THE MERCEDES-BENZ S580 RAISES THE EXECUTIVE SEDAN BAR AGAIN

Boasting supreme luxury and cool styling, this loaded flagship sedan leads the field.

When Mercedes-Benz launches a new S-Class, the industry takes note. Always the pinnacle of the German marque’s capabilities, the S-Class brings new tech, features, and styling cues to the lineup, and makes the competition step up its game. Recognized as the sedan that hauls bank executives, dignitaries, and celebrities alike, this Mercedes-Benz icon has serious expectations to conquer.

Competing with the BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, and Maserati Quattroporte, the S-Class will always have rivals at its heels. In its newest form, Mercedes has unveiled its executive sedan to suit the driver as much as the driven occupant. Having reviewed a variety of ultimate luxury sedans including the Rolls-Royce Ghost and Bentley Flying Spur, I wanted to see how a slightly more attainable luxury sedan got along, so I gave it a comprehensive test.

THE KEY SPECIFICATIONS

Mercedes-Benz offers the new S-Class with two different engine options. In the S500, a turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six (shared with the AMG GT 53 I reviewed) makes its way under the hood, coupled with Mercedes’ EQ Boost 48V mild-hybrid system, producing 429 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. In S580 guise, Mercedes provides its exceptional 4.0-liter biturbo V8, also equips its EQ Boost system, which bumps the output to 496 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque. The S580 is driven by a 9-speed automatic that powers all four wheels, and the sprint from 0-60 MPH takes only 4.4 seconds.

At 208 inches long, 77 wide, and 59 tall, the S-Class has a 65-inch front and 66-inch wide rear track, and a wheelbase measuring 126 inches. In its ultimately appointed–and more expensive–Maybach offering, Mercedes extends the wheelbase and overall length seven inches, providing the rear cabin occupants a massive space to be driven in. Thanks to extensive use of aluminum in its construction, this luxobarge tips the scales at just 4,775 pounds.

Mercedes offers the S580 in three distinct trim levels, with the Luxury Line being its standard model, at a base price of $117,700. The upper trim is the Executive Line model, which adds seating and entertainment upgrades to the rear cabin, focused on the driven occupant. The model I tested is the AMG Line, in the middle of the lineup, adding sportier details inside and out, with a base price of $122,000.

Painted Obsidian Black, treated with Sienna Brown and Black Exclusive Nappa leather, and trimmed with Slate high-gloss poplar wood trim, my tester added 22-inch AMG wheels with performance tires, rear-axle steering, the Burmester 4D high-end audio system, warmth and comfort package, night package, and 3D technology package to hit a total MSRP of $142,090.

THE BEST WAY TO COMMUTE TO THE OFFICE

As expected from a car of this caliber, the all-new Mercedes S580 is wonderful to spend time cruising in. While the standard inline-six in the S500 is a good powerplant, the biturbo V8 stuffed into the S580 is the one you want. With its peak 516 lb-ft of torque available from 2,000 – 4,000 RPM, there’s no hesitation when you want the S-Class to surge ahead, complimented by the smoothest torque-ll provided by Mercedes’ EQ Boost mild-hybrid system. Unfortunately Mercedes no longer has a 12-cylinder option in the S-Class, like is standard in the Rolls-Royce Ghost I enjoyed, and is optional in the Bentley Flying Spur and BMW 7 Series.

The S-Class glides over the bumpiest city streets, thanks to its adaptive AIRMATIC suspension that prevents any disruptions inside this massive chassis. Despite being a huge executive sedan, the S580 is remarkably nimble, and the rear-axle steering is a great option box to tick for added agility. Pirelli P zero rubber is wrapped around the 22-inch wheels in the AMG Line, which denitely help it cope in the bends. I took this S-Class along twisty roads on multiple occasions, and was more than pleased with how confidently it carved corners.

The dynamic drive modes offer eco, comfort, sport, and sport plus defaults, and my favorite individual setup involved putting the engine in comfort, the suspension in sport, and the steering in sport too. I liked a hint firmer response–but not too stiff–from the adaptive dampers, as the comfort mode was more floaty than I prefer. Demand even more cornering prowess? Drop $6,500 on the E-Active Body Control that employs a stereo camera system that works in harmony with the 48V electronics in the suspension to minimize body roll, pitch, and dive characteristics under any driving condition. Even if that drive is only made between one’s massive house and the office or country club.

