The all-new Audi RS5 gets a biturbo V6 co-developed with Porsche, but that’s just the start of its makeover. International correspondent, Nic Cackett, investigates.
Before we talk about the new RS5, we’d be remiss not to sound a rhetoric last post at the departure of the old model. Not because it was particularly good overall – in fact, it fits Audi’s starchy stereotype about as accurately as a Paulaner brewer probably fits into lederhosen – but rather because it was the final refuge of Ingolstadt’s 4.2-litre V8; arguably the naturally-aspirated multi-cylinder engine of the last decade. Its replacement is the all-new 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 co-developed with Porsche, and already a feature of the latest Panamera lineup.
Naturally, on paper, it's superior in almost every sense, and every improved-upon number counts as a reason to be cheerful. But its predecessor was far more than just a tightly-wound bundle of numbers: it possessed a throttle response to die for as well as the kind of impossibly lean, caterwauling soundtrack that had your pulmonary vein spiked even before a righteous 8 250 rpm turned up on the tachometer.
The new Audi RS5 switches out a V8 for a Porsche-developed 2.9-litre V6.
New bits and bobs
The memory of the departed V8 provides not only a neon signpost to the previous RS5’s most likeable fixture, but also quattro GmbH; the entity which has now morphed into Audi Sport – a branding behemoth and the home of all things hardcore in Ingolstadt’s universe. It is an expanding portfolio, and with the growth spurt of RS-badged models set to continue over the next 18 months, there’s plenty of space within the range for some judicious tweaking. Consequently, the introduction of its latest 2-door, 4-seat coupe has been carefully juxtaposed with the mention of ‘Gran Turismo’; a notable divergence for a car previously expected to fight tooth and nail with the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe.
A couple of the new car’s modifications are notable out of the gate. It's lighter by 60 kg in its cooking format (thanks mostly to the 31 kg-lighter V6) and gets the mechanical rear ‘sport’ differential to better complement the quattro all-wheel-drive system and wheel-selective torque control. The chassis is new, too, with a five-link arrangement at the front and back, paired with adaptive dampers (RS sport suspension with Dynamic Ride Control is an additional option; ditto the RS exhaust system and the traditionally undesirable dynamic steering setup – all fitted to our test car). There’s also a transmission change: the V8’s dual-clutch 7-speed ‘box makes way for an 8-speed torque converter supplied by ZF – already featured in the S5 model, albeit mated to a different engine.
Thanks to the new engine, the RS5 is lighter while an automatic gearbox replaces the dual-clutch unit.
That means the RS5 shares its V6 with the second-generation Panamera 4S, but not an entire driveline (Porsche’s saloon incorporates the eight-speed PDK ‘box). The output is slightly different, too: Audi Sport having eked out 7 kW more so it can claim to match the outgoing V8’s 331 kW. Peak torque, predictably, is dramatically superior, the V6 summoning up 600 Nm from 1 900 rpm. At the same time, emissions have been slashed by 17%.
Head-turning looks, inside and out
In the metal, it looks the business. The RS5 signals a mild overhaul of the brand’s styling approach - although with its blistered arches, lacerated air intakes and pothole-big oval exhaust pipes, it establishes a familiar scene. The proportions feel about the same, too, despite the 74 mm of additional length predominately donated by the MLB’s larger wheelbase. The inside also conforms to type, which is to say immaculate and brilliantly made and utterly endearing to touch and look at. Virtual Cockpit makes another appearance on in the instrument cluster, and the test car we drove in Andorra had enough alcantara on the door cards, steering wheel and gear shifter to neatly distinguish the RS model from the closely related S5.
The RS5's interior is laced with alcantara and it's another exhibition of how to build an interior properly.
Start-up is slightly less auspicious. Audi Sport has persevered with the soundtrack – boldly equating it to the turbocharged V6 that powered the B5-generation RS4 – but its bass-edged waffle doesn’t cover the sound or reality of two substantial blowers whistling away betwixt the cylinder banks. The engine isn’t necessarily captive to the rise and fall of the Scirocco, yet nor is it an unchained melody on the V8’s Richter scale.
