2018 Audi RS5 review

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, 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.

Naturally, on paper, it is superior in almost every sense. However, memories of the departed V8 provide not only a signpost to the previous RS5’s most likeable fixture, but also quattro GmbH – the entity which has now morphed into Audi Sport.

2017 Audi RS5 interiorConsequently, the introduction of its latest two-door, four-seat coupe has been carefully juxtaposed with the mention of ‘gran turismo’; a notable divergence for a car previously expected to fight with the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe. A couple of the new car’s modifications then are notable out of the gate.

It is lighter by 60kg in its cooking format (thanks mostly to the 31kg-lighter V6), the mechanical rear ‘sport’ differential can 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. There’s also a transmission change to a ZF eight-speed torque converter auto.

That means the car shares its V6 with the second-generation Panamera 4S, but not an entire driveline. Outputs are slightly different, too, Audi Sport having eked out 7kW more so it can claim to match the outgoing V8’s 331kW. Peak torque, predictably, is dramatically superior, the V6 summoning up 600Nm from 1900rpm.

2017 Audi RS5 engineIn 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 74mm 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. 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 quite cut it.

That’s to be expected. And so is the performance. Where its predecessor dispensed progress in escalating lunges to 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 Audi S5 is swept away by its sure handling of the many rhythmic upshifts required.

2017 Audi RS5 rearAround 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 Audi’s range. 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.

Tie in a Dynamic steering system which actually comes good at outside-lane motorway speeds 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 minuses occur, they do so with a pervading sense of inevitability. It hardly needs saying that the new RS5 is quicker than the old, but there isn’t the same accompanying theatrical fizz to its high-rev function, nor the same potmarked mechanical shunt to its paddle-operated gear changes.

2017 Audi RS5 dashboardThat 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 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 off.

Immodest amounts of speed or throttle will simply result in Audi’s age-old understeer remedy. Perhaps that’s all forgiveable 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 or the decidedly clumsy pedal feel of the cost-option ceramic brakes.

2017 Audi RS5 side profileUltimately, this leaves the RS5 imperfect – and persuasively distinct. The prime reason for acquiring one (the V8) has gone, and while the 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’s stands dramatically out to howl ‘buy me’ from the rafters.

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 bi-turbo 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.

4 stars out of 5

Like: New character; high-end cabin; performance
Dislike: Loss of a great atmo engine; more of a GT cruiser

Specs:
Engine: 2894cc V6, DOHV, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 331kW @ 5700rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 1900-500rpm
Weight: 1665kg
0-100km/h: 3.9sec (claimed)
Price: $155,000 (est)

 

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