Europeans have been graced with this sporty machine's presence for some time, but now it crosses the pond. Audi fans can rejoice as the Audi RS5 hits US soil. It's our turn to give it a good, old fashioned thrashing, to see how it holds up.
And what we find is a brilliantly competent vehicle that is more than capable of taking on the BMW M3 and Cadillac CTS-V.
(Full Disclosure: Audi wanted me to drive the RS5 so bad that they flew me out to Napa, CA and put me up in my own cottage amidst the lush vineyards and rolling California hills. Needless to say they poured me a lot of wine and provided a feast of food that has destroyed my hard-earned, svelte physique and morphed me into somewhat of an Oompa Loompa.)
The war between BMW and Audi is always fierce, but in this segment in the US, Audi's been without a weapon. But with the RS5 now on turf, locked and loaded, we can expect one hell of a gunfight. Unsurprisingly, the RS5 is a fantastic car. It looks great, handles great and its big V8 purrs like a Lion on Ambien.
In NorCal we were offered a mix of street drives (filled with wonderful San Fran traffic) and a whole bunch of track time at Sonoma Raceway. One item of note is that I had three separate guys give me the thumbs-up when driving around town, which I deemed a good sign of the RS5's appearance. Come to think about it, maybe those chaps were actually more interested in something else. Either way, I got noticed in this machine. Not my cup of tea, but it would appear the RS5 is a real dude magnet.
The RS5 looks brilliant. It presents itself in a sophisticated yet sporty manner. New for this year are subtle tweaks to its traditional honeycomb grille, with matte surround. Two splendid oval exhausts and a large rear diffuser grace its rear end, and it has an active rear spoiler that presents itself when you surpass 75 mph, returning to its hidey hole when you go below 50. The standard wheels are 19", with 20s a worthwhile option. The headlights receive a more squinty appearance and the LED running lights are no more, replaced by light tubes that lap around the headlight housings.
Two packages are available, the matte aluminum package and the titanium package. The titanium package includes the 20-inch rims and body-color mirrors. The rims have a titanium appearance and look totally badass, but the grill is a cheapy looking black plastic. The aluminum package gives you a nicer chrome-look grille, which gives the car a far more expensive feel.
In true Audi fashion, the interior is pure class mixed with RS sportiness. Attention to detail is phenomenal, with nice carbon-fiber trimmings and a new flat-bottom steering wheel adorned with the RS5 logo.
Driving position is decent but took a little bit of time to perfect. Initially the wheel felt very high. After lowering, it blocked too much of the dash displays, so I had to raise my seat quite a bit more than I usually would. But other than being made to feel even more like an Oompa Loompa, I managed to find a happy compromise.
With a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, you'd better believe the RS5 is fast, but it is a chunk off the 3.9 seconds achieved by the CTS-V. It has no powertrain updates, sticking with the 4.2-liter FSI direct injection V8 producing 450 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque. It has an electronically governed top speed of 174 mph and redlines at an astonishing 8,500 rpm.
This is the problem with the speed wars. What was once world-beating is now second-run. Wait, did we say problem? This is what's awesome about the speed wars.
The standard wave disc brakes are 365mm and have been on a diet, shaving off 6.6 lbs. If you want to save an additional 8 lbs (give or take) you could opt for the ceramic front rotors at 380mm. Among European customers, 15 percent-20 percent of go for the ceramics, but in all likelihood few US customers will get the pricey $6,000 option. And there is really no point, either, unless you are regularly heading out to the racetrack.
The big problem I had with the brakes is not with the actual system, as such. It was more about the car's inability to let you utilize them properly. When you hit the pedal hard, the standard brakes stop very well, but the car squirms like a dirty politician. The car moves and pulls and inspires zero confidence. The one time I really tried to brake late, the car broke loose and I had to save my ass from hitting the left-hand wall. Not good.
But the score of 6/10 is salvaged by the fact that the brake package is very good. If only you could use them.
The all-wheel-drive RS5 rides well but is always on the aggressive side. It's a touch back-breaking on the road but it's perfect on the track. The suspension cannot be adjusted, which would likely cure the disconnect between road and track driving. A nice feature is the auto setting, which customizes exhaust note and steering feel based on how you are driving the car. If you are cruising, it puts it all in comfort. Open it up and it switches each setting to dynamic. The down side is a slight delay in switching between modes.
