Out of all the entries in the German luxo-hot-rod derby, Audi has consistently avoided following the rest of the pack.
Engine: 2.9-liter turbocharged V6
Output: 444 horsepower / 443 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
US Fuel Economy: 18-mpg city / 26-mpg highway / 21-mpg combined
CAN Fuel Economy: 12.9 L/100 km city / 8.9 L/100 km highway / 11.1 L/100 km combined
CAN Price: Starts at $84,595
US Price: Starts at $70,875
Prices include destination.
By remaining true to its all-wheel-drive formula, the brand’s S – and then RS – divisions have resisted the temptation to simply build a variant of the BMW M3, an affliction than ran its course at both Mercedes-AMG and Cadillac V.
The end result? Vehicles like the 2018 Audi RS5, an all-new design that continues to push the two-door personal rocket ship further away from its rivals in terms of personality, while still remaining true to the modern core values that have long drawn customers to the quadruple rings.
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‘Modern’ is the key takeaway here, however, because while there’s nothing in the current RS5 formula to link it in any way to the model it replaces, the coupe perfectly encapsulates the current Audi esthetic – even while the right pedal is launching you into space.
Don’t Look Back
There was never any chance that the previous RS5’s high-revving V8 engine was going to stick around to play in the world of instant-torque turbos. An 8,250 rpm redline may have yielded 450 horses – six more than the current car’s twin-turbo, 2.9-liter V6 – and a whole heap of adrenaline, but its 317 lb-ft of torque pale in comparison to the 443 now on offer at a limbo-proof 1,900 rpm. Standing in for the older car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a new torque converter automatic that, for all intents and purposes, feels just as direct when paddle-snapping from one gear to the next.
See Also: 2018 BMW M4 Review – Video
Stomp down without activating launch control and the deep-breathing V6 doesn’t so much crack your head back as it does gather itself into a malevolent, low-flying storm that makes use of its rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system and torque-vectoring rear differential to hug the road like an early-morning fog. At the upper reaches of the speedo, however, the Audi RS5 accelerates with a ferocity that separates it even from mind-melting models like the RS3. With launch control engaged, 60 mph arrives in a scant 3.7 seconds, a 0.2-second improvement over its forerunner.
The fact that the new RS5 features a drivetrain that’s diametrically opposed to its predecessor is, in fact, a large part of the reason that the two-door tourer feels so representative of the current Audi modus operandi. The older RS5 was an outlier, a car that had no analog in the company’s line-up, and one whose dynamics stood so far apart from the S5 just below it that at times it felt like a one-off special.
The 2018 Audi RS5, however, comes across as being hewn from the same block of whatever Teutonic alloy the remainder of the automaker’s line-up is composed of – only much, much faster. It’s this purity of lineage that made the strongest impression on me during the nearly 1,000 miles I spent behind the wheel of the car traversing the two-lane rural highways that separated Montreal, Quebec, from Bar Harbor, Maine.
Make It Your Own
It was those same sinuous ribbons of asphalt that drove home the key component of the Audi’s familial fealty. To wit, the RS5’s chassis has abandoned the always-on suspension tuning that underscored its precursor in favor of an adaptive system that offers a gradient of response to what the road might throw its way. With settings ranging from Comfort to Auto, to Dynamic, being able to dial back the bounce of the coupe’s full 3,900 lbs provides a welcome respite on longer drives.
In fact, much of the Audi’s character is configurable through the Drive Select system, with details such as throttle and transmission response, engine sound, and steering joining suspension stiffness on the list of things you can throttle up or down to your particular preference. In the absence of a dedicated sports exhaust button, I elected to program the ‘Individual’ setting to give me max decibels at all times, while leaving the rest in Auto, during much of my time with the car.
It’s this ability to turn the knob back from 11 that pushes the Audi RS5 experience closer to that of its corporate siblings. Go full Dynamic and the car is certainly less compliant, and perhaps rougher at speed than one would expect from a luxury model (pogoing up and down over the most minute of pavement imperfections), but Comfort mode – or even Auto – is the digital equivalent of a phone booth for the coupe, revealing the inner Clark Kent that hides at the core of much of the Audi line-up. Only the occasional bobble induced by the (optional) Dynamic Plus package’s carbon ceramic brakes, which proved challenging for the adaptive cruise control system to modulate at times, interrupted the façade of civility.
Silicon And Leather
Further bringing the RS5 into the inner circle is its sumptuously appointed interior. Highlighted by optional carbon fiber accents on the center console, dash, and door panels, I was coddled by the Nappa leather package’s honeycomb upholstery and impressed by a trunk large enough to swallow not just a full week’s worth of luggage, but also the many and sundry holiday purchases (including a driveshaft for a classic Datsun) without being forced to fold forward the rear seat. Not that one would want to do much else other than store cargo in the rearmost quadrant of the Audi’s passenger compartment, which requires origami-like leg-folding skills for adult riders to take advantage of.
Also useful? Audi’s Virtual Cockpit display, which transforms the gauge cluster into a widescreen viewing station for navigation maps, vehicle info and settings, and entertainment controls, serving as an excellent complement to the easy-to-use button-and-dial controller on the console linked to the center-dash primary LCD display.
A Worthy Upgrade
As a long-distance mile eater, the RS5 proved to be an exceptional companion – and 20-mpg in combined driving over Maine’s northern mountain ranges and down to its coastal climes was an unexpected bonus for such a formidably-muscled machine. Despite its lack of obvious race-ready aero kit (a tasteful carbon fiber lid spoiler and front lip stood out as the car’s most extroverted tells), the coupe also regularly attracted eyes and ‘ayes,’ attributable to the still appealing slender shape of its sleek two-door styling.
The Verdict: 2019 Audi RS5 Review
More importantly, despite its heftier platform, the 2018 Audi RS5 feels like a substantial upgrade over the next-step-down RS3 in a way that the BMW M4 simply doesn’t when compared to the formidable M2. By leaving its more hardcore past in the rearview mirror, the RS5 has become an evolutionary link that bridges the entry-level with the top-tier for Audi’s high-performance luxury division that perfectly balances class with crazy when pushing past triple digits on the speedometer.
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