Automotive manufacturers have mastered the art of crafting driving experiences to launch new models to the media, specifically picking locations or situations that will dazzle and delight any driver – any lucky enough to enter this dream world.
Two years ago, Audi turned the driving media loose in the current-generation RS 5 Coupe on a blitz run from southern France into the principality of Andorra nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains. The roads were smooth and serpentine enough to resemble any driving enthusiast’s fantasy, and predictably, we came away gobsmacked by the RS 5’s poise and performance.
Most of us, however, live here in the real world where driving regularly involves far-less-thrilling settings. Snarled traffic, picking up kids from hockey practice, and trying to dodge colossal potholes are daily ritual for many, and can expose the shortcomings of many great machines in very short order.
Thousands of kilometres away from those mountainous roads, the five-door, 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback still impresses.
Power: 9/ 10
444 and 443. Those are the figures for the RS 5’s horsepower and torque outputs, respectively. And while the Sportback’s mass of 1,810 kg isn’t featherweight territory, that’s still more than enough grunt to launch you, your partner, and your kids to the legal limit in around four seconds flat. Power? Oh yeah, this thing has it in droves.
I’m still saddened by the demise of the V8-powered RS 5 with its stratospherically revving (and gorgeous-sounding) engine, but getting a full helping of torque (over 100 lb-ft more than the V8) out of this 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 between 1,900 and 5,000 rpm dizzies the brain just enough to forget the eight-pot.
The eight-speed automatic shifts blazingly quick when demanded, but also as smoothly as you’d please, when cruising along, and eight seems to be just the right number of gears to ensure efficiency, but also keep the engine in its sweet spot whenever needed.
Driving Feel: 8.5/10
The RS cars are Audi Sport’s most ferocious street machines, including the RS 3 and R8 semi-exotic, so it’s no surprise to find the RS 5 Sportback incredibly easy to drive very, very fast. It’s not a small car, so it doesn’t have the sort of near-ethereal lightness in direction transitions that a tiny, mid-engine sportscar does. But its steering is precise and its stability – even when cornering at obscene speeds – is unflappable. Trying to upset the RS 5’s grip is pointless since, even when driven foolishly, the Continental SportContact 6 summer rubber clings fiercely, and the power is directed brilliantly to all four corners via Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system.
The mere attempt of exploiting the RS 5’s performance ceiling on public roads would soon see its driver in jail, the car’s capabilities are so high.
All that performance comes at the expense of ride comfort. While the RS 5 does have an electronically adaptive suspension within its various drive modes, even in “Comfort” the stiffness of the ride reveals the prevalence of frost heaves and potholes on Canadian roads. In the sportier settings, it can leave occupants’ spines begging for mercy and wondering why the driver is such a masochist.
The extremely low-profile tires and enormous 20-inch wheels of the test car did nothing to help the ride quality either.
Fortunately, the cockpit is otherwise a lovely spot to be. The seats, finished in supple Nappa leather with red, diamond-pattern stitching, are equally supportive for fast cornering and comfortable for distance touring.
There are enough seatbelts for five people, but putting three adults in the backseat would be a squeeze. For two in the backseat, there’s decent space.
The fenders are broadened by just over 15 mm per side on the RS 5 versus the S5 and that, along with the lowered ride height, makes all the visual difference in the world. The RS 5 looks like a serious performance machine from any angle, and the optional wheel design looks brilliant. And despite being slightly taller than its coupe counterpart, the sleekness of the fastback, five-door design gives up nothing to the two-door.
Adding to this particular car’s visual gravitas is the $5,600 Carbon Optics Package that reinforces the sporting nature of the RS 5 by adding lustrous carbon-fibre accents to the mirrors, chin spoiler, and side skirts, which complement the Nardo Grey paint scheme. If it were up to me, I’d order the stunning Sonoma Green Metallic paint that’s exclusive to the RS 5.
Inside, another $900 was allocated to carbon fibre with a broad expanse of the stuff across the dash and down the central console. The weave is exquisite and adds a thoroughly racy, yet luxurious touch to the interior.
Otherwise, the RS 5’s interior is very business-oriented with a moderately sized screen perched atop the dash. The digital Virtual Cockpit is a part of the Premium Package and looks as great here as it does in any other Audi application I’ve seen.
