Not too long ago, you had to look at Italian mid-engined exotica, which wielded six-figure price tags, to find 400-plus horsepower and 0-60 mph times under four seconds. These days those kinds of performance numbers are regularly coming from Germany, but not in hard-to-live-with half-million-dollar supercars. No, the mainstream sports car segment is now boasting those kinds of numbers, and the 2018 Audi RS5 is sitting on top.
This isn’t a story of one brand copying another brand, then adding more horsepower and declaring itself the winner, either. For the 2018 RS5, Audi has employed an all-new engine, plus its own brand of performance and style then slapped a price on the coupe that undercuts its rivals by a noticeable amount. It’s a shot across the bow of BMW and Mercedes, and it’s no empty threat.
Verdict: Speed — most sports cars on the road have it, none of them deploy it like the RS5. And it does it in two, distinctly different ways, both of which can get you into serious trouble on public roads. The first is the all-out acceleration from a standstill. The 2.9-liter bi-turbo engine fires 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels, barely reigned in by the RS-tuned traction control, launching the car forward with such immediacy you’d think you just creased the asphalt.
The second way the RS5 gathers speed comes into play when making a pass on another car. The coupe will happily cruise around town and at highway speeds like any of the other Audis lacking an RS badge. But, even when cruising in a higher gear at, say, 65 mph, and I put my foot down, the torque builds so deceptively, and without drama, I’m flirting with triple-digit speeds before there’s a chance to activate a blinker and get back in the middle lane.
99 percent of 2018 RS5s won’t see a track. Most of them will live happily as everyday drivers, running errands and commuting. What Audi has done is made a sports coupe for the day-to-day, but snuck in a Konami code that unlocks a true beast fitting of the Audi coupe lineage.
What’s New: At the heart of the RS5 is a new 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 with a hot-inside-V architecture — the turbos sit inside the ‘V’ of the engine as opposed to on the outside. This gives the engine better response and efficiency. Some may balk at the idea of downsizing the engine from the V8, but not only is the new V6 more powerful, it’s also lighter. Combine that with a lighter car, and the new coupe shaves almost a full second off the outgoing RS5’s 0-60mph time — officially rated at 3.7 seconds, though third-party tests have clocked the new RS5 closer to 3.5 seconds.
Handling all that power and torque is an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Yes, it’s an automatic and not a double clutch, but Audi says a dual clutch setup couldn’t handle the new amount of torque. I can attest, though, that it gets the job done when cruising on the highway and shifts incredibly quick when I did want to test the 0-60mph times.
Other than the engine, the next most significant addition is the suspension. The Dynamic Ride Control features three different settings — Comfort, Auto, and Dynamic, the standard soft-medium-hard options — that have a noticeable difference between each step. The system also uses a pre-loaded system that sends pressurized air to the outside wheels in cornering to keep the car level in turns.
The Good: Instead of waxing lyrical about how great the engine is (which is saying something for a V6) or how well the car handles (because all modern Audi’s can take a turn with poise), the RS5’s design needs a mention. In a world where oversized grilles are ubiquitous and becoming the leading fashion trend of the modern era, the look works on the RS5. Around the sides, there’s a subtle nod to box-flared fenders of the edge-tastic Audis from the ’80s — although, there’s a small flaw in what looks like what look like small, fake vents filling in the gap to the headlights.
I’ll look past the deceptive intakes, though, because the Sonoma Green paint, new and exclusive to the 2019 RS5 is jaw-dropping. No matter the lighting situation, I couldn’t help but get lost in it. A good, deep green paint option is hard to come by on new cars, but emerald options seem to be making a slow come back, and the world is better for it.
2018 Audi RS5
Engine: 2.9-liter biturbo V6
Torque: 443 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 3.7 seconds
Weight: 3,990 lbs
MSRP: $69,900 (base)
Who It’s For: The engine and the suspension really tell all when it comes to who Audi is aiming at with this car. The drastic differences between the ride modes coupled with the engine’s versatility (it wouldn’t be out of place on a track day) are proof-positive that Audi wants this to be an everyday car. Meaning, it will comfortably get you through the weekly commute, but also happily help you carve up your favorite canyon road come Saturday and Sunday.
Watch Out For: As with most of the cars in this segment, it’s the options lists that take up the last few dollars of your budget. Although the RS5 starts just below $70,000, that’s without the Navigation package (Audi Virtual Cockpit), which you’ll want.
Alternatives: Direct competition for the RS5, unsurprisingly comes from BMW and Mercedes. However, where performance is concerned, you have to spec a BMW M4 with the Competition Package (a $4,750 option) or upgrade the C63 to the C63 S ($75,500) to get to compete with the RS5 in a straight line. Affordable performance? Not exactly, but at least the Audi doesn’t make you stretch your dollars for the extra power.
Pro Tip: First, go for the Sonoma Green. It’ll show the world know you’re anything but boring since you didn’t opt for black or grey. Second, the Dynamic package is the way to go. You get Audi virtual cockpit as well as the dynamic suspension that molds the car to your mood. The sports exhaust that comes along is the cherry on top of the cake.
Other Reviews Road Show “The Audi RS5 is an impressive thing, and the closest thing you can get to a modern version of the epic Quattro Coupe – at least until the company puts that epic Sport Quattro concept into production. The RS5, however, is infinitely more refined and poised, more all-weather Autobahn-burner than outright gravel-meister.”
Car and Driver: “Even as the weaponized version of the A5/S5 brood, the RS5 is easy to live with. It’s tautly suspended yet displays a supple ride quality despite its 20-inch wheels and low-profile rubber.”
Daily News “Speed is relative whether on a highway or with light particles, but here’s where the RS5 kicks major gluteus and where driving it can get dicey. It so effortlessly reaches cruising speed and beyond that when you glance down expecting XX mph, you find an extra 20. Maybe 30. The RS5 is a highway patrol officer’s fish-in-a-barrel Festivus.”