The new S-Class is treated to a cabin that’s upholding the new Mercedes look that perfectly balances cool and luxurious. The S580’s seats are supremely good, with loads of support in the right spots, and heating, ventilation, and massage modes that will spoil you along any drive. The pillows attached to the headrests are a nice touch too. I suggest taking a long road trip to truly exploit the comfort provided in this flagship Mercedes.

The Burmester 3D surround audio system (a $6,730 option) is among the best I’ve heard in any car, even versus the Naim for Bentley system in the Flying Spur and the Bespoke Audio in the Rolls-Royce Ghost I reviewed, detailed with cool metallic speaker grilles (featuring tweeters that unscrew outward when the system is on). If the speakers aren’t potent enough, Mercedes supplies laminated glass that’s heat and noise-insulating, and IR-reflecting, to make sure you aren’t affected by any outside elements.

BEING DRIVEN IN COOL LUXURY

While driving the new Mercedes S580 is great, spending time in the back seat is fantastic. Even without opting for the Maybach model that boasts an extra seven inches of wheelbase that benefits the rear cabin, the legroom rear passengers will enjoy in the S-Class is massive. The optional warmth and comfort package adds rapid heating, cool ventilation, and power adjustments to the rear seats, while also giving the front passengers added heating in the center and door armrests.

If you’re the person being driven more often than driving, spend the extra cash for the Executive Line S580 that enhances the seating setup with massaging modes, a footrest on the right side, four-zone climate control, and upgrades to the MBUX infotainment system to allow for easier controls while utilizing a tablet that docks in the cooler center armrest that also conceals a wireless charging pad.

THE EXCEPTIONAL DETAILS

While the Mercedes-Benz S580’s exterior may project that it’s an understated executive sedan, but there are countless details that make it cool. The sculpted panels carry subtle styling lines that flow smoothly around its body, cleanly connecting the headlights to the taillights. The classic grille contains the cruise control radar components, and there’s still the iconic Mercedes-Benz hood ornament installed.

Under its fine sheetmetal, Mercedes-Benz has gone wild appointing its interior with some of the coolest tech you’ll spot inside any car currently on sale. An additional $3,000 will upgrade the cockpit with an augmented reality heads-up display and a 3D instrument cluster. The 64-color ambient light modes can be adjusted as desired, but I went for the cool Miami Sunset theme that cycles through retro pastel shades.

While cool speakers, ambient lights, and space age materials aren’t new to luxury cars, Mercedes has a party trick few can match, tucked into its infotainment’s settings: “Energizing Comfort” modes. Whether the S580’s occupants are in need of a boost of energy, want to calm themselves after a long day, or have just taken a dose of their favorite psychedelics (please don’t do this and drive), the S-Class will set up a mind-blowing experience.

Depending on the mode selected, an adaptive color theme is introduced through the ambient lights, the seat and armrest heaters crank up if it’s a warming theme or the seat ventilation fans activate, a unique massage mode begins, and the Burmester audio system flexes its prowess as instrumentals blast through all its numerous speakers. It’s an immersive experience like nothing else, and I strongly recommend making friends with a new S-Class owner, wandering to an open space at night, and firing up one of these modes.

THE POSITIVE POINTS

As more luxury manufacturers are making bold styling changes, Mercedes insists on keeping the S-Class refined. Every panel has the tiniest gap that is perfectly measured around the entire body. Soft-close doors silently operate, yet still have a solidly-weighted feel. Door handles are similar to those found on a Tesla Model S, but with smooth and silent extending and concealment when entering or exiting the S-Class.

I expected the new S-Class to be extremely well-assembled inside, but this S580 is exquisite. A blend of big high-resolution displays for the instrument cluster and MBUX infotainment system, fine quilted leather, and cool metal trim that compliments large wood panels complete a cabin I adore. Follow any stitching, wood, or metal trim line, and you’ll never spot a deviation or imperfection. Considering the S580 costs half the price of the Bentley Flying Spur and a third of the cost of a Rolls-Royce Ghost, the interior detailing of the S-Class is on-par with them both.

A FEW TINY COMPLAINTS

Where the complete outer proportions of the Mercedes S-Class are great, the front grille is a little large when presented between the smaller headlamp housings. I get that Mercedes wanted the front-end to be striking, but the main grille element needs to shrink about 20 percent. This is about as much of a complaint as I can find around the S580’s body, as it still looks ridiculously good.

Continuing the trend throughout its updated cabin designs, Mercedes has incorporated more capacitive touch controls for the seat adjustments, and I would prefer some physical movement that’s given more of a positive click when making each of the many seat sections move. The same gripe extends to the steering wheel setup that I didn’t love in the Mercedes E350 I drove not long ago. With physical controls being eliminated, Mercedes makes you take your eyes off the road to adjust the climate control or volume of your favorite music. At least the volume slider adjusts intuitively when you slide your finger either direction.

