface on the market, except perhaps an F-35 fighter jet which reads eye movements. But that costs more.
Speed is relative whether on a highway or with light particles, but here’s where the RS5 kicks major gluteus and where driving it can get dicey. It so effortlessly reaches cruising speed and beyond that when you glance down expecting XX mph, you find an extra 20. Maybe 30. The RS5 is a highway patrol officer’s fish-in-a-barrel Festivus. We obviously do not condone speeding, but the RS5 makes limit-adherence the biggest challenge when driving it.
Multi-adjustable, extra-sporty and massaging front seats make finding a suitable driving position as easy as breathing. Given its coupe profile, visibility all around is excellent, despite rear headrests that do not pivot or fold flat when not in use. Rear seat space is tight; kids, tweens, dogs and guitars are fine. Anything bigger needs, well, bigger.
The new Audi RS5 carries a base price of $70,875 including destination but with no options. I drove one model optioned up to $91,000, though the Nardo Gray photo car rang the register at $81,925.
Obviously, the RS5 can be a spendy little morsel. But it is also the most livable when measured against its primary competitors, the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63. Given the choices in that party of performance animals, the Audi RS5’s usually sedate demeanor does not suggest it’s always a softie. It grunts and growls, too. It’s just wearing a suit when doing so.
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