That’s to be expected. And so is the type of performance cranked like buttermilk from the distant churn once you’re underway. Where its predecessor dispensed progress in escalating staccato lunges at the redline, the V6 unfurls itself through the medium of the mid-range. Its surge is prodigious, unthreatening and prolonged – any concern about the Tiptronic’s lacklustre showing in the S5 is swept away by its sure handling of the many rhythmic upshifts required.
Around this entirely different sort of engine, Audi has moulded a palpably different sort of car. Tested on super-heated stretches of deserted French autoroute, the RS5 can be characterised as easily the most comfortable car in Neckarsulm’s lineup. In Comfort mode, the traditionally nagging short-wave stiffness has been uncoiled by adaptive dampers with enough latitude to finally deliver a sympathetic and supple primary ride. Claims made of its GT status within the lineup are not (wildly at least) overblown.
Even in the strange 'army green' colour, the new RS5 look aggressive and ominous.
Tie in a dynamic steering system which actually comes good at outside-lane motorway speeds – competent and thickly accurate – and suddenly you’ve got a two-door RS car persuasively capable of crossing a continent. That the new V6 plays as compelling a part in that narrative as the V8 did in the old car’s motley charm, is a massive plus in its favour.
Where the drawbacks occur, they do so with a pervading sense of inevitability. It hardly needs saying that the new RS5 is quicker than the old, and feels it (there’s simply too much torque fermenting in the engine bay for it not to be) but there isn’t the same accompanying theatrical fizz to its high-rev function, nor the same pot-marked mechanical shunt to its paddle-operated gear changes.
That it proves less than mesmerising in such moments is hardly startling given the point of comparison – but it does feed into the RS5’s wider shortcomings; specifically in a chassis dynamic which still gently refuses to ever come enthralling to life. That’s not to say that progress hasn’t been confidently made: with less weight over the front axle and the rear diff attached, the car is plainly more agile than it’s ever been and can at least be goaded into delivering more drive to the outside back wheel. But the adjustability is fleeting, and very promptly tidied up by the drivetrain even with the stability control switched out.
Immodest amounts of speed or throttle will simply result in Audi’s age-old understeer remedy. Perhaps that’s all forgivable against the backdrop of its maker’s penchant for massive directional stability - it’s rather less easy to absolve the ‘dynamic’ end of the dampers settings (too firm even for Andorra’s roads) or the steering (too impenetrably frustrating for any road) or the decidedly clumsy pedal feel of the cost-option ceramic brakes.
The Audi RS5 makes the most sense as a GT cruiser car, distancing itself from old enemies such as the BMW M4 and Merc C63.
Ultimately, this leaves the RS5 recognisably imperfect – and persuasively distinct. The prime reason for acquiring one (the V8) has manifestly gone, and while the new V6 is as consistent as treacle and about as satisfying when warmly spooned into your life, it’s not necessarily the kind of engine that stands dramatically out from the broader experience to howl ‘buy me’.
Instead, any deeper appreciation of the prospect rests on a preference for the model’s tactful repositioning. Dig the monster GT vibe, and the car’s established gifts for interior splendour, technical prowess and sharp-edged appearance start to make considerable sense – as does the generosity and seamlessness of the biturbo lump. Seen from this alternative vantage point, which has almost nothing to do with the hard-charging, handling flair that exemplifies its rivals, and the RS5 appears simultaneously limited – and quite possibly more appealing than ever before.
Audi RS5 Quick stats
Price: R1.2 million (est.)
Engine: 6-cylinder, 2.9-litre, twin-turbocharged, petrol
Power: 331 kW at 5 700 rpm
Torque: 600 Nm at 1 900 - 5 000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1 665 kg
Top speed: 280 kph
0-62mph: 3.9 sec
Fuel economy: 8.7 L/100 km (combined)
CO2/tax band: 197 g/km