cnet | Steven Ewing | 08/21/2018
Audi’s new RS5 Coupe is a wonderful grand tourer. Fast, pretty, luxurious and techy, it’s the sort of car I could easily and happily live with every single day.
But while the RS5 may earn straight-As in its core subjects, it won’t be turning in any extra driving-enthusiast credit. Across-the-board impressive as it might be, Audi’s mean, green performance machine feels a bit too buttoned-up for its own good.
Strong heart, solid bones
Audi’s 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 engine is a fantastic piece of work. Output is more than ample, the RS5 Coupe loaded with 444 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, all of which is available across a broad range in each gear. And with a slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and the surefooted power delivery of Quattro all-wheel drive, the RS5 can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in a scant 3.7 seconds, just barely inching out its BMW M4 andrivals.
It’s not horribly inefficient, either. The EPA rates the 2018 RS5 Coupe at 18 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, and even after a week of spirited driving, I saw an average of 21.5 mpg.
The RS5 is a car that’s super-easy to drive fast. The standard RS sport suspension is stiffly sprung but not back-breakingly harsh — the kind of setup you can easily get away with on smoothly paved surfaces. That said, you’ll likely want to opt for the $3,350 Dynamic package, largely for its adjustable suspension. Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control offers three settings — Comfort, Auto and, you guessed it, Dynamic — and the differences between each mode are noticeable enough to make them useful should the RS5 be a car you press into all sorts of driving duty.
That the Dynamic pack also gets you the RS sport exhaust is only an added bonus, even if the accompanying soundtrack could stand to have a bit more volume. Audi does channel natural engine noise into the cabin at higher speeds, but I’d rather have more bass from the back.
Alternatively, you can go for the $6,000 Dynamic Plus Package, which bundles the aforementioned options and adds an increased, 174-mph top speed, a carbon-fiber engine cover and, most crucially, ceramic composite front brakes. The 174-mph top end is pretty much useless in the United States (aside from theoretical bragging rights), and while the ceramic brakes are plenty powerful and effective, the standard steel stoppers work just fine. Click this option box if you’re going to regularly track your RS5, but if this thing never sees a race circuit, you’ll be just fine with the less-expensive regular Dynamic pack.
The $1,150 Dynamic Steering option, meanwhile, is a worthwhile addition because it’s one of the better-tuned variable-ratio setups available today. You get the normal broad range of assist in Comfort and Auto modes, but switch it over to Dynamic (there’s that word again) and the RS5 locks into a fixed 13.5:1 ratio, ensuring predictable, linear action.
Let’s loosen up that collar
This all sounds like a recipe for sports car excellence, and indeed, the RS5 delivers the numbers. But if you’re hoping for an unhinged, raucous experience — like the one offered by the Mercedes C63 — you’re out of luck.
For starters, the RS5 is not a lightweight, tipping the scales at 3,990 pounds, some 300 pounds more than a BMW M4. And because roughly 60 percent of that weight is situated up front, the RS5 has a tendency to nose-dive into tight corners, with a bit of predictable understeer at higher speeds. Around back, the standard sport differential can torque-vector power side to side as needed, which is helpful in controlling oversteer should you get back on the throttle too quickly before the rear end settles.
Really, the RS5 is a car that prefers relaxed inputs, no matter the speed. It would much rather blast down winding country roads than carve technical canyon corners. Make no mistake, the RS5 offers more involvement than a too-technical BMW M4, but it can’t match the outright exhilaration of the ripsnorting C63.
As comfy as it is techy
It’s not just a grand tourer in terms of driving style, either. The RS5 is a world-class luxury car, with no shortage of comfort, convenience and tech features.
For starters, the sport seats are supportive and comfortable, with tasteful honeycomb-pattern contrast stitching. Color choices are pretty much limited to black or gray for the seats themselves, and the only available dash trim is gloss carbon fiber. Being a coupe, cabin occupancy is best reserved for two, but should you need to shove adults into the RS5’s hind quarters, you’ll find it isn’t a total penalty box.
You’ll want the $2,600 Navigation package, not for the embedded maps themselves, but for the addition of Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit. This is one of the best digital gauge clusters available anywhere, and the more I use it, the more I enjoy the reconfigurable displays. There’s even an RS-specific screen with a digital speedometer inside a rev counter, right in the middle, with additional performance data displayed to the right.
Audi’s MMI interface handles infotainment duties, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility standard, as well as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The 8.3-inch center screen is plenty bright with crisp graphics, and the accompanying voice and handwriting recognition functions work as well as can be expected. My only real complaint is that the menu and submenu structure itself is a bit confusing when setting up some of the vehicle settings.
There’s no shortage of advanced driving aids, either — even if you have to add the Driver Assistance Package in order to get them. Fork over $3,300 and you’ll get adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, a colorful head-up display, high-beam assist, top-view camera and traffic sign recognition.
How I’d spec it
The 2018 RS5 Sportback starts at $69,900 (not including $975 for destination), but honestly, no one’s buying them that cheap. An Audi spokesperson recently told me that the vast majority of 2018 model year RS5s are going out the door for at least $80,000, and based on my preferred spec, I can see why.
Audi offers the RS5 in a number of fetching hues, and I’d be remiss not to order mine in Sonoma Green, even if it does add $575 to the bottom line. From there, I’ll take the 20-inch wheels seen on this test car, which cost $2,500, though they also require the addition of the cool-looking $1,500 Black Optic Package. As for other options, I’m taking the $2,600 Navigation pack, $3,350 Dynamic pack (not the Dynamic Plus option), $950 Bang & Olufsen premium sound system and $1,150 Dynamic Steering, for a grand total of $83,500. Tick every option box, however, and you’ll reach as high as $94,300.
But then there’s the Sportback
Don’t forget, thewill hit dealers later this year, priced from $74,200. And while it might seem like the coupe will have a small price advantage, I can’t imagine that’ll be the case for much longer. Audi will offer the Sportback with Virtual Cockpit, navigation, direct tire pressure monitoring and other goodies as standard equipment, and I’d imagine the 2019 Coupe will get similar packaging. At the end of the day, you should really just have to choose whether you want two doors or four.
Personally, I’m all about that Sportback. The RS5 isn’t quite the monster I’d hoped it be, but its refined, relaxed demeanor and superior utility for people and things means it’s a car I’d happily have as a daily driver. Nice as the Coupe is, for an everyday all-rounder, it’s hard to argue against the functionality afforded by that pretty Sportback shape.