Enthusiasts know exactly what an M badge means when it’s plastered to the back of a BMW. Mercedes-Benz doesn’t have to explain AMG to anyone. But as good as Audi’s S and RS machines are, the performance arm that produces them, Audi Sport, is far less known. And that was even more true when that brand was called Quattro. Compared to its rivals, owning one of Audi’s RS models was almost like belonging to an underground club — a well-kept performance car secret. That’s fun for Audi fans, but that’s certainly not an ideal strategy for increasing sales.
“Quattro was not a fitting name,” Stephan Winkelmann, former Lamborghini CEO and new head of Audi Sport, told us over dinner at the launch of the RS5. “It’s the name of the equipment on the car, not the car company. The name Audi Sport was easy to choose because we have the motorsport heritage — our DNA is motorsports.”
And the car that is perhaps the closest production car evolution and representation of Audi’s storied motorsports history is the all-new RS5. It’s the spiritual successor to the Audi Sport Quattro, a car that was built to dominate rally racing and generated four world championship titles in the 1980s.
The RS5 is freshly minted for 2018 and no, it doesn’t have a fire-breathing inline-five like the Sport Quattro. But it does share the two-door coupe layout, tough-looking blistered fenders and plenty of turbocharged horsepower. This is the second-generation RS5, and under the aluminum hood is a 2.9-liter six-cylinder engine with twin turbochargers (each feeding one cylinder bank) nestled deep inside the V. It generates a solid 450 hp from 5,700 rpm until 6,700 rpm.
Audi devotees will remember that a 4.2-liter V8 with the exact same horsepower spec was at the heart of the last RS5. The difference was, that engine made its power all the way up at 8,250 rpm. It was a screamer with gorgeous red valve covers. And we loved it. The new V6, however, delivers what the old engine couldn’t: low end torque. At its core, it’s a slightly shorter-stroke evolution of the 3.0-liter V6 in the S5. Thanks to those twin turbos, it puts down 125 lb-ft more torque than the old V8 for a total of 442 lb-ft. And it does all this torque production way down at 1,900 rpm and keeps cranking it out all the way to 5,000 rpm. Downsizing from a V8 to a V6 saves quite a bit of weight, too: The new engine is 68.3 pounds lighter.
It’s also fitted beneath the nose of the Porsche Panamera 4S. The only difference between the engines in both cars is how the air cleaners are packaged. Audi Sport makes it very clear, though, that this engine was developed by Audi.
The V6 is channeled to a ZF eight-speed automatic. This transmission is in the same family as the eight-speed in the S5. But according to Stephan Reil, head of technical development for Audi Sport, there are unique gear ratios and stronger clutches here. So why no manual transmission?
“We don’t have a standard transmission that can handle 442 lb-ft of torque,” says Reil. “We’d have to develop a new one, and less than 10 percent of the buyers would choose it.”
Torque is distributed to all four wheels through the same Torsen-based, mechanical all-wheel-drive system as the S5. Under normal conditions, it sends 40 percent of the torque to the front axle and 60 percent to the rear. When necessary, a maximum of 85 percent can be sent rearward. Audi’s torque-vectoring rear sport differential has unique tuning here and changes its behavior based on the drivetrain settings within the Audi Drive Select menus — less torque is sent across the axle in comfort and auto modes, and more in dynamic.
One of the strongest visual clues separating this car from an S5 are those flared fenders. The fenders themselves are completely new stamped steel parts, and each one bulges out 0.6 inch and has faux, but nonetheless cool, black vent grilles to help accentuate them. The RS5’s bodywork is generally crisper and more aggressive than the last one. It looks positively tough on the road.
European RS5s have an optional carbon-fiber roof. Sadly, because of U.S. crash regulations, our cars cannot be fitted with the roof. It’s about 60 pounds lighter than our sunroof-equipped steel roof. However, compared to the last RS5, this new one weighs 132.3 fewer pounds overall.
The basic architecture of the RS5’s suspension remains unchanged compared to the S5. However, there are some important upgrades. The RS5 has springs that are about 0.3 inch lower than the ones in the S5, with an increase in spring rate of about 15-20 percent. Audi Sport uses bushings in the control arms with a stiffer rubber compound, as well as roll bars with a unique torsion rate for the RS5. The flared fenders were required because the RS5 does indeed have a wider track. At the front, that comes from the greater offset in the 9-inch wide, 20-inch tall wheels. At the rear, the wheel-mounting flange is actually 0.2 inch wider, too. The Dynamic Ride Control (DRC) dampers are optional, but Audi says nearly everyone opts for them. These three stage adjustable dampers are tied together across the chassis, linking opposite corners with a central valve. The dampers are designed to reduce roll and pitch and are controlled by the Drive Select system menu.