User Friendliness: 7/10
The customizability of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit helps ensure the considerable amount of information available to the driver is as easily presented as possible. While I appreciate the eyes-up positioning of the infotainment screen, operating it via the rotary dial-and-touchpad assembly can be a bit fiddly when trying to work with Apple CarPlay; nothing is quite as intuitive as working with a tablet-like touchscreen set-up.
My test car was fitted with a $1,100 optional head-up display that disappeared when I wore polarized sunglasses, and would be something I’d happily scratch off the option list if I were buying an RS 5 for myself.
For the most part, the RS 5 was equipped with all the accoutrements one expects in a luxury car. Supple leather and other high-quality build materials, plus a large, panoramic sunroof, and excellent Bang & Olufsen audio system are all here. There are other treats like the puddle lights that illuminate an RS 5 logo on the ground when the doors are opened, or the power-open and -close lift gate.
With the temperatures soaring during my test week, I would’ve thoroughly appreciated cooled – or at least perforated – seats, neither of which the RS 5 has.
Audi was the first manufacturer to introduce a full Level 3 autonomous car with their new A8 sedan. It hasn’t taken long for some of that key technology to trickle down into other models, and the RS 5 with the Advanced Driver Assistance Package uses a bunch of sensors to help detect other traffic, pedestrians, or any other obstacle that could pose a danger to the Audi or its occupants. The car will safely keep itself within its lane and accelerate and brake, even within stop-and-go traffic, helping to keep some of the strain off the driver.
Beyond that, the RS 5 is replete with the wealth of active and safety features found on all luxury cars these days, plus a sufficiently robust structure to withstand serious impacts.
Practicality is where the RS 5 really starts to become peerless. There are plenty of other luxury sport sedans available, and there’s a growing selection of high-performance crossover SUVs arriving on the market, but nobody else is making a sub-$100,000 ultra-high-performance hatchback or wagon like the RS 5 Sportback.
There’s enough space in the cargo hold to contain four good-sized suitcases – enough for a quartet of lucky folks to get away for a long weekend to wine country, for sure.
Plus, having all-wheel drive – and heated seats and steering wheel – means the RS 5 can easily serve as a very fast daily driver, even throughout the winter months (assuming one fits appropriate winter tires).
Fuel Economy: 5/10
At a combined rate of 11.5 L/100 km, the RS 5’s fuel efficiency isn’t exactly miserly, but it’s pretty tough to find a car with this kind of performance that offers notably better mileage. The RS 5 has a relatively small fuel tank of only 58 L, which, with city driving, can be consumed in very short order, and even on the highway dramatically limits the Audi as a grand touring machine.
Value: 6/ 10
Without any direct, obvious competitors, it’s a bit tricky to determine the value of the RS 5. Compared to a Porsche Panamera 4S (a car that shares the RS 5’s engine, albeit slightly detuned) or a Mercedes-AMG E 63 S Wagon, the RS 5 is tens of thousands of dollars cheaper, though it’s also smaller than those cars.
It’s likely someone might consider one of the ultra-powerful premium compact crossovers, like the BMW X4 M Competition or Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, both of which crank out more than 500 hp, but require owners to suffer their grotesque appearance (though maybe that’s just me).
Keeping the options minimal – or at least very carefully chosen – could be challenging on an RS 5, but would help keep its value up.
The Audi RS 5 Sportback is an exceptional vehicle in a time when there are a lot of very impressive performance machines available. It’s a remarkable performer, but also suitably practical to comfortably (and usefully) live with, day-to-day.
Best of all, the RS 5 Sportback shines as brightly here in Canada as it does in idyllic, far-flung locales.
|Peak Horsepower||444@ 6,000 rpm|
|Peak Torque||443 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.5/9.0/11.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||329 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback|
|Price as Tested||$116,645|
$30,100 – RS Carbon Inlays $900; Head Up Display $1,100; Carbon Ceramic Front Brakes $6,000; Carbon Fiber Engine Cover $600; Audi Sport Package $4,800; Carbon Optics Package $5,600; 20" Wheels Milled Cut $2,500; RS Interior Design $1,500; Premium Package $5,000; Advanced Driver Assistance Package $2,100