Audi

Audi RS5 review

Overview

What is it?

Well, there are good and bad fast Audis. And the RS5 is the latter. Audi’s RS division is fascinatingly inconsistent: one minute they’re on fire and the R8 and RS6 can do no wrong, the next we get a lacklustre RS5 and boorish RSQ8.

Thoroughbred drivers’ cars have been frustratingly irregular in the decades that followed the first car to be emblazoned with Quattro badges, back in the Eighties, but the bright spots pockmarking the way have shone almost blindingly.

There’s the wonderful manual-transmission RS4 of the mid 2000s, or a series of outrageously fast and temptingly family-friendly RS6s, or one of the many exquisitely balanced R8s. Perhaps it’s those which serve up impossible-to-reach expectations each time a new RS-badged car arrives. Or maybe it’s the outstanding talent exhibited by the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 that leave us hoping a rip-snorting RS will try and take them down.

What’s the problem with the current RS5?

Either way, the latest generation of RS5 disappointed us enormously on arrival. Its naturally aspirated V8 forebear with six turbocharged cylinders arguably put it on the back foot right away, but that never hindered the outgoing M3 (or M4) too much. What let us down was the lack of excitement, Audi’s contentment with a car that gripped like hell and went like stink but with no nuance, feel or feedback decorating the edges of its sledgehammer performance.

Or perhaps that should be Audi buyers’ contentment. Ex-Audi Sport boss Oliver Hoffman once told us he’ll never be tempted by the immature drift modes currently fitted to the 4WD systems of M Division and AMG. “This kind of play mode is not needed for our customers,” he said, with anything resembling rear-wheel drive deemed unnecessary to sell anything but limited-run R8 specials.

And yet now, there’s a new regime at Audi RS, a new boss, and guess what? The superb latest RS3 has a drift mode. Funny old world, eh? Sadly, the RS5 hails from the old world, where Audis are as fun as wet playtime.

Is it fast?

We suspect a lot of people will look at the 444bhp bi-turbo V6 RS5’s performance figures – a Quattro-aided 3.9-second 0-62mph sprint beating the 70bhp-healthier, rear-driven AMG C63 S – and immediately choose it over rivals for the bragging rights. And for just how joyously easy that speed can be deployed, regardless of the weather underfoot.

After a hiatus from sale the RS5 returned with a Sportback body style which (to ours eyes) is more handsome than the two-door coupe, and for European markets there’s an RS5 Competition run-out special model… which isn’t going on sale in the UK at the time of writing. Normally this would make us cross. But trust us: you ain’t missing much.

Our choice from the range

audi, auto, autos, car, cars, reviews, audi rs5 review

Audi

RS5 TFSI Quattro 5dr Tiptronic

Ј63,400

What's the verdict?

“Badge-lovers will adore this car, and whether or not it deserves the RS insignia will be a total moot point to them”

We’re unashamed car enthusiasts and the RS5 can’t help but dampen our spirits. The cars it rivals so closely on paper – the BMW M3s and Mercedes C63s of this world – manage to offer similar space and practicality with a whole heap more noise and fun. They thrill at all speeds.

But it would appear Audi’s deliberately swerved such boisterous demeanour to make a car that’s quieter, calmer and easier to live with. Something the five-door Sportback version makes particular sense of.

Badge-lovers will adore this car, and whether or not it deserves the RS insignia will be a total moot point to them. But not to us. Audi Sport’s inconsistency rolls on.

Driving

What is it like to drive?

Audi hasn’t much changed the RS5 in its short absence, so it returns with a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 pumping 444bhp and 442lb ft through all four wheels, but with 60 per cent going to the rear axle and UK cars getting a standard Sport Differential to better involve the rear axle in proceedings. Vital when its key rivals are rear-driven, you’d think.

Only the RS5 is different. It’s not a fire-breathing super saloon like an M3 or C63; it feels more restrained, better at ease with everyday life and less likely to deafen onlookers with a cacophony of exhaust artillery fire. It’ll slip into family normality so much better, particularly given there’s a five-door version with a proper hatchback, something its rivals don’t offer (C63 estate notwithstanding).

Nothing wrong with being a practical performance car?

In the RS5’s class, thrills matter. And its oddly soft approach does mean it’s less exciting. It drives almost like an electric car, with quite preposterous acceleration out of corners but not a huge amount of drama within them. You’d have to be doing outrageous things with this car to be forced into inputting any corrective steering lock.