“THE BEST OR NOTHING” EPITOMIZED

More than a catchy tagline, the principle of “The Best or Nothing” is effectively applied to the new Mercedes S-Class. As is the case each time Mercedes-Benz releases a new S-Class, the luxury flagship benchmark has been reset with this newest edition. Best of luck to the S-Class’ rivals, in an attempt to compete with what is the best offering in its class by far. The S580 demonstrates the finest engineering and craftsmanship Mercedes can produce.

Met with timeless looks outside, the S580’s cabin is treated to wonderfully modern styling touches and a cool factor like no other flagship sedan. Pair a refined chassis with a mild-hybrid powertrain that creates a truly smooth surge, and the Mercedes-Benz S580 is as joyful behind the wheel as it is from the back seat. There’s nothing like a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and I think it is absolutely the executive sedan to buy.

Ford Bronco Badlands: Off-Road Badassery Defined

Wanna be a baller, shot caller, 33-inch meats on this rock crawler.

After several months in the wild, the all-new Ford Bronco has received plenty of praise from owners and motoring journalists alike. A properly sorted truck platform that can go damn near anywhere while being civil on the street, the Bronco got high marks from me, when I reviewed its more city-friendly Outer Banks trim level last summer. I made sure to give the new Ford Bronco a solid examination during that test, putting plenty of city miles in addition to loads of off-road hours on the truck.

By no means was the Outer Banks model a slouch in the rocky terrain of a favorite off-road park, but that setup is more focused on being the mall crawler that occasionally gets dirty. I wanted to see how the more hardcore Bronco performed where it mattered, so I rang up the people at Ford, and they sent the Badlands model my way for some proper analysis.

The Good Stats

The Bronco has two engine options no matter how many doors you prefer, with a base 2.3-liter turbocharged four cylinder and the manual transmission, and a 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 as an upgrade. The bigger engine provides 330 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque if you ll the tank with premium unleaded, and offers 315 horses and 415 lb-ft if you opt for regular unleaded. While the V6 option is stout, the EcoBoost 4-banger is a bit more tame, offering a decent 300 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque when using 91 octane, and 275 horsepower and 315 lb-ft when using 87.

Ford oers the new Bronco in two- and four-door bodies, including soft or hard top options, with a full slate of trim levels to hit the sweet spot for any driver. Selectable four-wheel-drive comes standard on the Ford Bronco, with your choice between a 10-speed automatic or 7-speed manual (with a crawl gear) available in the four-cylinder model, and the V6 has the 10-speed auto as its only transmission (which was the setup in the Outer Banks model I reviewed earlier in the year). This two-door Badlands model was equipped with the smaller 2.3-liter engine, hooked up to the 7-speed manual.

The 2-door Ford Bronco has a base price of $29,995, with 4-door models starting at $34,695, with the 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder as the standard engine. Add a couple thousand to the sticker price if you want the V6. In rugged Badlands trim, this Antimatter Blue tester didn’t add the seriously hardcore Sasquatch off-road package, but opted for the 3,500-pound towing package while adding an accessory cargo protector, keyless access keypad, roof rack and cross rails above the removable hardtop, and partial leather and vinyl black seats to hit a total MSRP of $52,060. That figure is nearly identical to the more powerful and more nicely equipped four-door Outer Banks model I reviewed this summer, and is level with the starting price of the luxurious and capable Land Rover Defender 90 I had last month.

Reasonably Civil In The City

The Ford Bronco won’t try to disguise the fact that it’s a proper truck underneath its attractive rugged body, but it’s surprisingly comfortable for cruising around town. The standard four-cylinder engine has punchy low-end torque, met with some close-ratio gears in the manual transmission, but the power isn’t fantastic if you’re covering more freeway than city miles. Not as composed as the ride provided by the Land Rover Defender 90’s air suspension, the traditional shocks and independent front suspension in the Bronco provides a remarkably compliant ride when dealing with bumpy concrete streets in the city.

Even with 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 rubber fitted to its 17-inch wheels, the Bronco Badlands doesn’t dish out a beating during your commute or on errand runs. If you’re rarely traveling off the safety of pavement, you may want to opt for an Outer Banks model that gets more city-friendly Bridgestone Dueler tires. Turning corners in the Bronco is simple, thanks to a steering and suspension setup that manages dynamics much better than I expect in something so ready to be a blast off-road.

