Furiously fast and plenty livable, the RS5 wants only for a bit more auditory drama.
– Phoenix, Arizona
The new 2018 Audi RS5 may not make any more horsepower than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean there are no improvements. Weight is down by 132 pounds, torque is up by a whopping 126 pound-feet, and the sprint to 60 miles per hour takes 0.8 second less than before. Oh, and fuel economy has improved, too. What those figures don’t tell you, though, is this: the RS5 is a stupid amount of fun to drive.
On wide, open, sweeping roads outside Phoenix, the new Audi RS5 shines in the way it can devour tarmac. I open the throttle, dive into bends, and sweep around corners at speed. With the adaptive suspension dialed up to Dynamic mode and the Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 tires grabbing hold of the road, I carry lots of speed through bends as I hurtle the car through Arizona. This is a car that nudges me, encourages me, nay begs me, to drive faster.
Motivation comes from a biturbocharged 2.9-liter V6, replacing the 4.2-liter V8 that revved to a delightful 8,250 rpm. This application of the 2.9-liter mill is unique to the RS5; though it’s related to the one in the Porsche Panamera, Audi specs different cooling and intake plumbing, a new crankshaft, and a different compression ratio. Its 444 horsepower output rating is identical to the V8’s, but there is not only more torque (443 lb-ft versus 317), but it arrives from 1,900 rpm whereas the V8’s wasn’t available until 4,000 rpm. In other words: there’s more grunt more often. The 0-60 sprint takes just 3.7 seconds if you use launch control. And better still, the engine itself weighs 66 pounds less than the V8 it replaces.
Compared to an A5 or S5, this car sits 0.28 inch lower on its standard sports suspension. Option the $3,350 Dynamic package and that’s upgraded to Dynamic Ride Control; adjustable with the drive-mode switch, it offers three distinct damping curves for the RS5 that range from plush to aggressive. The package also adds RS exhausts with butterfly valves inside the oval-shaped tips that open in Dynamic mode to offer up even more noise. Dial it all into Dynamic and the chassis dismisses any hint of roll, while the exhaust trumpets and grumbles behind you. The car is potent, alive, and keen to follow your every command.
Though it can’t match the tail-out antics of its rivals, at least the standard Quattro all-wheel drive is tuned to make the car feel a little livelier. By default, 60 percent of the engine’s torque heads aft, with up to 85 percent shifted to the rear wheels in certain situations. And a torque-vectoring sports rear differential is standard; it can shuffle up to 100 percent of the rear torque to one of the rear wheels. Add in brake interventions that squeeze the inside rear wheel in corners to mitigate understeer, and you start to forget that this car carries 54 percent of its weight over the front wheels. The stability control has even been retuned for RS duty, with a really-full-off mode.
Of course, when I select Comfort mode instead, the RS5 behaves a whole lot more like a regular Audi. The suspension becomes luxury-car supple over bumps, even despite the low-profile 275/30 tires on 20-by-9-inch wheels. And it’s quiet, too, with only a little road noise entering the cabin as I whisk along at 75 mph. Fuel economy is even improved over the prior RS5: 18 miles per gallon and 26 mpg highway, compared to 16/23 mpg for the V8-powered RS5. It’s easy for me to imagine this as my everyday car because it is much more pleasant than some of its German competitors. Yes, it’s a little bit stiffer and louder than an A5 or S5 – but not by much.
In some ways, though, the RS5 errs too much on the side of luxury. Even when that exhaust is in its loudest mode, the car isn’t particularly vocal – a run through a tunnel with the windows down confirms that – and it never offers up the snaps, crackles, or pops the help its rivals deliver excitement. Nor, too, do the small plasticky shift paddles create any real drama. Because the eight-speed automatic gearbox is so incredibly smooth in its operation, DIY shifting is not all that exciting. This is not to say that it isn’t the type of car that puts a smile on my face, but rather to say it’s not one that makes me cackle with laughter on every drive.
It does, however, look the part, especially when dressed up in the Black Optic package ($1,500) that darkens all the exterior trim. Note that the fenders are flared by 0.6 inch on either side; all the extra functional vents in the front fascia, the better to chill the air-to-water intercooler and horizontally mounted oil cooler; the new diffuser and trunk spoiler out back. So too for the inside, where snug-fitting RS-branded bolstered seats offer a massaging function and heating, while the sporty flat-bottom steering wheel is trimmed in perforated leather and glossy carbon fiber adorns the dash. As in all new Audis, the Virtual Cockpit full-color instrument panel is a must-have option, whether for viewing Google Earth map data or performance details like a lap timer and G-meter.
Starting at $69,900 before destination or options, the RS5 is priced right on par with its similarly powerful rivals – namely, the likes of the BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C63/C63 S, and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio; the Cadillac ATS-V and Lexus RC F are both a little bit cheaper. To that starting figure, a couple of option packages can quickly raise the price.
To get Virtual Cockpit and the MMI infotainment system with navigation, for instance, requires $2,600. The aforementioned Dynamic pack can be supplemented by the $6,000 Dynamic Plus pack. It raises the top speed limiter from 155 to 174 mph, adds direct tire-pressure monitoring, a carbon-fiber engine cover, and carbon-ceramic front brakes. Not only are the brakes larger in diameter than the regular steel ones – 15.7-inch discs instead of 14.8-inch ones – but they also save 17.6 pounds of mass compared to the standard front brakes.
Other option packages include the $1,150 Dynamic steering package, which varies the steering ratio so it can be easier in parking lot situations but more stable on the highway; a different set of 20-inch wheels with an ultra-cooled milled design, for just $2,250; Nappa leather upholstery for $1,500; a $950 Bang & Olufsen sound system; and a $3,300 Driver Assistance package that includes a head-up display and adaptive cruise control.
Like its rivals, the 2018 Audi RS5 is ferociously quick, grips like it’s glued to the road, and delivers a healthy helping of fun at every turn. Where it stands out is the all-weather utility of its all-wheel drive – I’d love to see someone driving this thing through a blizzard on winter tires – and its higher level of civility. The M4 and C63 are “on” all the time, even in their most comfortable settings. The RS5, by contrast, doesn’t make you suffer when you’re just driving casually. It could do with a bit more drama from the paddle shifters and the exhaust, but otherwise, it’s hard not to fall for the effortless speed of the latest Audi RS car.