The Audi RS5 is being touted as the German marque’s most desirable sports coupé to date - a car fusing the downright gorgeous shape of the A5 coupé with the thoroughbred muscle of a finely fettled, 4,2-liltre V8. Best of all, a duo of gutter-sized exhausts promises an aural feast. But as it turns out, the result is a rather more delicate sound of thunder than expected. By DEON SCHOEMAN.
In the Audi vernacular, RS cars are the ultimate performance ambassadors for the brand. The moniker is short for ‘RennSport’ (racing sport , literally, or motorsport) and promises a level of dynamic talent that places the RS models at the very pinnacle of their performance game.
The RS5 is the latest member of this illustrious club and, when the first information about the much-anticipated coupé leaked onto the web late last year, it promised to be something truly special.
At that point, the S5 Coupé was the swiftest member of the A5 clan, with a V8 producing impressive clout – 260kW to be exact – which meant the RS5 version would have to be even more muscular. Rumours of radical turbo and supercharged drivetrains abounded, but the smart money was always on Audi sticking to its V8 guns.
And so it did. When the RS5 made its global debut at the suitably glamorous Geneva Motor Show, the heart of the car beat to a V8 tune.
But the aluminium lump under the RS5’s bonnet isn’t just any old V8. A close relative to the Audi R8’s V10, the 4,2-litre powerplant has been finely honed to produce 331kW of maximum power, with accompanying torque of 430Nm. And it revs all the way to 9,000r/min.
If you’ve heard an Audi R8 V10 in full cry, you’ll know that there’s nothing more glorious than a big , multi-cylinder powerplant being chased into the red. It’s an angry wail that cuts right through the bone and straight to the heart.
The RS5’s large-bore exhausts appeared to promise a similarly delicious soundtrack for an exhilarating driving experience – and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on one.
Seven months after its Geneva reveal, the RS5 has arrived in South Africa – and one of the first examples is parked in my driveway. Resplendent in what Audi calls Suzuka Grey, the coupé looks just right. The flowing, balanced lines of the A5 Coupé have been retained, but the shape ripples with new-found muscle.
The front-end is dominated by Audi’s large, single-frame grille, but finished in a filigreed design that adds classy appeal to the gaping hunger of that large aperture. Equally large cooling ducts on either side ensure airflow to the brakes and ancillary radiators.
The body’s sleek contours have been flared and bolstered to accommodate the RS5’s special, 19-inch alloy wheels and fat performance rubber, while extended sills emphasise the coupé’s tar-hugging stance. A lower ride height adds to the effect.
The rear features a deeper apron showcasing two huge exhaust tailpipes. And it’s from these chrome-tipped orifices that we’re expecting the Audi to play some truly stirring tunes.
Wake up the V8, and the response is instant: a hungry growl. But not a loud one. The sound is there, but strangely muted. Prod the loud pedal, and the revs rise with the lithe alacrity of a motorcycle engine.
So, the V8’s tune is somewhat different to what we expected. It lacks the visceral, gut-wrenching, window-rattling aggression of old-style, big-banger V8s. Instead, it spins with turbine-like smoothness, running the rev counter needle around the dial with impressive ease.
That initial growl becomes a soulful wail that has its own special appeal. And it still remains civilised enough to raise too many eyebrows. Is that a good thing? We’ll reserve judgement on that for later. Right now, it’s time to drive the beast.
Stepping inside the RS5’s cockpit is like meeting an old friend. The instrument layout is familiar, the switchgear placed just where you’d expect it. Audi is the acknowledged master of efficient ergonomics and tangible quality, and the RS5’s interior is no different.
Sport seats clad in leather provide comfort and support, while some alloy finishes provide bright relief from the otherwise sombre hues. The steering wheel feels grippy, and for once, it’s simply round, rather than the F1-inspired flat-bottomed designs featured in other recent RS Audis.
Talking of F1, the gearshift paddles on either side of the steering column were pioneered by that sport, and offer rapid cog swaps. They represent another surprise – the RS5 is only offered with a seven-speed S-tronic gearbox – Audi’s dual-clutch transmission.
It’s a good, robust gearbox that shifts gears with staccato-like rapidity, and blips the throttle on downshifts. It’s also more efficient than a manual box, which helps fuel consumption. Not that too many RS5 buyers will care about this car’s thirst.
No sir, the focus is very much on performance – and in that regard, the RS5 doesn’t disappoint. With latest-generation quattro all-wheel drive providing lots of traction, there’s no wheelspin off the mark – just an instant, neck-snapping surge of power that presses you back in your seat.
The scenery rapidly becomes a blur as the Audi catapults towards the horizon, accompanied by the engine’s battle cry. It’s a thrilling experience – and while the V8 has lost some of guttural resonance, its appetite for revs adds a different, thrilling appeal.
In sheer acceleration terms, the RS5 needs only 4,6 seconds to get from rest to 100km/h. Top speed is 250km/h – although that’s determined by an electronic nanny, and doesn’t reflect the muscle coupé’s true potential. For an extra R20K or so, Audi will up the electronic ante to 280km/h …
But speed is only one dimension of the Audi. What really matters is how it copes with twists and turns – and whether it is able to entertain and involve the driver in the process.
A key element in that respect is the quattro all-wheel drive system, which reaches new levels of sophistication in the RS5. Nominally, the front/rear power split is a rear-biased 40:60, but a centre diff can vary this dramatically – up to 70% up front or 85% to the rear.
In addition, torque vectoring allows power to be varied between the individual wheels, therefore stabilising the car before wheel slip occurs. On top of that, the RS5 gets the quattro sport differential, which actively distributes urge between the rear wheels.
Big-vented brakes with eight-piston front callipers ensure that the stopping power matches the Audi’s performance potential. And flattering the driver even more is an electronic stability control system with a sport mode that allows a modicum of traction loss, but still keeps the safety net in place if you overcook things completely.
The RS5 is a car that hungers for country roads. In town it’s civilised and patient enough to tackle the daily commute, but you’re always aware that it’s champing at the bit. Give it some space and a mountain pass or two, and it becomes a real grin machine.
You can chase the Audi deep into a corner, perhaps too deep and too fast, and still emerge unscathed on the other side. The quattro system is less intrusive than older versions, allowing nimbler road manners and crisper turn-in, while also steering clear of four-wheel understeer.
Instead, it delivers optimum grip in almost all circumstances, while retaining superior steering feel. Traction out of the corners is quite brilliant, and is one of the highlights of the coupé. And the engine response is linear and infinite with an appetite for revs that remains startling.
Of course, the petrol heads will all be asking the same question: Is this Audi’s answer to the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG? The stats suggest that the RS engineers benchmarked their performance weapon against those rivals, and rightly so.
But the answer is never that simple. The Audi RS5 has a personality quite different from BMW’s. It is certainly more composed under duress, and easier to pilot at close to the car’s limits. All-wheel drive has its virtues – and the RS5 gets the best iteration of quattro yet.
Even the R907 540 price tag sounds fair for a full-spec player in this league. And despite the coupé layout, there’s more than ample space for four.
Thus, the RS5 emerges as an immensely satisfying, extremely rapid and yet still comfortable and fairly civilised muscle coupé. It might not be as loud as we expected, but it’s performance tune is no less stirring. And at the limit, it feels all-conquering. DM
You can contact Deon Schoeman on [email protected]
4 163 cc V8, direct fuel injection
Seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch
331 kW @ 8 250 rpm
430 Nm @ 4 000 rpm
250 km/h (governed)
10,8 l/100 km (combined cycle)
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