Considering it’s more focused on being rugged and cool, Ford gives the Bronco a moderately-appointed interior, that delicately balances cost-saving materials with a design that provides decent cabin comfort and cool looks. The Badlands model’s partial leather and vinyl seats aren’t as nice as the Outer Banks trim I enjoyed this summer, but they aren’t too spartan. Heated front seats and steering wheel are a nice touch when it’s chilly outside. If you want to get a seriously refined and trimmed cockpit in your off-roader, you’ll have to spend a bit more to upgrade to a Land Rover Defender.

Thankfully Ford carries over the switchgear and center controls you’ll recognize from the full-size F-150 pickup, which also utilizes the new Sync 4 infotainment system in a big 12-inch touchscreen that has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. I appreciate the rubber-coated buttons throughout the interior, which keep dirt and sand from getting trapped under the controls when you take the Bronco off-road.

The Confident Explorer

Bringing the Bronco back to the market was a big risk for Ford, knowing it had to provide enthusiasts with an exceptional off-road machine. Thankfully the Bronco Badlands is fantastic when you leave the comfort of paved roads in search of less stable terrain. Cool branding makes Ford’s G.O.A.T (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) Modes exciting on paper, but the setups make guring out how to dial in the Bronco foolproof. Each mode will correctly pick whether the Bronco needs to be in two- or four-wheel-drive, locks the dierentials accordingly, enables the hill descent control, and allows the right amount of slip if you’re playing on sand, rocks, or mud. Equip the Bronco with the 2.7-liter V6 and its automatic transmission, and Ford also provides one-pedal driving (which I enjoyed using when I tested the Bronco Outer Banks).

Buy a First Edition or Badlands trim level, and the Bronco comes standard with front and rear locking dierentials that are optional on all trim levels. Ford’s advanced 4×4 system is standard on all but the base model Bronco, coupled with a 3.06:1 low ratio, allowing easier engagement of the 2-way transfer case that gives more competent grip when the surface isn’t so grippy. In Badlands trim, the 7-speed manual flexes a 94.75:1 crawl ratio in addition to a proper crawl gear below 1st gear, and the 10-speed automatic still has a healthy 67.80:1 crawl ratio. The Badlands equipment also includes steel bash plates under the front and rear of the Bronco, keeping its vital parts safe from rocks you encounter on the trails. Trail turn assist is a cool feature that works with the locking diff to make tighter turns a breeze.

A Dana AdvanTEK M190 independent front suspension is standard up front with a Dana 44TM AdvanTEK M220 solid differential out back. The front suspension also includes twin forged A-arms with long-travel coil-over springs with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers, and the rear suspension has a 220 mm solid rear axle with long-travel, variable rate coilovers with HOSS-tuned heavy-duty dampers. The Bronco Badlands also gets upgraded with a detachable front sway bar, allowing for even greater articulation in demanding conditions. Opt for the Sasquatch package, and Ford will upgrade the durable suspension with Bilstein position-sensitive dampers with end-stop control valves.

Approach, breakover, and departure angles are 35.5º, 21.1º, and 29.8º respectively, which bump up significantly if the Bronco is optioned with the Sasquatch package’s 35-inch bead lock capable wheels and tires. All Broncos sport a 33.5-inch fording depth, in case you need to cross a bit of water, and boast 8.4 inches of ground clearance in standard trim, which bumps up to 11.6 inches with the 35-inch rubber tted. All of these figures are marginally less than the Land Rover Defender 90 I took off-road offers. The gures and equipment sheet might be impressive, but I had to nd out just how much more capable the Bronco Badlands was o-road compared to its nicer Bronco Outer Banks sibling and the legendary Land Rover Defender 90.

To keep the playing field level, I took the Bronco Badlands to Hidden Falls Adventure Park, which is located about an hour northwest of Austin. In this environment, I found out where the extra off-road kit in the Badlands setup went to work. Covering the same stack of trails I did previously, the Badlands kicked ass with ease. Around most of the paths covered, I simply picked the Baja G.O.A.T. Mode, which selected the 4H drivetrain, turned on the front camera that converts the infotainment screen into a massive front view, and tapped the button atop the dash to disconnect the front sway bar. If speeds exceed 20 MPH, the Bronco will automatically reconnect the front sway bar, but will unhook it again once you’re back down to slower speeds. This feature came in extra helpful when I was driving faster on smoother trails between more demanding stretches when having that extra flex allowed came in handy.

