Test Drive: 2015 Audi RS 5

This isn’t the next great thing. Nope, it’s probably not even the last great thing. By my reckoning, it might be the one before the last great thing. But it might just be the greatest thing.

Of course, the things I’m referring to aren’t sea cucumbers or stock portfolios, rather they are the luxury sports coupes and sedans, a segment for generations dominated by BMW’s M3. This niche of the sports car market are cars based not on dedicated sports car platforms, but originating from the popular compact luxury class, which has now ballooned into mid-size proportions.

The Audi RS 5 is the one-car solution to this dilemma, and its flexibility was on display in a period that saw warm sunny weather mixed with sub-zero temperatures and cold rainy days.

This thing is the 2015 Audi RS 5, the nearest anyone has come to dethroning the mighty M3. Of course, it all depends on the day of the year. On a warm and sunny track day in June, the lighter and purer RWD M3 is everything you could ask for in a car that can just as easily be a daily commuter. But when the going gets slippery, on a cold and rainy day in April, or during a heavy snowstorm in December, suddenly the M3 seems like only a fair-weather fiend, and the RS 5 rips right on by as a set of serious winter tires lock onto any path that its ground clearance will allow. The M3 or M4 or even M4 convertible may be functional in the snow, but will never have the same mastery in foul weather that Audi’s new Quattro coupe promises.

So the question you have to ask yourself is this: peak performance in ideal conditions or superb performance in all conditions your preferred transportation. The Audi RS 5 is the one-car solution to this dilemma, and its flexibility was on display in a period that saw warm sunny weather mixed with sub-zero temperatures and cold rainy days.

Further reinforcing that practicality, our time in the RS 5 overlapped our test of Lexus’s new RC F, an emotional coupe but limited by its focus on fair-weather performance, though winter tires may have helped its cause.

But let’s get down to brass tacks and talk RS 5. While you could say the heart of the RS 5 is its sweet, sonorous V8, in this test it was the stability and security of the Quattro AWD that sets it apart from rivals and makes its mark. Since the early 80s, Audi’s legacy of AWD performance cars, beginning with the Quattro Coupe, has earned favour with a particular niche of all-weather performance seekers, those that want to drive fast up to the slopes on their way to a day of fun in the snow. The RS 5 would look quite fetching with a ski rack and a set of Rossignols strapped in, the big grille and low wide stance menacing and the undisguised practicality curiously contrarian. But I digress.

 

Audi’s AWD system in the RS 5 is split 40:60 favouring the rear, and up to 85 percent can be allocated to the rear wheels. Furthermore, the rear axle is equipped with a Sport differential that can increase torque to the outside wheel in aggressive cornering attitudes, or when cornering a little too enthusiastically in slick conditions. Turns out, that is not really too enthusiastic and the RS 5 just eats it up. All week long, every time, it would simply stick stick stick, every corner, every speed, every condition. In a completely unfair comparison, the RC F was getting sideways at the slightest provocation and winter tires would have only served it to hold on for a fraction of a second longer before the tail started chasing squirrels.

And it’s not like the RS 5 is underpowered. Its 450 horsepower sits neatly in between the RC F’s 467 and the M4’s 425, though it comes up far short on the torque front: 316 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm to the Lexus’s 389 and the turbocharged straight-six Bimmer’s 406. Even the lesser S5 makes 325 lb-ft. A little embarrassing, but perhaps the sound of the naturally aspirated engine revving up to 8,500 rpm will make up for it in your books (it certainly does in mine), sounding for all the right reasons like an unadulterated race-bred engine, without the sound staging affectations or reproduced cabin sounds that others must resort to.

But then there’s the weight. At 1,820 kg, it’s a bit of a tank, and the AWD system is hard-pressed to make the most of that torque and get the RS 5 up to 100 km/h in less than 5 seconds, officially marking the feat at 4.7 seconds, though independent testing suggests that is really closer to 4 (3.9 seconds to 96 km/h by Motor Trend, 4.0 by C/D). That's more like it. Is it fast? Yeah, it’s fast, but it’s subtle fast, and with the lean torque, the speed builds rather than explodes, the weight and slow buildup of power peaking at high rpms and sending pulses of joy like a tuning fork inside the pleasure centres of my brain. The V8 both precise and elemental, nowhere near so raw as the big-block American V8 rumble, but thrilling and evoking the feel of a race car pinning the revs time and time again. This engine is one for the ages, another non-turbo icon we are not likely to see again when the next generation rolls around.

