Stunning looks, more standard equipment, and loads of power, this special edition Audi sportback rips.
I love fast luxury sedans more than a fat kid loves cake. Practical size and functionality, packed with power and good features, and usually some good looks. Audi is definitely clutch in the exterior styling game these days, but its AMG and BMW rivals are still in the mix. As a sportback option, Audi gives this RS5 seating for five and a big cargo area opening. Getting to review a handful of fast Audi models, including the RS6 Avant, I’m getting to understand the advantages and benefits of each segment.
When I tested the updated Audi S4 last summer, I thought it could use more power for the money, and this RS5 packs plenty by comparison. Naming this launch edition after racing legend–and two-time Formula One world champion–Alberto Ascari means this Audi has some expectations to live up to. To see how it all stacks up, I gave it a rigorous test in Los Angeles, in traffic, around the city, and along some twisty canyon roads.
THE KEY NUMBERS
Based on the same platform as the Audi S4 I reviewed, the RS5 sportback gets massive upgrades in the performance department. Under its hood, the RS5 packs a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 that pumps out 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. Hooked up to an eight-speed automatic, quattro all-wheel-drive, and the optional sport rear dierential, the RS5 Ascari can haul from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds on its way to a limited 155 MPH top speed. Tick the box for optional ceramic front brakes, and Audi will raise the top speed to 174.
Audi offers the RS5 as this sportback model (with four rear doors and a big rear hatch) in addition to a two-door coupe. I wish Audi had a wagon option for the RS5 in America, like it does with the RS6 Avant I tested recently. Competing with the Mercedes-AMG C 63 sedan and BMW M3, the Audi RS5 Sportback is down on power, while costing a hint more money at its base price.
For the same money as the standard Audi RS5 Sportback, you could step up to the AMG C 63 S or M3 Competition, which both boast 503 horsepower, nearly 60 more than the RS5’s. The Audi RS5 sportback also weighs a tick more than its German rivals, with a curb weight of 4,057 pounds. Audi gives the RS5 standard all-wheel-drive, which isn’t available on the AMG C63, but is an option on BMW’s M3 Competition.
Base price for the Audi RS5 Sportback starts at $75,400, and the Ascari launch edition includes a ton of popular options into one package–including ceramic front brakes (not offered on the standard RS5) with blue calipers, 20-inch wheels with summer tires, Audi Exclusive Ascari Blue metallic paint, matte alu optic trim around the exterior, a carbon fiber engine cover, dynamic steering, at bottom steering wheel covered in Alcantara, carbon fiber interior trim, RS sport exhaust, sport suspension plus with dynamic ride control, and a few cool driver aid systems–which add $20,500 to the sticker, which jumps up to an MSRP of $96,945 after destination.
A STYLISH AND FAST DAILY DRIVER
Attractive without being too flashy, the Audi RS5 sportback gets several long stares of approval from passersby. Sharp angles, a big grille and (mostly fake) vents, a long wheelbase, a high beltline with a swept rooine, and massive wheels tucked into the wheel wells make this perfectly-sized Audi appealing in many ways. I definitely prefer the appearance of the RS5 sportback over the AMG C 63 and BMW M3, even if the matte silver trim around the windows and bumpers is a bit thicker than it should be.
The Audi RS5 sportback’s initial driving experience carries the theme that catches your eye. Without being forceful, the potent turbocharged engine waits to play without being too jumpy. The peak power figure may be smaller than its primary rivals, but the RS5 sportback will easily find its way to–and beyond–the posted speed limit. Growling without being too pronounced, the RS5’s exhaust tone emitted from huge oval tips is just racy enough in its comfort mode. Surprisingly the world outside the Audi RS5 sportback is muted perfectly, thanks to plenty of attention and materials invested into reducing cabin decibels.
The comfort drive mode allows the powerplant to maintain its composure, but also enables a smooth-riding adaptive suspension to eliminate bumps along your commute. In that comfort mode, Audi’s optional dynamic steering system is a bit over-boosted at city speeds, similar to what I mentioned in my review of the Audi SQ5. Subtle shifts from the eight-speed automatic transmission ensure a smooth ride around the city. Be mindful of your throttle application, and you’ll actually hit the EPA estimates of 18/25/21 MPGs.
Once you step into the RS5’s cockpit, the trend continues. Modern lines and materials wrap around the cabin, a space age instrument cluster sits ahead, and the whole space is covered with cool, intuitive controls. I do wish the infotainment screen was better designed into the dash, rather than appearing to be slapped on like an aftermarket installation. Thankfully the screen’s resolution is high, offering a clean look, with iconography and font selection that makes this Audi even cooler. Wireless Apple CarPlay is standard, and the Bang & Olufsen audio system is strong and clear.
Seats in the RS5 are cool while functional, with perfect support for my old back, and are styled with the same hexagonal stitching in the center inserts you see in other Audi RS models. The seats are mounted a bit tall on their rails, and I prefer them lower for a sportier feel and a lower center of gravity. Being the sportback body style, this RS5 is a functional fast four door that can seat five passengers, but truly only two adults in the back seat. The boot space is massive, with a huge power lift back setup to tuck away all your groceries and luggage. I’ll nag this Audi for the rear privacy panel rattling a bit when hitting small bumps on the road, but the cargo capacity is considerable.
