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.
Finally in America, Audi’s fast longroof is here to haul more than groceries.
Teasing the U.S. market for several years, Audi produced a few iterations of the extremely quick RS6 Avant, giving drivers in other markets a wagon that could tote plenty of people and stuff, and would destroy any twisty road it met. In 2020, Audi decided to bring this fast longroof to American shores, with some sharp angles, exed fenders, and a potent turbocharged V8 stuffed under the hood.
Having recently tested fast German saloon variants, in the form of the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S and BMW M5 Competition, I wanted to see what Audi had in the way of the speedy shooting brake department. Interestingly, the RS 6 is only offered as the Avant, and the lesser–and still fast–S6 model is the sedan option. In the case of the BMW, the M5 isn’t offered in a wagon body, but the AMG E-Class is. During a recent trip to Los Angeles, the good folks at Audi set me up with a new RS6 Avant, to let me thoroughly test it in the real world and along some fun roads.
The Big Figures
As is the case with several performance models under the VAG umbrella, the Audi RS6 Avant is stuffed with the twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 that punches out 591 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. The horsepower figure is only slightly down versus the M5 Competition and E 63 S, and has nearly 40 more lb-ft over the BMW, while having 30 fewer than the Mercedes.
Through an 8-speed automatic, quattro all-wheel-drive, and a sport rear differential, the RS6 can rip from 0-60 MPH in just 3.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of 174 MPH. Opt for ceramic brake rotors over the already massive standard 16.5-inch front and 14.6-inch rear steel ones, and Audi will bump that top speed to 190 MPH, in case you need to put any fellow unrestricted Autobahn drivers far in your rear view.
There’s seating for five (if you’re stuffing kids in the back seat) and a massive cargo area, thanks to the hatch. At 197 inches long, 59 tall, 84 wide, and boasting a 115-inch wheelbase with a 65-inch track front and rear, the RS6 Avant has a big stance, supplemented by some sexy flared fenders. That package also carries some mass, as the luxury wagon tips the scales at a hefty 4,960 pounds.
Pricing for the Audi RS6 Avant starts at $109,000, which is in the same ballpark as the BMW M5 Competition and Mercedes-AMG E 63 S. After going easy on the options sheet, the RS6 Avant I tested had Sebring Black crystal effect paint, cognac leather with gray stitching, the upgraded executive interior (adding more leather throughout the cabin, heated rear seats, a HUD, and power soft-closing doors), driver assistance package (adaptive cruise control and a handful of other aids), and the 22-inch wheel package with summer tires, to hit a total MSRP of $117,370.
Errand Running In Style
A quick look lets you know this big premium wagon means business, but the Audi design language is nicely executed. Audi nails the luxury car game with its upper-end models, and the RS6 Avant is a nice blend of performance and comfort. When you arrive at the office, you’ll probably have the best looking car among your coworkers, and other parents at the school pick-up line will give you approving second glances as the kids pop in the back seat.
Unleashing the turbocharged V8 is easily addictive, but if you’re light on the throttle, and aren’t trying to attack every corner, the RS6 Avant is a composed city cruiser. That’s not to say it won’t pounce on an opportunity to pass a slower car in traffic nor get up to obscene speeds in a blink on a freeway on-ramp, but the delivery of the RS6 Avant’s power is composed. EPA fuel estimates are 15/22/17, and I achieved 17 MPGs during my week with the RS6 Avant.
Offering a great family car for the parent who also wants to rip up the canyons on the weekend while the kids are away, the RS6 Avant is still civil in the city, thanks to its adaptive air suspension and electric-assisted steering system. I covered a bit of cross-city commuting miles during my test, and the RS6 Avant supplied the right amount of feedback and response on bumpy concrete LA freeways. Sticking with the comfort drive mode was ideal in the city, letting the big Audi wagon glide over bumps, and letting me ignore the noise in one seriously insulated cockpit.
Despite a high beltline and a sharp-edged roof, the Audi RS6 Avant’s cabin feels spacious, and bigger front passengers will enjoy a ton of hip and shoulder room. In the back, two adults have plenty of space to stretch out, while the massive cargo area will consume all the luggage or shopping bags you care to stu inside. Carrying out the sporty look, the RS6’s seats provide great support for longer days behind the wheel, with signicant lateral bolstering to keep you planted in the bends.
While futuristic in its initial appearance, Audi’s controls for the infotainment and climate control systems are intuitive yet cool. Steering wheel buttons are still used in this fast wagon, making it simple to adjust your cruise control or audio settings. I appreciate the RS6 Avant being equipped with wireless Apple CarPlay and a wireless charging dock tucked into the armrest storage compartment. The standard B&O audio system is damn good, but if you feel like dropping more money as an audiophile, Audi does have an upgrade with more speakers and more wattage. I do wish the RS6 Avant got the cupholders with chilling or heating functions I enjoyed in the SQ5 I reviewed earlier this summer.
Ripping The Twisty Stuff
As you expect from an RS-badged Audi, the RS6 Avant is fast where it matters. Along canyon roads of Southern California, this quick longroof exhibited plenty of confidence through fast sweepers, and the twin-turbo V8 made gaps between those bends disappear. Having nearly 600 horsepower at your disposal, the Audi RS6 Avant will scorch any twisty road. When you smash the go pedal, the power is progressively delivered, allowing the RS6 to smoothly accelerate with little drama. Be mindful of your duration of throttle application, as this Audi will scream toward big numbers registered on the speedometer.