If you opt for the MMI Navigation Plus option, you get a setting called Individual. This allows you to customize each option. For example, if you still want its rawest, loudest exhaust note, but still require dynamic steering, you can set these options using the screen. That was a feature I really enjoyed. But all in all, I wish the ride were a little less harsh for highway driving.
No question the RS5 handles well. It has a mountain of grip and it puts power down breathtakingly well. The car is very neutral, but if you are a driver (like me) who loves to brake late and dive-bomb the apex, utilizing a lot of trail braking, you'll find the balance to be very loose.
It took me a good few laps to adjust my driving to the slow-in-fast-out approach, which is not a technique I particularly like to exercise, if at all possible. But with this machine you have to go in easy and pick up some maintenance throttle to plant the rear. If you give up the entry, it rewards you on mid- to exit. But if you try to squeeze more out of it going in, it will quickly punish you with the rear breaking loose.
Rarely have I driven a road car without a sniff of understeer, but the Audi RS5 is one of the few. Of course you can generate push by being overly aggressive on power down, but in general it stays very neutral — which becomes even more unusual with an all-wheel-drive machine. What allows the car to achieve this is the Quattro Sport differential. When on power it delivers additional torque vectoring to the outside tire to help rotate the car, and it does the same when you release the throttle.
It works brilliantly, much like Porsche's Torque Vectoring system, but it can cause some issues, too. I get the theory of applying more torque to the outside when you release the power mid-turn, because it is presuming you have understeer and wants to help you rotate the car. But what if you don't have understeer and just carried a touch too much speed to apex and need to release the throttle slightly? In this case, be ready, as the back end will kick out immediately.
I wasn't sold on the steering, either. Audi ditched the hydraulic power assist steering in favor of the electro-mechanical setup. I haven't driven the previous RS5 for comparison, but the feel, while great on track, felt odd on the road. Almost like the wheel was constantly trying to pull itself back straight when you turned, like a tight elastic band.
It may sound like I am being very critical in the handling department but I am really not. 7/10 is still a great score. The car was brilliant if you drove it in that specific way, and if you read my weekly column, you know I am all for adapting your driving (which is what I did). But I don't like being backed into a corner. To make it perform, I had to drive it in a way that felt like a compromise. I wanted more freedom in driving style.
The 7-speed S tronic gearbox has been granted a double-clutch system that produces the fastest-shifting S tronic Audi has ever created. The double clutch means there is no torque loss during shifting and on downshifts; the car blips the throttle making a noise so beautiful it could make a grown man cry. The paddle shifters felt tough and purposeful and performed extremely well.
My only niggle was in slow, stop-start traffic. The downshifts to first (in automatic mode) were clunky and often rough. But it is a small price to pay for the quality it delivers when at normal pace.
The car's sound system comes from Bang & Olufsen and is of great quality, but you'd be a fool to listen to the radio over that beautiful exhaust note. A deep, crackly tone bellows in a noticeable, yet considerate way. It won't wake up the neighbors, but when you floor it the RS5's snarl might rouse you from half-sleep.
As is ze vay vith ze Germans, the car is equipped with everything you could need and more. All the usual toys are there, like a back-up camera, Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warnings.
But the coolest toy is probably the Audi Connect system on the MMI navigation. The nav uses 3D satellite imagery from Google Earth and even has a Street View feature. It runs on 3G, turning your car into a mobile hotspot for up to eight devices and providing real-time news and weather. It isn't cheap (at $3,550) and I'm sure it won't be long before others incorporate visual treats like this, but until then, I think it's pretty sweet.
The Audi RS5 comes in at $68,900 base. The M3 Coupe starts at $60,100 and the Cadillac CTS-V at $64,515, so it is the most expensive of its rivals. Of course, expect to add on good few K for all your fancy options. For my money, the CTS-V is probably the best value. However, if you don't mind spending a few extra grand, then you can't go far wrong with the RS5.
As an all-around car the RS5 is truly awesome. Sure there are some niggles, as there are with most cars, but it performs well on both track and around town. It is a machine that can do everything and do it well. For the few negatives I unearthed, there are way more positives to celebrate. I for one am very glad that we finally get the RS5 on our turf. After all, why should the Europeans have all the fun?