2013 Audi RS5
Power444 HP / 317 LB-FT
0-60 Time4.5 Seconds
Curb Weight3,950 LBS
We've admittedly had our share of issues with the approach Audi takes with its RS cars. In theory, "RS" represents the German tradition of heavy-breathing RennSport driving – essentially for cars that can really race. What we have found most often, however, is that the RS more readily approximates a branding exercise that comes sort of close to smacking us upside the head with thrills, but falls short in key ways – especially when Audi has brought us to a track, eagerly awaiting our feedback.
RS models tend to weigh a lot, and the company's Quattro obsession can harm handling while cornering – and it costs a pretty pickle or two to boot. The RS model that finally got us closest to Renn Sportiness was the TT RS (a car that's finally hitting the U.S., having already been savaging European roads since 2009). Then we waited until Spring 2010 and the RS5 that promised us things – wonderful things. The A5 upon which it is based was possessed of the near-perfect rear-biased sports coupe proportions, and the S5 it spawned was a pretty solid piece of work, too, so we were excited to drive it.
After our first drive at the Ascari circuit in southern Spain, we were even a little more encouraged by the RS5 than we had been after our previous track session in the TT RS. Subsequent high-spirited comparison drives on warm and dry surfaces, however, revealed the original 444-horsepower RS5 as no match for the sheer dynamic satisfaction of the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupe and BMW M3 coupe. The RS5, even with its improved lighter and quicker-reacting Quattro, simply had too hard a time resisting prodigious amounts of understeer. We were left begging for effortless and soul-stirring oversteer whenever exactly that would have been called for. Everything else on the RS5 is so good that this one bit just made us whiney.
There is a trade-off, though, and this new drive of the slightly updated 2013 RS5 in wintry white central Sweden brought this to bear more clearly than any other test could. When the going gets tougher and the drive surface is no longer warm and dry – heck, not even asphalt or earthbound – there may be no other sporting coupe we'd rather be driving. If we hit wet and oily pavement in rainy weather, or perhaps ice on a Swedish lake, we want the RS5 wrapped around us if we still want to have a fast, fun ride.
It's just this sort of opportunity that Audi recently afforded us, too. With the RS5's ESP Sport thresholds in place, Audi Drive Select settings all in Dynamic mode and special 19-inch Finnish studded winter tires at the corners, we were set free on a circuit mapped atop a frozen lake at the Molanda test center near Järpen. And before you berate our evaluation as cheating due to the studded tires, think again – being thusly shod is pretty much law of the land here in the far north. If you are caught having caused – inadvertently or otherwise – any sort of traffic mishap and you don't have proper snow shoes on your wheels, the legal repercussions here are more severe than you might imagine.
After first hauling butt over this same circuit in a slightly dicier A1 Quattro with its small wheelbase, 252-horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, it was time for a turn at the wheel of the RS5, and immediately, the graceful looking two-door was right at home. We've done ice driving circuits in many cars, including an M3, but this was by far the quickest we'd ever settled down and felt completely at ease with the weight-shift + throttle play + steering angle drift ballet required of serious winter driving.
The 4.2-liter naturally aspirated FSI V8 was clearly enamored of this exercise, and it was under these conditions where the quick reactions of the new crown-gear Quattro system were rendered crystal sharp. Regarding feathery throttle work, in Dynamic mode, the linkage's response is perfectly brisk, to the point where less is truly more. At times when we'd shifted to opposite lock too soon for the next apex cone (and the snow bank behind it), we had the satisfaction of flooring it in order to broaden the arc of our ice drift, and the RS5's bigmouth dual Boysen sport exhaust obliged with a satisfying roar that echoed across the lake.
Then there were the 15-inch carbon composite brake discs up front and new-for-2013 "wave" design steel brakes in back, though braking is the last thing you do out here in slippy drift mode. If ever we felt the need, a tap was all that served the purpose to peel off a little lateral momentum from this hurtling 3,950-pounder. Then it was back on the throttle good and hard to enjoy the 317 pound-feet of torque in its 4,000-to-6,000 rpm sweet spot.
The RS5's most tangible tech change for the 2013 model year is the ditching of a hydraulic power assist steering in favor of an electro-mechanical setup. This is happening all over the European landscape these days due to the need for improved fuel efficiency. While these systems once felt universally synthetic and wonky, they have become better and better through thorough testing. Nowadays, it's not taboo to mention electrically assisted steering when speaking of cutting-edge sports cars. In Sweden under these unusual conditions, the easy action of the RS5's new electric power steering came across as perfectly suited to the drive characteristics on the slide-happy circuit.
Paradoxically, the RS5's 59-percent front, 41-percent rear weight distribution was its biggest asset on our drive. While the distribution of heft is the car's main bugbear on warm, clear pavement, the car's front weight bias proved to be an asset on the frigid Swedish circuit. The 19-inch studded Lappi Winter tires – 245/35 R19 – are owed some credit, certainly, but the Audi's naturally heavy nose and 108.3-inch wheelbase made easy work of making sure that the tail came around at just the right cadence. The weight-shift dance was an easy one to learn in this car.
Final changes worth a brief mention are the same exterior touches incorporated on the revamped 2013 A5 and S5 models: the new face, single-frame grille with folded top corners, and squintier Clint Eastwood headlights and taillights that are all-LED units. The best news of all? Whereas the pre-facelift RS5 wasn't sold in North America, the updated model should appear in U.S. dealerships by the end of March, with a price tag of around $70,000.
It was good to finally come away delighted with an RS model from our Audi pals. It's just a shame that not everyone gets to test this RS5 coupe's chemistry out here in the ice and snow. Maybe Audi's engineers should strive to make the next-generation RS5 dramatically more rear-biased and not so self-neutralizing in its dynamics. That way, owners on dry pavement can get as excited as we did driving up near Santa's toyshop in RennSport Wonderland.
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