2018 Audi RS5 Coupe: The modern embodiment of Quattro
Audi has a new RS5 Coupe hitting the streets soon, a 444-horsepower, torque-vectoring, all-wheel-drive brute. It’s quick, but is this the ultimate ‘Bahnstormer?
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
It's good to have options, and with Audi it's always easy to figure out which model might be for you. Need something practical but still engaging? Stick with the A models. Want to go taller? Check out the Q SUVs. Sportier? Then you need something with an S in the name. And if you really want something that will light your hair on fire, turn to the RS series.
The latest car that stands poised to singe your pomade? It's the new RS5 Coupe. Audi's A5 and S5 are still fresh on the market, having seen comprehensive retoolings in 2016. Historically, Audi waited until the tail-end of the product cycle to roll out that R badge, but no more. The new RS5 hits dealers in just a few weeks, but is it worth your $69,900?
An awful lot has changed over the previous-gen RS5, introduced in 2013, but far and away the most notable revision is found under the hood. Gone is the charming 4.2-liter V8, lost to the annals of history in pursuit of better emissions and, crucially, much greater torque. The new lump is a 2.9-liter, twin-turbo TFSI V6 making 444 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, figures so close to each other it's a wonder Audi didn't under-rate the hp figure just to make it square.
But then it wouldn't match the BMW M4 Competition Package's 444 hp. That figure comes in lower than the Mercedes-Benz C63, at 469 hp, and the C63 S at 503, but the RS5 is still handily the quickest of the bunch: 0-60 in 3.7 seconds, besting the BMW's 3.8 and Merc's 4.0. It's also the most fuel efficient, scoring a more-than-respectable 18 mpg city, 26 highway and 21 combined. (The V8 in the previous RS5 could only manage 18 combined.)
And, if being more efficient and 0.8 seconds quicker to 60 weren't enough, the smaller motor also shaves 66 pounds off the nose. The power is routed through an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission, which is indeed an automatic, with a torque converter and everything.
The transmission serves all four wheels, and while Audi slaps the label "Quattro" on a variety its all-wheel drive configurations, the one in the RS5 is among the best. An active center differential typically sends 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, but can throw a maximum of 85 percent back there, or 70 to the front when needed. Additionally, the active, mechanical rear differential can vector all that torque to either left or right wheel, helping to drive the car through the corners. Up front is still an open, electronic diff.
The optional Dynamic Ride Control suspension allows the driver to toggle between a firm and somewhat less firm ride, while an optional dynamic steering rack scales between a laid-back ratio on the highway before ramping up to something quick enough to enable breezy U-turns in parking lots. But, crucially, the dynamic rack here locks to a fixed 13.5:1 ratio when the car enters its sportiest mode, ensuring a predictable and consistent response on the track.
Sadly I wasn't actually able to sample the new RS5 on the track. Instead I took in the beautiful scenery that surrounds Phoenix, Arizona: Scenery bisected by a series of roads featuring long straights and sweeping turns. These corners are perfectly suited to everything the 3,990-pound RS5 has to offer -- or they would be if not for the conservative speed limits and attentive police presence.
And so I'll be honest and tell you I only had a somewhat sedate sampling of the RS5's potential. But in those brief moments where launch control could be safely deployed it was apparent that the acceleration here is nothing short of thrilling. In an era where EVs are pushing the two-second barrier, the RS5 is still a massive rush as it surges to 60, making a very nice sound all along the way.
By the way, the car's throaty roar has been augmented somewhat, but not digitally. A mechanical device attached to the windshield channels the acoustics of the engine into the cabin at certain speeds, but it's merely passing along the actual engine note, not a digital facsimile. The package is still on the quiet side, but Audi will happily sell you a valved sport exhaust if you need a bit more baritone.
The dynamic suspension was firm, even on "comfort" mode and when riding on Arizona's generally smooth highways. In the sportier "dynamic" mode, the ride is downright punishing. But the car never felt anything short of well damped, and while the ride will be too harsh for many, this is not a car destined for the masses. In contrast, that eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox was effortlessly smooth at all times, but it was responsive enough when I felt the need to reach for the paddles.
Despite its imposing bulk, the car was never anything short of poised in those few twisties I could find, and with the comfortable, massaging seats doing their thing while the epic B&O sound system played its part, the RS5 made for a fine grand tourer on the long stretches in between. There's a passable amount of legroom in the rear seats for moderate-sized adults, but shorter ones will fit best.
Options and recommended configuration
The 2018 Audi RS5 starts at $69,900, a nearly 50 percent premium over the base A5. Considering it has nearly twice the horsepower, that seems like a fair bargain. But brace yourself because that's just the beginning.
You'll want to add another $2,600 for the Navigation package, which includes the bigger MMI interface and Audi's all-digital Virtual Cockpit display. $3,350 gets you the Dynamic package, with the adaptive suspension and sport exhaust, while a further $6,000 adds on ceramic brakes and bumps the top speed from 155 to 174. (Not necessary for those of you living near Phoenix.) Dynamic steering is $1,150 more.
$3,300 unlocks the driver-assistance package, including modern necessities like adaptive cruise and Audi's semi-autonomous traffic jam assist system. The excellent B&O system is $950 extra (worth it) and you can still spend thousands more on various wheel and appearance options should you choose to.
The cars I tested were in the $80,000 range, and that's about what you should budget for a car like this, though I'll need to put some further testing in before I can safely recommend which of the various dynamic options are worth your cash.
Oh, one other thing to consider -- a two-door RS5 Coupe won't be your only option for long. A new 2019 Audi RS5 Sportback debuted at the New York Auto Show in March, and it'll arrive at dealers in the second half of 2018 wearing sleek 'four-door coupe' bodywork. It should be priced similarly and feature near-identical performance, but its five-door hatchback shell will afford better rear-seat access and superior cargo space.
The two-door Audi RS5 is an impressive thing and the closest thing you can get to a modern version of the epic Quattro Coupe - at least until the company puts that epic Sport Quattro concept into production. The RS5, however, is infinitely more refined and poised, more all-weather Autobahn-burner than outright gravel-meister. Still, making a car this big move this quick is an impressive feat, and the lucky few who put one of these in their garage have something special ahead - especially if they pick that green.