MAKING CANYON RUNS
Provide an RS-badged Audi to me in Los Angeles, and you can bet your ass I’m taking it to the twisty canyon roads of Malibu and the Angeles National Forest. With a healthy dose of turbocharged power, all-wheel-drive, a sporty rear diff, and some better front brakes installed, the RS5 Sportback Ascari Launch Edition looked up to the task on some of my favorite routes. I gave the RS5’s less potent S4 sibling the same tests last summer, and while the S4 was fun, the added performance of the RS5 sportback was happily on display.
As you expect from performance cars in this segment, the Audi RS5 has a drive select system on-tap, and like the BMW M3 it sports two custom setups to allow the driver greater exibility outside of the default drive modes. Unlike the BMW M mode buttons (which look like an afterthought), Audi uses one simple button to engage the RS modes, with a quick tap of the button that’s more neatly integrated into the steering wheel controls. Like I’ve said in other Audi reviews, the default drive modes aren’t separated enough to make them feel unique, but the RS5’s dynamic mode is truly sporty.
I liked using the two RS mode feature to give myself a sporty daily driver setup in the RS1 position, but employed the RS2 option to quickly engage a more powerful setting when I wanted to storm the canyons. In that setup, I went hardcore with everything except for the suspension, which I set to comfort. I also turned the stability control to its sport mode, by tapping the button once, after learning how often the system would cut throttle mid-corner, if there was a hint of slip angle.
Settings dialed-in, this quick Audi liked to dance while trying to conceal its weight. When I hinted that the daily driving steering feel felt articial, when you increase the pace on a fun road, the RS5 feels more balanced. Steering input is heavier in the dynamic mode, with sharp response as you peg the apex. The sport rear differential does a great job of managing torque vectoring too. The Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel looks the part of a sporty car, but I prefer leather that doesn’t suck all the moisture from my hands.
While the 444-horsepower twin-turbo engine isn’t as forceful from a standstill–like its 591-horsepower RS6 Avant big brother–the delivery of its power is smooth yet understated, easily sending the quick Audi’s speedometer toward triple digits. I wonder just how much more fun the RS5 would be if it possessed the same 500-horsepower gure its AMG and BMW rivals boast. The mass this Audi is carrying holds back truly fast acceleration figures, and the girth is apparent in the corners. Thankfully the sport differential and adaptive suspension do a great job at managing the RS5’s balance in faster bends.
When I was ripping around the canyons of Malibu, the RS5 sportback was given a harder test, due to the tighter, slower turns, and lots of bumps. This fast Audi was definitely enjoyable in Malibu, but the weight induced loads of stress on the chassis, tires, and brakes. The test in the Angeles National Forest was more suited to the Audi RS5 sportback, with higher speed sweepers, longer straights, and a considerably longer route on which to play. I appreciate the mid-range power from the RS5’s twin-turbo V6, that helped close gaps between bends in a somewhat surprising hurry. This demanding environment exposed two challenges I have with the RS5’s setup, if you’re really pushing the car as quickly as it craves.
Pirelli P Zero rubber is far from my favorite, as the tires have a small operating range, which quickly gets too hot when fitted to heavier cars. I had to drop a lot of pressure out of them when cold, knowing the pressures skyrocket once the rubber is given some exercise. These Pirellis also get super greasy when hot, which induces loads of the already present (in almost Audi signature fashion) understeer too easily. Pirelli must be making the fast German OEMs great deals to slap the P Zero on so many models I’ve tested over the past year, and wonder how much better the Pirelli P Zero Corsa would do on the RS5. I would love to give the RS5 sportback a go with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber tted, which seem to be the most perfect all-around performance tire on the market.
Then we get to the brakes. I appreciate that Audi opted for ceramic rotors on the outright performance-focused RS5 sportback, but don’t understand why they’re only fitted to the front, with steel rotors at the back. To reduce unsprung weight while allowing for more intense sessions, ceramic brakes are great, but when mismatched with steel rear discs, the heat tolerance is inconsistent. If I tossed the RS5 around the Angeles Crest for more than 20 minutes, the rears would get too hot, and induce a strange mix of fade. Ultimately the RS5 is still great in the canyons, but there are two big factors that are hindering its true abilities.
LOTS OF PERFORMANCE, BUT NOT QUITE PERFECT
On its own, the Audi RS5 Sportback is a great car. The looks of the RS5 can’t be touched by its rivals, with the C 63 S being more subtle, and the M3 being downright ugly up front. The trouble is that I have to objectively compare the RS5 against its competition, and those have more power. Under the hood, the RS5 has a big disadvantage versus the AMG and BMW offerings, and I’d love to see how well it would perform with that extra juice.
Audi did a good job packaging the RS5 Sportback Ascari Launch Edition as a performance four-door, but the Ascari name belongs on an R8 or some extremely potent Audi supercar instead. As a daily driver, the RS5 continues the trend I’ve experienced in Audis I’ve reviewed over the last year, with loads of comfort and plenty of performance ready to strike. When you put the RS5 to a hard test on the twisty roads, a couple small flaws are revealed, but only when a talented driver pushes the limit. If you aren’t planning on absolutely caning the RS5 regularly, it’s going to be a great addition to your garage.