To follow the leader or lead the pack? That is not so much the question ahead of the 2018 Audi RS5 Coupe but rather one that it answers near-instantly and emphatically.
Quite often in sports coupe circles a new-generation model will emerge louder, angrier and – depending on the perspective – brawnier or brattier than before, then next-gen rivals will clamour to the same brief and attempt to play one-upmanship.
It happened when BMW replaced its iconic E92-gen M3 with the F80 M4 that attempted to play the game of the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. However look at, then start up, the new RS5 Coupe, and it becomes obvious that it will duel on its own terms.
The only question now is whether its more subtle character is enough for $150,000-plus, or if buyers could see this new-gen model as too quiet and too understated…
Vehicle Style: Sports coupe
Price: $156,600 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 331kW/600Nm 2.9 V6 twin-turbo petrol | eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.8 L/100km | Tested: 10.7 L/100km
Priced from $156,600 plus on-road costs, the RS5 Coupe lands bang-on M4 Competition and C63 S Coupe territory. It’s also $50K more than the 3.0-litre turbo V6 S5 on which its new – co-developed by Porsche – 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 is based.
Gone is the sublime 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine of the previous-generation, but in its place this downsized engine now offers an additional 170Nm of torque, with 600Nm produced from 1900rpm until 5000rpm. There is also a comparable 331kW of power delivered between 5700rpm and 6700Nm.
Deleted also is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission dubbed S tronic, replaced by a traditional eight-speed torque-converter auto, while Audi’s 60 per cent rear-biased all-wheel drive system continues in concert with a ‘sport differential’. It can juggle torque between each back wheel and in the past has proven effective.
So the upshot is a brilliant 3.9-second 0-100km/h claim in a roomier and more luxurious two-door coupe bodystyle, complete with wide 20-inch tyres, adaptive multi-mode suspension and a reasonable 1655kg kerb weight.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry and push-button start, electric sunroof, power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, leather-trimmed electrically adjustable front seats with heating, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, active cruise control, auto on/off LED headlights and wipers and automatic park assistance.
- Infotainment: 8.3-inch centre and 12.3-inch driver colour screens with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio, USB and SD card inputs, satellite navigation with 3D maps, one-shot voice control and 19-speaker, Bang and Olufsen audio system.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 465 litres.
Beyond lashings of carbonfibre trim across the dashboard and gorgeous, quilted Nappa leather seats, the RS5 Coupe appears much like an S5 Coupe inside. That happens to be absolutely no bad thing, of course, given that Audi continues to set the class benchmark for cabin quality and ergonomic simplicity.
Could we expect even more, however? For 50 per cent beyond an S5 Coupe, the answer is ‘yes’. The dashboard continues to be trimmed in nicely grained, soft-touch plastics, but it would look better with swathes of stitched leather trim as is offered in the M4 Competition.
Okay, so that might be picky, but making a head-up display, wireless phone charging and ‘matrix’ LED headlights with automatic-adaptive high-beam optional certainly isn’t. That trio of features – all standard on a $55,990 (plus orc) Holden Commodore VXR – form part of a Technik package that rudely asks $3900 extra. Ventilated front seats are also disappointingly unavailable.
These are the only gripes, though, within a surprisingly roomy and unsurprisingly classy cabin.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit driver display is sublime in both looks and operation, allowing a driver to effortlessly sweep between trip computer, media, phone and navigation functions, and in the latter case easily zoom in and out of the map screen via the steering wheel-mounted scroll button. No rival does this as easily.
Along with terrific ‘one shot’ voice control for nav, plus a crisp Bang and Olufsen audio system, and the RS5 Coupe packages up its technological excellence and concert hall acoustics to feel like a proper, modern Grand Tourer (GT). It really is something of a mini-Bentley Continental GT.
Indeed Audi claims that this RS5 Coupe has placed its 74mm-longer body to good use via rear kneeroom boosted by 23mm – while the 465-litre boot is 10L larger.
The front seats are plush, and the twin-rear chairs are nicely tilted upwards in their base and subtly supportive around the shoulders. Headroom is a fraction crimped, but with a fold-down armrest, overhead map lights and a dedicated climate zone, passengers are unlikely to complain in this ‘2+2-plus-sized’ coupe.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 331kW/600Nm 2.9 V6 turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension: Multi-link independent front and rear
- Brake: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
Let us say Rest In Peace (RIP) to Audi’s dual-clutch automatic. For years the manual gearbox with an electronic brain has been the brand’s staple, and it continues to be just that in even the smaller RS3 Sportback and TT RS Coupe. But this eight-speed torque converter automatic ironically enough renders the technology – once designed to replace the traditional auto – irrelevant here.
