The world ahead of me is nothing but red dirt and blue sky, bisected by a single snake of pavement. The population of this place is one 2018 Audi RS5, finally coming off the leash after agonizing in city traffic. And with 444 horsepower, you better believe it comes correct.
(Full Disclosure: Audi wanted me to sample its new RS5 it had me flown from southern California to Scottsdale, Arizona and stuffed food and drink down my food and drink hole.)
What Is It?
While Audi’s S-Line vehicles get the looks, and the S models get a few go-fast goodies, it’s the RS models that you want to get excited about.
For example, and contrary to popular belief, the S5 does not compete directly with the BMW M4 or Mercedes-AMG C63 coupe. The RS5, however, is faster and less expensive than either.
According to Audi, this 3,990-pound two-door will launch from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds. If you want to get close to that number in a BMW M4 then you’d better have sprung for the Competition Package and you’ll still be a tenth or so behind. Want to try and keep up in the Mercedes-AMG C63? Here’s hoping your trunk lid badging also has an S on it, otherwise you’re out of luck. And if you do want that Competition Package M4 or C63S, you’re going to be coughing up quite a bit more money.
All three cars start south of $70,000 but I doubt too many will be sold at their base price. Even the RS5, the least expensive option will run up into the mid $70,000s when spec’d with a few fun options. But as it sits out of the box, it’s ready to pull away from both the Bimmer and Benz. The M4 requires almost another $5,000 for its Competition Package and the difference between a C63 and a C63S is about $10,000.
And like we’ve established... they’re still a hair slower.
Specs That Matter
The source of the RS5’s power is up in the nose: a 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 engine. Those turbos sit between the valley of the heads making this a “hot V” setup. The mighty little mill is good for a claimed 444 HP and 443 lb-ft of torque, with that grunt coming on at just 1,900 rpm and holding strong through 5,000 rpm.
Audi claims it managed to shed 68 pounds over the front axle with this V6 compared to the V8 found in the outgoing RS5.
The new engine is backed up by an eight-speed automatic rather than the seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch from the prior iteration of the RS5, and that’s because the eight does a better job of handling the increased torque. The new BMW M5 switched to an automatic for similar reasons, by the way, so we may be seeing a trend here.
Anyway, the standard item on all U.S.-spec cars is the Quattro Sport rear differential. In Dynamic Mode, up to 85 percent of all available torque can be sent to the rear wheels. Through the upgraded diff, all that energy can be sent to the left or right rear wheel as needed, as determined by the car’s traction control sensors. So if there’s grip to be found, the RS5 will sniff it out quickly and blast you towards the horizon.
Even if you’re not in Dynamic Mode, you’ll find that the power management is still rear biased as 60 percent of the torque flows to the more entertaining wheels.
Another neat bit of engineering goodness lies hidden in front of the engine. There’s a rather large radiator sitting behind that gaping maw of a mouth. Lots of air flows through the grille and radiator. Some of that air, however, is sent downward where it moves underneath the car.
To capture some of that air, Audi fitted a smaller oil cooler perpendicular to the bottom of the radiator. This puts that diverted air to work in two ways; some of it’s drawn through the oil cooler and it also provides measurable downforce on the nose.
It’s easy to be drawn into that striking Sonoma Green (or Nardo Gray if that’s more your jam) paint and get lost in the lines of the car. But the face of the RS5 certainly isn’t perfect.
When viewed head on, you’ll find the worst angle of the car. It’s the one where it looks like it’s simultaneously receiving a Dr. 90210 face lift and getting a severe amount of dental work done. Mercifully, all the other angles work well and some even conjure up images of the mighty 90 Quattro IMSA GTO race car. You can thank the slightly rounded box flares for that.
My only gripe doesn’t lie with the angry angular face, though. While dialing up the aggression, the engineers might have gone a bit crazy with the suspension.
In Comfort, it’s aggressive. In Dynamic, it’s approaching Ford Focus RS levels of back-bludgeoning. I found the car bumpy and rough while driving through Scottsdale, Arizona. No one has ever written that phrase before, and no one should have to ever again.
Audi offers a new Dynamic Ride Control system on the RS5, and I believe that part of the problem can be found here. It’s a complex mechanical system that transfers oil side-to-side between the dampers to keep the car flat through corners. It’s not continuously variable, but it does offer different levels based on whatever button you’ve pressed for the Drive Select system.
In full Dynamic mode, you have a car that wants to be on a race track. In fact, it sort of needs to be there because your back will be screaming at you otherwise and your passenger will end up with a lap full of Starbucks. Individual Mode is your friend here, as you can set everything else to Dynamic and put the suspension in comfort. It’s still stiff, but a mechanical chill pill has been applied to the ride control system.
With the steering, Audi comes back to the light. This is a variable ratio system, like many electrically controlled power steering setups are these days. The amount of effort you need to use adjusts with vehicle speed. That is, however, unless you’re in Dynamic mode.
Audi engineers decided to lock in a 13.5:1 steering ratio when you’ve told the car you want to push it. This means the steering feedback and what you expect of it remain consistent. That’s important when you’re progressing to higher speeds and lower lap times at your local race track.
To foil all that speed when it’s time to stop, the standard front brake rotors are a massive 14.8 inches in diameter clamped by six-piston calipers. If you spring for the Dynamic Package and then the Dynamic Plus Package (you need to buy both to get the brakes), you’ll find your front steel brakes are upgraded to even stronger 15.8 inchers with carbon ceramics. The stopping distance is the same between the two brake options, but the carbons are supposed to perform consistently under race track conditions.
Did I mention that the Dynamic Plus package also unlocks a 174 mph top speed and a carbon fiber engine cover? It does, in case I didn’t. So there’s that.
Audi says its A5 lineup accounts for 10 percent of all its sales right now. And indeed, the angular coupes (and sportbacks!) leap from a little over 8,300 sales in 2016 to over 21,000 last year. People are loving this car, and the halo effect of the RS5 should make it even more popular across the board.
It’s unfortunate that Audi chose Scottsdale to launch this vehicle here in the States. For cruising around town, the RS5 is a little rough and stiff. Especially for something from a luxury brand.
But on the roads that ask you to push harder, the RS5 starts to make a lot more sense. Off-camber corners with changing elevation elicited brief moments of easily controlled oversteer, huge smiles, and involuntary laughter. On the straighter sections, with nary another vehicle in sight, the digital needle in the speedometer quickly swept to speeds that local law enforcement would characterize as “too much” very, very easily.
If you desire a cozy grand touring coupe, the RS5 might not be the one to coddle your ass. It’s much more of a luxury sports coupe set on attack.