Already this generation has given up on the manual transmission, the RS 5 coming only with the faster and effortless S tronic dual clutch automatic. Despite the lack of effort, the gearbox is fast and professional, swapping gears precisely, with vehemence, and quicker than you or I could hope for, every time. Drive fast, and the available Sport mode for the transmission and paddle shifters can draw out the car’s aggressive nature, but it will never match the satisfaction of performing a perfectly rev-matched downshift using one’s own feet, hands and poor excuse for reflexes. The RS 5 does it perfectly every time. Jerk. Speaking of jerky, though, the transmission can be a little abrupt and/or overeager in traffic.

Also lacking in traffic are some technologies that are now available in cars as junior as the A3 (adaptive cruise, namely), while the older RS 5 roots mean it is not available, and the infotainment system a holdover and starting to feel dated compared to newer Audis with handwriting recognition, larger screens and slicker interface. That being said, the system is still intuitive, straightforward and logical, though the console-mounted knob and control layout isn’t quite as refined and clever as Audi’s latest virtual cockpits.

The materials, however, leave nothing to be desired, the same tight fit, quality craftsmanship and refined operation of every surface, button and switch as in every Audi, though the styling has evolved in newer models. Still, the key points of contact are sublime, the perforated leather steering wheel, alloy pedals, leather and aluminum shifter and leather sport seats leaving nothing to be desired. I do feel that the shift paddles would have been more appropriately milled from aluminum rather than molded from plastic with faux metallic trim.

Feedback through those points of contact is also a revelation, again. Despite the winter tires, steering feel is precise, turn-in is sharp, throttle and brake response are immediate, and the chassis transmits the road and traction condition honestly, sometimes with painful clarity. Yes, the Drive Select system allows you to sharpen the throttle, steering, transmission and damping rates, but even Comfort is a firmly sprung sports car, though it is not unexpected or unacceptable for this level of performance. While not a soft, squishy comfort boat, it is a smooth and controlled highway cruiser, and while you feel the impact for most ever expansion joint or pothole, you feel it once and then continue on your way with no second wave. Dial it up to Sport+ and those imperfections can be downright harsh, so the dynamic dampers are providing a range of responses for different purposes.

This is a coupe and I won’t dwell long on practicality, but I did squeeze into the backseats for my photos, so it is technically possible, and the trunk is reasonable for some fairly large luggage, with folding rear seats and a ski pass-through (so you might not need that roof rack after all) and cargo net, which you will definitely need if you ever do any shopping in this machine. It has all the amenities we expected from luxury cars a generation ago (no cooled seats? That is downright criminal!), but its quality fit and finish still exceed that of the brand new Lexus, and the RS 5’s combination of red cylinder head covers and slim carbon-fibre engine cover make the RC F’s sparkly blue intake tubing seem a bit tawdry. I’ll give Lexus credit for the subtle repetition of their signature blue throughout the interior, next to which the Audi can be labeled with that old heartless, monochromatic Germanic interior label.

Nonetheless, what it sets out to do, it does. The RS brand isn’t nearly so prevalent in North America as BMW’s more popular M, this RS 5 Coupe and Cabriolet, plus the RS 7 Sportback the only RS models we see here in North America compared to BMW M3 Sedan and M4 Coupe and Convertible and M5, M6, and even M versions of the X5 and X6 SUVs, plus AMG versions of almost ever Mercedes-Benz on the market, among them the awesome E63 Wagon for which we auto enthusiasts have particular affection. While the Audi would no doubt be capable on the track, the carbon-fibre brakes in particular helping that cause (though without being harsh or jerky in everyday use) its weight will always work against it at every corner, the AWD that offers so much usability all year round only adding heft to the chassis and old-school V8 engine. On public roads and in poor weather, that weight gives it a sense of solidity and gravitas that is reassuring and comforting.

Overall, the Audi RS 5 is a brilliant and unstoppable road car, a sports car you can drive hard year-round (within reason, please), while surrounded by the trappings of peerless quality. While some elements are starting to seem dated, the niche Audi has carved with their AWD mastery means they are a unique proposition in the segment, the driving experience a match for any of its competitors, showing the RS 5 to be a timeless and defining car for the Audi brand, as RS cars have always been.

NRCan Fuel Consumption: 14.9/10.1 L/100 km City/Highway
Observed Fuel Consumption: 13.9 L/100 km

Competitors:
BMW M4
Lexus RC F
Mercedes-AMG C 63

2015 Audi RS 5 Quattro
articles_PricingType 2015 Audi RS 5 Quattro
Base Price $82,900
Optional Equipment $9,940 – Misano Red Pearl Effect $890, Sports Exhaust with Black Finish $1,500, Carbon Ceramic Front Brakes $6,000, Tire Pressure Monitoring System $350, Black Optics Package $1,200
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $95,035
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
9 Exterior Styling
10 Performance
8 Interior
7 Comfort
6 Fuel Economy