“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
I was sitting in my apartment when Andy Bernard uttered these words during the series finale of The Office, summing up how we all seem to let things slip through our fingers without realizing what we’ve got. It was a serious moment in a very not-serious sit-com that came to mind quite a lot during my week with the Audi RS 5. For those among us who aren’t really interested in autonomous driving and have a fond appreciation for a naturally aspirated V8, the RS 5 may just represent the end of an era at the German automaker.
Many reliable sources have been pointing to the RS 5 as the final evolution of the non-turbocharged V8 GT car formula for Audi- a vehicle packed to the gills with technology, yet following a “no replacement for displacement” approach when it comes to powertrain. Thankfully, Audi is fully aware of this demise, making sure that the first generation of RS 5 will not go quietly into the history books. This comes by way of styling, performance and also sound.
The Audi RS 5 experience begins long before you physically get inside. With a simple press of the ‘unlock’ button, the RS 5’s signature LED glare menacingly at anyone in its space. Slip into the deeply bolstered seats, press the start button and the high-revving 4.2L V8 grumbles menacingly to life, exhaust valves opened up to let a few extra decibels escape from the tailpipes. It is in this moment, that the RS 5 lets occupants and observers know that it’s much more than an A5 with roughly $30,000 tacked to the asking price.
That extra coin enables the engineering minds at quattro GmbH to take the base car, and add in all of their performance goodies and the aesthetics to match. Audi’s S tronic transmission gets new software with variable shift points. The specially designed exhaust system receives the aforementioned valves that open during certain driving conditions, or any time the gear selector is moved to Sport. RS branded Brembo brakes are larger and more powerful than any Audi available outside of the R8, with the signature “wave” rotors throwing heat from all four discs. Suspension dynamics are much improved over the A5 and S5 as well, working to keep the RS 5 flat and compliant during spirited driving. The bodywork is also unique, including grimmacing front and rear bumpers, a mechanically actuated rear spoiler, and subtle box flares stamped into the quarter panels. It’s not too much, but it works well, clearly setting the car apart from lesser models.
Out on the road, the RS 5 drives much like any other A5 or S5- quiet, composed and comfortable. It does this all so seamlessly that you or your passenger may not be able to completely justify the larger numbers on the car’s window sticker. Drive it with gentle inputs, and the RS 5 will behave accordingly. It cruises along as any other executive coupe would, so well in fact that you may begin to forget what remains lurking underhood. But, the RS 5 isn’t simply that kind of car. It’s got box flares. It’s got aggressively bolstered seats. It wants to go fast.
Dip into the throttle a bit more and RS 5 gladly wakes, the V8’s exhaust note barking while the tachometer’s red needle sweeps steadily towards 8,500rpm. The electronic rear spoiler stands to attention. Steering and suspension get tighter too, depending on which of the three Audi Drive Select settings you’ve chosen. The change in character is addicting, but it does come at a price. Observers will take notice. Police will definitely assume misbehavior. Also, many will be envious.
When the tarmac begins to twist, Audi’s Sport Differential works to supply additional power to outside rear drive wheel, helping the car to rotate through the bends and actively negate understeer. Although the power steering is electronically boosted, steering feel is much improved over a standard S5 without being overly weighted, quickly responding to any input. In fact, the margin of ride quality by which the RS 5 is better than an S5 with aftermarket Coil Over suspension and wide rubber is astonishing. It displays a congruency that cars modified by many could only wish to accomplish. Such is the benefit of an entire car being developed by one complete team, rather than many individuals hoping to improve one aspect here or there.
Audi’s RS 5 is not perfect though. Its biggest downfall is its sheer mass. Tipping the scales at just under 4,000lbs, the high-rev V8 has a lot of weight to move around. Also, 56% of that mass sits on the front axle, trying its best to induce understeer when pushed. True, the 4.2-liter V8 is responsible for a decent amount of that weight, but the placement comes at a cost. A weight distribution closer to 50:50 would have improved handling and acceleration figures, making the RS 5 even more competitive against the newer and also lighter BMW M3.
Like many, I would have also liked to see the RS 5 available with a choice of transmissions. Yes, the 7 speed S-tronic box is very good, quicker, and likely more efficient. But, the pairing of Audi’s high-rev V8 and a proper manual gearbox should not be reserved exclusively for R8 buyers. There is an undeniable connection that only a manual transmission provides, and I don’t think that potential buyers should be robbed of that experience. There’s a reason that BMW has continued to offer manual transmissions in its brand-new M3 and M4.
In many ways, the RS 5 is the ideal combination of being both sophisticated and childish. On one hand, you’ve got a shape and presence that is envied by many and only truly afforded by a select few. At the same time, it emits an exhaust note that even an ardent Greenpeace protester couldn’t deny, while propelling you to velocities that are frowned upon by folks with badges. It has the unique ability to blend in when it needs to and stand out when you prefer. Also, it’s a shame that it won’t be around much longer.