Sure, in day-to-day driving that makes absolute sense. It even rides well. Objectively, this is a more effortless car to drive quickly than its rivals. But more fun or involving? Absolutely not. An AMG or M car isn’t actually about smoke pouring out of the wheel arches away from the world of car websites or YouTube videos; it’s about the feel and involvement it provides on a really good road. The RS5 doesn’t bother with any of that. It chases speed ruthlessly and will ultimately leave keen drivers feeling like a bit of a spare part.

Does it understeer?

At the limit, yes – despite Audi protesting the Sport Differential makes it agile and alive. It doesn’t. But you’re unlikely to ever get to the limit to discover this because it’s all just so crushingly dull. No steering feel, spongey brakes, lumpen body control and unresponsive gearshifts. Happily the Competition variant shows signs of life: the lighter rims and ceramic brakes reduce unsprung mass and (at long, long last) Audi has realised the gearbox shouldn’t auto upshift in manual mode. Incredible scenes – just a pity all the rivals worked that out decades ago.

But it’s too little, too late, for too much money, and the Comp isn’t even being offered to UK buyers, since the RS5 has bombed sales-wise here, while the C63 Coupe and M4 ran away with the market. Deservedly so.

Interior

What is it like on the inside?

The interior is the RS5’s trump card. It’s as wonderfully appointed in here as we’ve come to expect from high-end Audis. There are TFT dials ahead of you – or ‘Virtual Cockpit’ in Audi-speak – and when you’ve prodded all the sport buttons the rev counter goes all multi-coloured, egging you on to eke out every last rev. It also feels more mature and grown-up than the latest M4 inside. Less chintzy. That said, surely there should be more theatre about the Drive Select button, to give the driver the sense they’re in something special?

If you’ve gone for the five-door Sportback – room for all the family and a rather large proportion of their things in the huge hatchbacked boot. Up to 1,300 litres of space if you’ve flipped the seats down.

The ease of driving this thing goes hand-in-hand with its supreme manners at speed, too. Even at slightly eye-watering speeds on a derestricted German motorway the RS5 proves smooth and unruffled. Those who like getting stuck into driving won’t come away impressed, but anyone after fuss-free speed really will. You can while away long distances with ease in here.

Sounds like a home run for the RS5 at last?

Not quite. Whether you’re a LaFerrari or a Ford Fiesta ST, great fast cars have great seats. The RS5’s are flat and featureless, lacking sense of occasion and support. If you were spending over £70,000 on one of these and spotted an A3 S-line had nigh-on identical chairs, you’d have a right to be peeved. The RS5 Competition’s bucket seats are a much better effort, and hopefully a sign that the lazy days of Audi RS’s can’t-be-bothered era are coming to an end.

Buying

What should I be paying?

Audi Sport has seemingly spent a long time studying rivals and concluded that the power and aggression of the RS5’s contemporaries doesn’t square with how Audi customers use their cars. As in, they bathe in the comforting security of Quattro, and prioritise point-to-point speed over white-knuckle thrills.

The flipside to the RS5’s less thrilling demeanour is that it’ll be a much easier car to manage in bad weather. And much less wearing in everyday life; it’s astonishingly good over long distances to the point its red-striped badging feels a bit out of place. You could argue an A5 with a big diesel engine will do much of the same thing for much less money, of course. And now BMW sells the M4 with xDrive, and the new C63 has 4Matic, the RS5’s AWD USP is gone. The next model will have to try an awful lot better in a very talented market.

What does it cost to run?

The RS5 claims 31.4mpg and 206g/km of CO2 emissions. Figures you probably won’t reach if you’re driving it as quickly as it sometimes encourages, but it’ll go a decent way between refills. Prices start at £74,525, and at that money there’s so much tempting other metal to consider. Even with the demise of the Lexus RCF and the Jaguar F-Type sprouting grey hairs and wrinkles, there’s the new BMW M4, Mercedes-AMG C63 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio to consider. Or if you want a heavy, cramped 2+2 with silent but violent urgency, why not try a Porsche Taycan? Amazingly, it’s actually more exciting to drive than the Audi.

Oh, and if you’re still convinced this is the car for you (seriously) then you’ll be pleased to hear you’re in such a minority that it’s one of the rarest Audis on UK roads. Only the A7 and R8 sell fewer units per year than the RS5.

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