First Drive: Audi RS5

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The most recent Audi RS model has arrived in America. The RS5 Coupe, which joins siblings TT RS and the R8 at the pinnacle of the sporty end of the Audi model lineup is a stunningly beautiful yet immensely capable sports coupe, one which will surely woo buyers looking for something different than the “usual suspects” from Germany and elsewhere. This car brings to the table one thing that no one else offers – quattro – and it brings it in an all new way, a much more exciting way than ever before.

The RS5 is a driver’s car, first and foremost. It is ideally suited for any kind of driving, in any kind of weather. It coddles and assists its driver in a way that only an Audi can, with cutting edge safety and technology features, blended with brute force and razor sharp handling. There is very little compromise in the RS5, which manages to exude luxury and refined sportiness simultaneously. The muscular fender bulges, deeper chin spoiler and honeycomb grille allow the RS5 to display its muscular nature move overtly, though the car still remains elegant and civilized.

We discovered that the RS5 is equally comfortable navigating bumper to bumper traffic, including the “world’s most crooked street” (Lombard Street in San Francisco with its tight turns and 5mph speed limit), as it is shredding its tires at Sonoma Raceway (once upon a time, called Infineon Raceway, and before that, Sears Point). We’re not sure how Audi engineers managed to give this car such a split personality without the aid of any kind of adjustable suspension settings (we will not be seeing the Dynamic Ride Control here in the USA), but they did. Sure, the ride is firm, and the seats are grippy – that’s how high performance cars are supposed to be. People shouldn’t be looking at the RS models without expecting a firm ride, but the ride is in no way uncomfortable in normal driving, on normal roads. Thing is though, on the race track we found the RS5 to be incredibly composed and confidence inspiring, especially for track novices such as your author.

Sonoma is a fun track. It has some tight turns, more elevation change than it appears to have on TV, a few very fast sections, and some off camber sections. Several of the turns are blind over crests, which add to the challenge.  The fastest part of the track is the straight immediately after the long sweeping 180 degree left hand and downhill Carousel turn. The most intense part of the track is turn 5, a down hill right hand turn, and turn 6, the aforementioned Carousel turn, which has every bit of the potential to ruin your day if you’re not careful. Turn 5 is off camber, down hill, and scary as heck. It is all too easy to come through there entirely too fast, putting you wide left up the hill, which puts you way too far to the inside for turn 6.

Through the carousel, you hang onto the perforated leather grip of the RS5’s flat bottomed steering as the car works its magic, using both great chassis design and technology in the form of ESP and the sports rear diff to stay on the black top. The meaty 265/35 tires howl as they fight for grip, yet the chassis remains stable and planted, and easily controlled via careful throttle modulation. With the ESP program in Sport mode, the RS5 allows a fair bit more slip angle before intervening, and the car becomes that much more of a driver’s car, dancing along on the edge of the limits of adhesion.

The standard equipment sports differential plays a large part in helping the driver keep the RS5 pointed in the intended direction, and its operation, while completely seamless, is quite detectable. At the moment that an ordinary car would begin to push its front tires and begin to understeer, the sports differential springs into action, and by overdriving the outer rear wheel, effectively neutralizes the understeer, and the car regains a neutral balance. It is quite remarkable how effective this system is at reducing understeer, while not inciting oversteer.

We were not surprised by the RS5’s prowess on the track at Sonoma, as we know that this car was designed to be able to survive thousands of miles on the Nurburgring. What’s amazing is how tame it is in normal driving. The S-tronic transmission is very smooth in stop and go traffic. The brakes, with RS specific “wave” rotors are incredibly strong and resistant to fade on the track, yet weren’t obnoxiously grabby at low speeds. With the air conditioning blasting, the car never even came close to getting hot. This is an every day car with superstar credentials.

The RS5’s heart is an all aluminum FSI direct injected 4.2 liter V8 engine, with 4 valves per cylinder and variable valve timing belting out 430hp at 8200 rpm.  Similar in design to the R8’s 4.2 engine, the RS5 engine is a wet sump, though still manages to rev to over 8000 rpm. Audi engineers were keen to mention one bit of RS5 engine trivia – at its redline, the pistons are traveling from the bottom to the top of their stroke at the same velocity of the piston in a Formula 1 engine. This naturally aspirated engine makes its magic via revs instead of being force fed air, and honestly for this kind of car, we feel this is the correct option. Just the sound alone is fantastic, and the top end thrust is tremendous.

The only transmission option for the RS5 is the 7 speed dual clutch S-tronic, mated with Audi’s own Crown Gear center differential. Manual transmission fans will be less than thrilled with this, but in all honesty, the S-tronic is an excellent transmission. In the product review prior to our track time, the question came up regarding the shift times for this transmission. The answer was interesting, and something that never occurred to us before, but at the time a gear change is called for, the transmission is not actually shifting. All it does is switch from the active clutch to the inactive clutch. We were told that there is no time – 0 seconds if you will – where the RS5 is without torque moving from the engine to tires, even during a full power up shift. Downshifts are handled exactly the same way, with the awesome throttle blips happening to match the speed of the engine to the transmission. Other interesting tidbits with this transmission, in manual mode, the transmission will not up shift unless asked to by the driver. This is unique to this car, as all other S-tronic cars will up shift even in manual mode.

The RS5 features all of the techno-wizardry of the rest of the A5 line, such as keyless go, Audi Connect (with Google maps, google search based navigation and wifi hotspot capability), electromechanical power steering, and more. This is a wonderfully capable car, which is completely civilized in daily driving, and it is an absolute riot to push hard. We love the RS5, and in all honesty, to us it’s the perfect blend of sport and luxury. The most difficult thing for us would be choosing the color we want our RS5 painted.


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