The 2018 Audi RS5: Effortless speed and a magic carpet ride
At this year's New York International Auto Show, Audi surprised us all with the new RS5 Sportback. Now, it will be a while before that car reaches these shores and we get to drive it, but earlier this year that car's sibling—the RS5 coupe—went on sale. And we were on hand in Arizona to test it.
Judging by the size of its huge oval tailpipes and armed with the knowledge that it now uses two centrally located turbos, the new Audi RS5 should huff and puff some heavy breathing out those low-restriction exhausts. The newly turbocharged sport coupe trades the old RS5's naturally aspirated 4.2L V8 with a sky-high 8,200rpm redline and 420hp (313 kW) for a twin-turbo 2.9L V6 that shuts down by 6,500. So, quite literally, the new RS5 blows its way into the mid-400hp pack.
As with many modern turbocharged applications, the two turbos of the RS5's V6 sit in the valley of the engine's two banks of cylinders—a so-called "hot V." Shorter plumbing reduces turbo lag and the end result is 444 horsepower (331 kW) on 21.5 psi (1.48 bar) maximum boost pressure. Plan your launch like you despise clutches and the RS5 scrambles to 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds; by comparison the old V8 model needed 4.5 seconds. In the real world—when you're not driving it like you stole it—the new engine trades the old one's alto voice and top-end revs for a more useful band of torque and power at lower rpm. The new engine also yields better mileage, with 26 combined mpg, up from 23 mpg (full figures are 18/26/21, city/combined/highway).
Not just a new engine
But a car that's all engine is hardly a car; the rest of the new RS5 has some mighty tricks up its sleeves, too. Most visible are the body variations from the normal S5, including wider fenders, more aggressive aerodynamics, some interior tweaks that make it more driver-focused, plus special all-wheel-drive running gear to harness the power. The RS5 is edgier than the (somewhat anodyne) S5 and more pointed towards a top-performance horizon.
The RS5's bodywork grows front and rear fenders 15mm wider than the standard S5 hips, but it still flows with subtlety into the front and rear fenders. A unique black honeycomb grille sits up front, with aluminum (or optional black) trim perched below the grille. At the rear, a diffuser-like finisher is bracketed by those large oval tailpipes, and a small gloss black lip spoiler adorns the trunk lid.
Our RS5 uses an active exhaust system (optional) that places valves in the tailpipes and a crossing pipe upstream from the rear mufflers. Valves open, the 2.9L engine barks like a larger one, with a solid baritone. It's never overwhelming, but it does spittle on upshifts like most new high-performance turbocharged engines. Audi also fits a small speaker at the base of the windshield on the passenger side that emits a soft induction noise. It's only active only below 3,000 rpm, so higher revs must make their music without electronic assistance.
The visibility of trick transmission development today might suggest another dual-clutch unit in the RS5, but the reality is that conventional transmissions have been improving, too. Thus, the RS5 uses an evolved version of the "Tiptronic" eight-speed automatic in the S5, retaining a traditional torque converter, foregoing any dual-clutch trickery. [The transmission is ZF's excellent 8HP, also found in other performance cars like the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio and Aston Martin DB11—Ed.]
This automatic shifts crisply and when you expect it to, whether you're tipping the paddles yourself or leaving it to its own thinking. Pulling away modestly from a dead stop is smoother with this automatic than with any dual-clutch unit we've sampled; a small, yet in-law friendly feature.
Program your mood
Audi's "Drive Select" programming varies shock damping, exhaust sound, transmission attitude and steering weight and directness, all in three programs or one customizable "Individual" set of parameters you fiddle with yourself. There's a "but," though. The stiffest "Dynamic" suspension setting turns a somewhat affable suspension into a high-frequency experience best saved for eggs in a mixing bowl or a racetrack. In contrast, "Comfort" or "Auto" suspension modes yield excellent ride quality, even in the face of extremely low-profile 275/30R20 tires. That's just 3.25 inches (82mm) of tire sidewall height for the number-crunchers out there.
More significantly from an engineering viewpoint, the oil lines and valves that control relative stiffness or compliance from the dampers are connected (left front to right rear, and right front to left rear). This gives a greater handle on body roll.
The RS5's Quattro all-wheel drive system varies power delivery through a center differential from 70:30 percent front:rear to 15:85 percent front:rear, depending, of course, on available grip and driving behavior. The electronic stability control software is specific to the RS5 and it's more pointed performance mission. Ride height is also lower than the S5 by 7mm.
Enormous 15.7-inch (400mm) diameter carbon-ceramic front brake rotors come with the optional Dynamic Plus package and at $9,350, it's a stiff price. But that pack also includes the sport exhaust, Dynamic Ride Control and an elaborate tire pressure and temperature monitoring system. The carbon-ceramic brakes do not improve braking distances, but they will cope with braking repeatedly from high speed or when on track. Since the RS5 weighs 3,990 pounds (1,810 kg), track-bound RS5s will do better with the carbon brakes.
Audi knows how to do tech
The latest active safety and driver assistance hardware like adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera view on-screen when reversing, lane keeping alert/assistance and even traffic sign recognition are optional. Navigation with Audi's Virtual Cockpit which places an elaborate map and gauge presentation front and center in the instrument panel is also optional, though I must recommend ordering any Audi with navigation and the "MMI" rotary dial infotainment interface. It is leagues better than most of the field, and not only in the operation, but in the useful information that pops up without prompting and the way that info is presented without having to scroll through 19 sub-menus, or having to compensate for a poor physical interface. An often-infuriating, complex set of choices is made elegant, simple, and downright pleasing with this system.
The RS5 glides so effortlessly to cruising speed and well beyond that when you glance down to check progress, you very well could be breaking the law by wide margin. Your driver's license and the points you tack onto it will greatly appreciate use of the car's cruise control.
At $70,875 in the U.S. including destination but with no options, the RS5 might be viewed as a sweetheart bargain. Yet, equipped like our green photo car, it can sticker at a shocking $91,000. Even at that point there are few low-volume, purer sports car options available.
And none with as useable a back seat. [Until the RS5 Sportback arrives, that is—Ed.]
Listing image by Audi