This drivetrain is stunning. Slink away from urban areas and the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 and auto combination are smoothly near-silent and amazingly efficient (we returned 11.5 litres per 100 kilometres with a trafficked average speed of 33km/h). There’s none of the dual-clutch jerkiness still found in an M4 Competition or C63 S.
Yet suddenly plant a right foot and, despite losing some of the immense character of the old V8, the drivetrain still slams into life. And we do mean ‘slam’ given how brutal the auto is and how raspy the engine and exhaust get, especially when the latter is hot. Put the auto in ‘S’ on a twisty road, and it will be instantly alert and aroused.
Forget brattiness, brutishness, clamminess and cantankerous behaviour normally associated with high-end sports cars, because the way this Audi segues from feeling like an ‘S5 Plus’ to an ‘RS5 Proper’ is superb.
In ride quality terms, just leave the Audi Drive Select system in Auto and the way the suspension smothers bumps and disguises the effects of low-profile 20-inch tyres will firstly feel just like an S5, and secondly embarrass an M4 Competition or C63 S. Just forget the alternate Comfort or Dynamic modes, which really aren’t required.
There is a theme occurring here, and that is that Audi is taking the gentlemanly high ground with its coupe’s character compared with BMW M and Mercedes-AMG. Does that have an effect on handling, though? Well, yes and no.
In an age where BMW M and Mercedes-AMG have developed fancy all-wheel drive systems that can disengage the front axle to become rear-wheel drive – at least for their large cars when the M5 funnily enough followed the E63 S last year – Audi’s 60:40 front/rear all-wheel drive system can seem outdated.
This system, along with the centre differential that juggles torque to each rear wheel, is about a decade old. It is also available on an S5 Coupe, where it works brilliantly.
The new RS5 Coupe feels much lighter on its feet, far better balanced, and more nimble than the generation it replaces. Allied with this new engine, plus tight and smooth steering, and it leaps from corners fiercely.
Yet it never feels boring, mainly thanks to that ferocious engine. The only caveat is that, with such immense tyre grip, working the rear axle is if anything harder than it is in an S5 Coupe. A driver needs to drill the front-end in harder than a coal-mine extractor, specifically to release the tenacious rear grip and neutralise its behaviour.
A fraction less rear grip, or a more active and rear-biased all-wheel drive system, could go a long way to making this Audi feel even more entertaining than it is.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars – the Audi A5 range scored 34.00 out of 38 possible points when tested by Euro NCAP in 2015.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side, rear-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, blind-spot assistance with pedestrian/cyclist detection, forward and rear collision warnings with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active lane-keep assistance, front and rear parking sensors and a 360-degree camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Audi does not include a capped-price servicing program for its RS models.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
An M4 Competition hands the baton of class leadership to the C63 S Coupe in almost every regard – especially for driver communication – but the Mercedes-AMG can feel more overpowered than the lighter BMW on a racetrack.
On a track, the M4 would spank the heavier RS5 Coupe, no doubt, while a C63 S is more visceral. On the right road both can also deliver higher highs than this Audi, yet they also cannot deliver the cabin calm, ideal ride quality and transmission smoothness of this model that also happens to handle rather brilliantly anyway.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Audi RS5 Coupe is absolutely a rival for the BMW M4 Competition and Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe. But it is nothing like them, and is all the better for it.
Yes, it is smoother, quieter and more understated, and the old high-revving V8 can be missed. But such attributes shouldn’t be considered as a lack of character or a complete dynamic trade-off.
The RS5 Coupe certainly isn’t as light as an M4 nor as communicative as a C63 S, but it is more usable and will quite often be quicker point-to-point than either of them. Unless oversteer on a racetrack is front-of-mind, it might well be just as entertaining.
Its jack-of-all-trades nature is executed with excellence. It leads its competition by understanding that track days might be few and far between for many, and in its place comes a broader, dual character. Hopefully for buyers used to the ‘new norm’ of loud exhausts and harsh suspensions, it won’t be like dragging a horse to water.
- Interested in buying Audi RS5? Visit our Audi showroom for more information.