With a pair of custom RS drive modes engaged via a steering wheel button–similar to what BMW oers in the M5–the RS6 Avant can be dialed in for any fun driving you wish to do, whether you want to go fully hardcore or have a hint of compliance. As the dynamic or custom RS modes are engaged, the RS6 Avant’s electric steering noticeably increases its weight and feedback, which I denitely prefer in any driving condition, and the steering wheel has a perfect amount of thickness in my hands. Buzzing around sharp bends is remarkably easy in the RS6 Avant, with plenty of agility, but it’s not as precise nor engaging as the AMG E 63 S or BMW M5 Competition. By no means is the RS6 Avant disappointing in the performance department.
Grip levels are high, thanks to Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system, and the electric sport differential out back makes sure to load up the outside rear wheel with more torque as you send the RS6 Avant into a fast sweeper. Unlike the M5 and E 63, Audi does not have a drivetrain mode that allows you to disengage the front wheels, when you want to drive like a drifting hooligan. Not that I suggest reducing the quattro system’s legendary handling, but sometimes you want to kick the ass-end out around a fast sweeper.
Pirelli P-Zero rubber measures 285/30/22 all around, and offers plenty of adhesion when it counts. These tires are a bit louder than the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S setup I prefer, but they’re not lacking grip when it counts. Massive steel brakes are up to the task if you’re doing average twisty road duty, but if you’re going to toss the RS6 Avant around more demanding routes over longer durations, opt for the $8,500 carbon ceramic brakes that will better cope with the intense heat produced when slowing this 5,000-pound wagon.
As the RS6 is switched into its dynamic or RS modes, the digital gauge cluster switches into a display that looks like something out of a fighter jet, changing to more relevant performance data readings, and giving you cool shift lights as the revs climb. I’m not sure how useful the display is by displaying how much of the RS6’s horsepower and torque is being used, but it’s somewhat cool to know there’s more power on the table when you think you’re giving the Audi a proper thrashing. I found myself better using the shift paddles on the steering wheel, rather than letting the slick-shifting automatic do the work for me, as I wanted to keep revs up more often while allowing the RS6 to be more engaging.
Several Good Highlights
More impactful than the BMW and Mercedes models with which it competes, the Audi RS6 Avant has angular styling that catches plenty of positive second looks. Continuing to crush the cool headlight game, the RS6 Avant gets some cool LED housings with sharp daytime running lights. The headlights also run through a cool sequence when you unlock the car in the dark. Edgy lines evoke a speedy package, but the Audi designers still made the RS6 look like a luxury wagon. I also love the shooting brake look over a more conventional wagon profile.
The extra $1,075 is well spent on Sebring Black paint, which has loads of blue and silver metallic flakes under that deep black top coat, giving the RS6’s body a great color flop in the sunlight. Audi does a great job of making the RS6’s interior usably stylish. I also love the cognac leather seats, which are a perfectly creamy brown contrast against the rest of the black trim inside. Honeycomb stitching over the supple leather seats is a nice touch too. Audi wisely has the privacy cover in the cargo area lift up with the tailgate, which is useful when stashing away your bags after hitting up the shops.
Audi’s most updated MMI infotainment is neatly incorporated into the dash, with a high-resolution display that is clear to read, even in bright daytime conditions. Where the M5’s cockpit is a bit dated and looks the same as several other BMW models over the years, and the E-Class one may be a bit too space age for some, the RS6 Avant’s cabin is a great combination of cool and refined.
A Couple Tiny Gripes
Edgy styling and massive standard 21-inch wheels are cool on this Audi wagon, but you’re going to feel a few more bumps because of the lower profile. The 22-inch options look badass, better lling in the fender gaps, but replacing those P-Zero rubber bands is going to hurt your wallet in a couple years. The RS6’s BMW and Mercedes rivals sport more reasonable 20-inch wheels and tires, for comparison.
Mashing the accelerator releases a good burble out back from the RS6 Avant’s massive oval-shaped exhaust tips, but you’ll notice a supplemental hint of fake noises pumped through the speakers. I do wish performance car makers stopped doing this. Give us real sounds in a manner that doesn’t destroy the environment. Surely someone has come up with a way.
Similar to my complaint in the S4 sedan I drove last summer, Audi’s drive select modes need better distinction. The comfort mode is great for your daily driving needs, but the dynamic settings don’t go hardcore enough for me. If you’re slapping an RS badge on an Audi, it needs to be a screamer in the most sporty modes, with snappier throttle response and firmer damping that’s immediately noticeable.
This Wagon Still Carves Canyons And Totes Everything You Have
I love fast wagons, and am pleased Audi finally gave Americans the RS6 Avant. It’s wildly fast, carries plenty, and will likely be the best looking car in any parking lot it graces. For many drivers, it’s going to be exceptional, and will easily make you cooler than your friends who are probably driving something less attractive and nowhere near as fun.
Versus the competition from BMW and Mercedes-AMG, the RS6 Avant lands right in the middle for me. It’s definitely more enjoyable to drive and look at–both inside and out–against the BMW M5 Competition. As an overall driving experience, I prefer the AMG E 63 S that’s more engaging when you want to have fun along back roads without compromising highway comfort. Should you care more about the styling, the Audi RS6 Avant is the super wagon to stick in your garage, and it’ll still be a blast in the canyons while being obscenely comfortable during your daily commute.