Need for Classic Speed
Story and photos by Derek McNaughton
Massive honeycomb inlets and chiselled LED headlamps dominate the face of the RS 5, while large oval exhaust tips give the rear an RS signature.
Motorcyclists have it easy: big engine, little weight, lots of speed. So when two motorcyclists in Black Panther suits pulled up alongside our 2018 Audi RS 5 Coupe at a red light, the sports-car-mocking under their helmets had surely begun. Car vs. bikes, ha ha.
But when the light blinked green and the Audi’s four wheels clawed at the asphalt in an explosion of fury as it launched to 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, the superbikes had some work to do – both of them screaming to some insane redline, pulling wheelies through the gears like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible as they tried to get past this stealth two-door sports car. Not willing to grossly exceed the limits of safety, I soon backed off the throttle, letting the bikes go, their loud exhausts roaring past the Audi into the setting sun.
That this big and heavy coupe was even remotely able to keep pace with a couple of lithe superbikes to the quarter mile is a testament not only to Audi’s long RS heritage, but also a ringing endorsement of an engine strategy that saw the RS 5’s vaunted V8 replaced by a new and smaller V6. On paper, it sounds like a step back for a car that starts at $82,500. In reality, it’s something to behold.
Under hard acceleration, the combination of turbos and high-revving pistons marries a seriously seductive feel with “OMG” acceleration. The new, 2.9-litre V6 engine backed by twin turbos results in 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque at lower rpm. Speed is checked off instantaneously as the engine powers all four wheels through a new eight-speed automatic that’s tuned to change ratios almost like a dual-clutch gearbox. The exhaust is certainly more muted than the old V8, but there’s still enough sound to make others take note, just don’t expect the sound of an Audi R8.
The engine sound is all natural, too, not arti fi cially pumped in. And the exhaust note can be adjusted via the car’s “drive select” buttons that also alter steering and throttle response, suspension damping and transmission shifting, all depending on one of four settings that include comfort, automatic, dynamic and individual. Dynamic produces a positively firm ride best suited for the track or some seriously twisty road. Automatic is excellent at making brutal roads feel silky. Which is one of the real joys of this car: not only can the RS 5 fend off most challengers, it can cruise with serious comfort over long stretches of open road. It’s the ultimate split personality.
Problem is, cruising in this car is like caging a cougar — it wants to run hard and hunt prey all day. The car even wears the face of big, angry cat with furrowed brows over LED headlamps and sharp lines over the hood. The side profile is equally muscular, as is the fi nalé of the wide and shapely rear end, replete with a small rear deck spoiler and optional carbon-fibre diffuser shrouding exhaust ports bigger than those on a transport truck. Yet it looks so achingly gorgeous from every angle, especially with those optional $2,500 fi ve-arm trapezoidal 20-inch wheels milled in matt e black finish fitting so perfectly within the wheel wells.
Just as sumptuous is an interior fitted with Nappa leather sport seats with honeycomb stitching and embossed RS logos and beauti ful carbon inlays that helped propel the price of our RS 5 up to $115,585 as tested. The excellent seats complement an uncluttered cabin that embraces digital controls without sacrificing the tactile and time-proven excellence of real knobs and switch gear. Visibility is excellent. A flat-bottom steering wheel in Alcantara feels wonderful. A Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, part of the $5,000 “premium package,” produces sound so crisp and clear, you will never wear Beats again. The central instrument cluster and virtual cockpit put all the information within easy visibility. It’s a lovely place in which to consume vast swaths of time.
Time, of course, has shaped the RS 5 into the fine automobile it is today. While the V8 engine may be gone, the smaller displacement RS 5 has not lost any of its soul or excitement. Not only did the new engine cut weight over the front wheels, improve fuel consumption and create 126 lb-ft more torque, it also made the RS 5 quicker.
That is something those bikers were not expecting.
An all-digital Audi virtual cockpit replaces standard analogue dial instruments on a 12.3-inch TFT display that can be configured by the driver.
Full-time, quattro all-wheel drive is standard, and optional 20-inch wheels fit perfectly within their housings.
Both turbochargers of the 2.9 TFSI engine are centrally positioned inside the V of an engine that produces 444 horsepower.
Drivers can select D or S modes and can use RS paddle shifters on the steering wheel for manual gear changes.
Automatic climate control regulates air temperature and distribution separately for the driver, front passenger and rear-seat passengers. Digital temperature readings integrate into the dials.
Designers of the RS 5 Coupe took inspiration from the racing details of the Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTO.