By Jeff Wilson
Perched atop the ancient Pyrenees Mountains is the tiny Principality of Andorra.
In winter, it’s surely a wonderland playground for the wealthy skiers and snowboarders who visit from neighboring France or Spain. But we’re here in the summer and the slopes are all covered in lush foliage, with the only apparent sign of life in the sleepy villages being a few random mountain bikers or motorcyclists.
A glimpse at the GPS shows a network of roads in Andorra that looks more like a pot of cooked spaghetti than a means by which to get people from point A to point B. In other words, it’s paradise for those who enjoy a good automotive flogging. As luck would have it, we were there to do just that with Audi’s newest high-performance RS 5 coupe.
Mourning the V8
There will be more than a few folks (and you can count me among them) who’ll mourn the previous generation RS 5’s ferocious, high-revving, naturally aspirated V8, replaced now with a twin-turbo V6. It’s an all-new engine, displacing 2.9-liters and putting out 450 horsepower and a whopping 443 pound-feet of torque between 1,900 and 5,000 rpm. That latter figure is 125 lb-ft greater than the old RS 5 and helps propel the new car to 62 mph (100 km/h) in a claimed 3.9 seconds, and on to a top speed of 174 mph (280 km/h) when equipped with the optional RS dynamic package.
Audi Sport’s engineers did what they could to enhance the engine noise in the cabin through a series of baffles designed to amplify low-end frequencies up to 3,000 rpms. Make no mistake, this is not an electronic soundtrack pumped through the speakers the way a certain unnamed competitor does it, but it’s no substitute for the feral bellow of the old V8. With the RS Sport Exhaust in full-roar Dynamic mode, the car is still pretty quiet, though at highway speeds, drones a bit. Switching off Dynamic mode all but eliminates the mechanical noise from entering the cabin.
All that extra torque from the V6 means the DSG dual-clutch transmission of the old RS 5 has been jettisoned along with the V8 in favor of a new 8-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. With the car set in Dynamic mode, shifts are wickedly quick, meaning it’s unlikely anyone will miss the old seven-speed box. In Comfort mode, cog swapping is incredibly smooth, meaning that this transmission does both performance driving and luxury cruising well, and making yet another case for automatic-transmission world domination (even if I do cringe to say so).
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If there’s one complaint, it’s that the engineers have programmed the new transmission to climb ratios as quickly as possible in the interest of fuel efficiency, even when set to “S” instead of “D.” A manual mode is available with gear selections actuated via plastic paddles that are a little cheap feeling. Unlike other so-called manual modes, the RS 5 won’t automatically upshift; a trait I discovered as I inadvertently bounced the free-revving V6 off its limiter while passing a slow-moving minivan.
While performance and styling improvements were prioritized in the development of this new RS 5, so too was an increase in fuel efficiency. Audi claims a 17 percent improvement with a combined average of 27 mpg (8.7 L/100 km).
The new RS 5’s performance also benefits from Audi Sport’s weight-loss program that has netted a 132-lb (60-kg) reduction thanks largely to the smaller engine, but other key factors like lighter wheels and an optional carbon fiber roof do their part.
Reduced mass helps all aspects of performance and the new RS 5’s handling is as impressive as its forward thrust. Our test machines featured Audi’s electromechanical steering, with an RS-specific state of tune. In Dynamic mode, the steering is not variable, resulting in a direct and linear steering response. It’s a good – and very quick – setup that transmits a decent amount of feel to the driver’s hands.
As part of the RS dynamic package, our cars also included Dynamic Ride Control that presents a notable difference between the stiff Dynamic setting and the truly supple Comfort mode. Audi’s legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system is set up with a 40:60 power delivery front versus rear, but even when faced with rain-sprinkled hairpin curves and a truly foolish amount of throttle, the RS 5 remained planted and unperturbed.
The grip from the Hankook Ventus S1 evo2’s is astonishing, really, making the car nearly impossible to kick into power-on oversteer. The optional 20-inch wheels are handsome on the RS 5, but they do look an awful lot like the ones found on an up-trim Hyundai Tucson.
Audi Sport’s engineers have baked a lot of control and safety in the handling that will make most drivers look like aces on a race track setting, and help prevent embarrassing trips to the ditch or guard rail. But to be clear, the RS 5 is not as boisterous or as lively as its BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 competitors, or even Audi’s own RS 3. All of these competitors are more engaging and demand more of the driver to get the most out of them. Being the only car in the class with all-wheel-drive, the RS 5 simply doesn’t excite the driver the way the others do, but it makes the Audi a better, all-season choice and is the car that’s surely most livable on a daily basis.
Carbon-ceramic brakes are optional on the RS 5 and provide powerful stopping power as expected, but I would’ve liked a little more immediacy and initial bite from them. For most people, the standard steel brakes will be more than ample.
All the Best Tech
On our second day of driving, we left Andorra before sunrise, relishing the cool mountain air and empty roads, and enabling a truly thrilling ride back into Southern France. With my driving partner behind the wheel (and me not yet fully awake), I was glad to have the extra measures of safety infused into the RS 5 as the unlit, cliff-side corners occasionally turned out to be a wee bit tighter than expected, causing some mid-corner corrections to the driving line.
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It should be noted that the LED headlights are excellent, too.
All this adds up to a car that’s a serious performance machine, but one that even Audi Sport’s CEO Stephan Winkelmann proclaims is the gran turismo model within the RS lineup. The experience within the cabin reinforces that claim. The RS 5 is surprisingly quiet and comfortable, even when cruising along at speeds well above the legal limit. And the optional Bang & Olufsen sound system sends 755 thunderous watts through 20 speakers that creates a full, rich and bright soundscape.
Naturally, the RS 5 is fitted with the marque’s latest technology for both active safety and comfort accouterments including diamond-pattern RS-specific (and massaging) seats, state-of-the-art MMI infotainment system, park assist, and active lane assist among them.
Stylistically, the new RS 5 is a great evolution of the outgoing model, with muscular proportions and wider rear fender “hips” versus lesser A5/S5 models. This is also the first application of Audi Sport’s new design language, in this case presenting black and aluminum-look accents around the lower body, and headlight clusters with dark internals. There’s a new RS 5-exclusive Sonoma green metallic shade that is absolutely stunning and drew in loads of eyeballs out on the road.
The Verdict: 2018 Audi RS 5 Coupe Review
Audi Sport has achieved what it set out to do with the RS 5. It’s a higher-performing, better-looking, and more efficient machine that exceeds its former self in every measurable respect. Whether racing around exotic mountainous roads, or cruising wide open freeways, the new RS 5 is a triumphant machine that is both more comfortable and more accomplished thanks to the advances in technology.
But this progress dictated by smaller, more efficient engines means the RS 5 has also lost some of its character in the process. The absence of the sonorous V8 and the softening of some of the rawness from the RS 5’s persona, has made Audi Sport’s new mid-size coupe a superior grand touring car, but not as wild.
The 2018 Audi RS 5 is starting to show up in German showrooms this month, with its arrival in North America scheduled for the first quarter of 2018. Pricing will be announced closer to its appearance here.
Engine: 2.9L twin-turbo V6
Output: 450 hp, 443 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed auto
0-62 mph: 3.9 seconds
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 27 combined (est)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.7 combined (est)
Twin-turbo V6 doesn’t sound like the old V8
Transmission prefers efficiency over fun
Technology makes it faster, but less fun