The Bronco Badlands’ upgraded suspension, more aggressive tires, and tighter gears made crawling rocks ridiculously simple. The crawl gear is awesome, but it’s not as if using the normal 1st or 2nd gears won’t provide enough confidence when ascending up somewhat demanding rocky hills. While driving a stick is cool in many conditions, I actually prefer having the automatic take away one complication when my average-at-best off-roading skillset is put to the test. The extra power and torque from the Bronco’s optional V6 is a welcome upgrade too. Even with the lesser engine and manual gearbox selected, the Bronco Badlands kicked ass all over these rocky Texas Hill Country trails. Not once did I come across a situation where the Bronco couldn’t dominate the rocks, and I gave it some seriously challenging off-road action. An amateur off-road driver will be astounded by how the Bronco makes having a blast so simple.

“And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Some Notable Highlights

Ford nailed the styling of the new Bronco, and the two-door body is my choice. The rugged look is perfectly proportioned, and the rear occupants and cargo volume aren’t terribly compromised by only getting two doors. The rear passengers may gripe about getting in and out of the Bronco’s back seats, but if you aren’t often taking friends or kids along for a ride, ditch the four-door Bronco. I also like how the new Bronco has a modern take on a classic look, better executing that idea than Land Rover did with the new Defender (which also looks quite good).

To give outdoorsy types more functionality, Ford was smart to set up the Bronco’s exterior with plenty of hookups. The top of the front fenders have useful hooks that not only function as tie-downs, but double as indications for the corners of the Bronco’s body when you’re wandering off-road. To capitalize on the massive aftermarket supply of off-road parts, Ford has hundreds of factory and dealer-installed accessory options at your disposal, and was smart to set up tons of pre-drilled mounting points that all use one of two or three fasteners all over the Bronco. Even the interior has pre-amped accessory switches above the rearview mirror, so that you don’t have to damage the interior when adding more lights and features outside the Bronco. Those who want to record their adventures will appreciate the GoPro mount and extra charging ports atop the dash.

Ride quality on the street is the biggest advantage the Bronco holds over the Jeep Wrangler, and it’s obvious Ford took its time engineering this new off-roader to address nearly any gripe a Jeep driver has. An independent suspension up front pairs nicely with a modern rack-and-pinion steering system, and it pains me that Jeep refuses to spend the money to engineer and install these in the Wrangler. I don’t want to hear a single Jeep driver talk about off-road capabilities over an independent setup, as the Bronco had zero issues attacking demanding trails alongside modded Jeeps during my tests. Ford also gives the Bronco frameless doors that allow drivers to quickly detach and store the doors on-board, rather than ditching them on the trails. Side mirrors are mounted to the cowl, rather than the doors, so that Bronco owners can see clearly all along the sides when storming off-road.

A Few Point Deductions

Cool, tough looks have some trade-offs. Because of the boxy shape, the Bronco is an aerodynamic challenge, sacricing fuel economy and cabin composure. At just 21 MPGs, the 2.3-liter Bronco could be more economical, and the wind noise from the hardtop and roof rack is intrusive at speeds over 60 MPH. A new roof design is being rolled out, but a bit more interior insulation would do the Bronco some favors too.

The cargo area does employ a split tailgate feature, but you have to open the lower door half completely to allow the trim edge of the glass top to lift up. I wish Ford allowed the glass to open independently from the door part, for easier loading of smaller items. I like that Ford allows the driver to toggle between several views and data layouts in the instrument cluster, depending on what sort of driving conditions you’re exposing the Bronco to, but I wish it was bigger with better resolution.

The Best On- And Off-Road Experience For Your Money

Ford rolled out one seriously good o-road machine with the new Bronco, and did so while addressing all sorts of demands the o-road driver has in addition to making it respectable to drive on the street. With a nice enough interior, the Bronco can serve nicely as a daily driver, but if you’re not wandering along the trails more than a couple times per year, opt for the nicer setup in the Bronco Outer Banks trim level. If the fit and finish isn’t enough to satisfy a luxury off-road driver, a few grand more will put a nicely equipped Land Rover Defender in your driveway.

I think the Badlands two-door hardtop model with the 2.7-liter V6 and the 10-speed automatic is the perfect setup, thanks to hardware that improves off-road capabilities without sacricing too much as a city car. Those who want even more terrain-conquering features will likely spend about $5,000 more to opt for the Sasquatch package. Thankfully Ford has a handful of trim levels to choose from, and there’s a perfect Bronco for nearly any budget and driver. Even if you’re a total newbie, make sure to take the Bronco on off-road adventures often, rather than wasting all the of its potential.

Audi RS5 Sportback Ascari Launch Edition: Long Name For A Fast Four-Door

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.