The RS5’s option list is relatively short. The Dynamic package includes a sport exhaust with black tips, red-painted brake calipers and the dynamic ride control suspension. The Dynamic-plus package adds ceramic front brakes, a direct tire pressure-monitoring system, a carbon-fiber engine cover and a top speed raised from 155 mph to 174 mph. And finally, the RS Driver Assistance package includes an upgraded top view camera system, head-up display, high-beam assistant, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
Dig deep into the throttle of the new RS5 and there’s a wall of torque that hits right away and never seems to let up. The eight-speed’s tightly spaced ratios keep those turbos building boost at a relentless pace. In sport mode, the automatic shifts as quickly as any of the best dual-clutch gearboxes. Audi estimates it will hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. There’s a manual mode that will hold onto a gear until you’re ready to shift, and it’s helpfully accompanied by a rainbow of shift warning lights on the tach. The dial is green until just past 4,000 rpm, then yellow up to about 6,000 rpm and then, finally, red past 6,500, at which point the dial flashes if you haven’t yet pulled the paddle.
But to get the quickest times, you’ll need to engage Launch Control.
Select dynamic mode, turn the ESC down a notch or completely off and then floor the throttle and brake at the same time. The engine revs will rise to 2,500 rpm, you let off the brake and you’re gone.
“In a dual-clutch gearbox, you open one clutch, close another and cut the engine power for a split second in Launch Control,” says Reil. “Here, we’re not shutting down the engine, so there’s a little abrupt jump at the gear change. It improves 0-60-mph acceleration by one-tenth of a second.”
And there’s a stirring, silky whoosh from those turbos and a V6 growl as you keep the pedal planted with these little pops and snorts from the exhaust as it shifts.
“At low revs, the engine makes nearly no sound,” Reil says. “So, from idle to 3,000 rpm, we have a sound actor mounted at the base of the windshield to make low frequency sounds.”
Is it as exciting as the old high-revving V8 in the last RS5? No, not quite. But here’s the thing, that’s the only thing you might miss from that car. The new RS5 is not only a far easier car to drive quickly, but thanks to all that torque, it’s also better around town.
On the tight, hairpin roads of the Pyrenees mountains where we spent two days piloting the RS5, the drivetrain’s short gearing and the relentless torque of the turbocharged V6 made connecting those curves effortless. That was true whether we were hammering the car approaching the limits of our bravery or just cruising at a comfortably quick pace. It’s always agile and always composed. This powertrain is potent all the time too, not just at the top of the rev band like the old V8 RS5. We liked drive select set to individual mode, which let us put the engine/gearbox, steering, differential and engine sound to dynamic but dial back the suspension to comfort. The dynamic suspension mode feels a bit too stiff and busy over these roads. Perhaps that setting is more suitable to a track.
Audi’s interior design and execution is still some of the best in the luxury car world. Our particular test car had plush Alcantara coverings on the steering wheel, shifter and door panels. And the heavily bolstered massaging sport seats are supremely comfy. It all made gobbling up the 200-mile trek between the airport in Toulouse, France, to Andorra and back totally undemanding. And that’s maybe this car’s greatest strength. It’s a master at covering ground very quickly on any type of road while delivering a sense of serenity in the cabin.
We didn’t have a chance to push the car to its limit on a track. But Reil and the Audi Sport team practically lived at the Nurburgring with the RS5. They spent about three weeks at the beginning of the development process durability testing over 5,000 miles on the Nordschleife. And then they returned for another 5,000 before the car was released for production. Reil wouldn’t divulge an official lap time but says the RS5 can do the job comfortably in under eight minutes — you probably could have guessed that.
This all-new RS5 is a vast improvement over the last one. Yes, it’s lost a bit of that high-revving excitement from the old V8. But it’s gained so much more breadth of capability. It’s a quicker car around town and in the hills, too. It’s also a car that we can confidently say would be a great daily driver.
Audi says the RS5 will start somewhere around $70,000 when it arrives stateside this winter. The RS5 is just the first of many new Audi Sport models due to arrive soon. Winkelmann says the lineup will broaden from the 10 models the company produces today to 16 by 2020. And the next one we’re likely to see is a Sportback version of the RS5.