I imagine spending time with a sexy sports coupe is similar to a first date with a supermodel. Before she arrives, there's a buildup of excitement mixed with nervous anticipation. Even though the background work is done, there are many concerns and unanswered questions about how the two of you will get along. What about compatibility, engagement and dynamics?
The big day arrives, and you answer the door to find her waiting in the driveway wearing a form-fitting Misano Red Pearl dress and sleek Anthracite stilettos. As you shake your head in disbelief, you swear she just winked her... ah... xenon headlight at you.
Relax big boy, you've been fantasizing about the 2013 Audi RS5. Like all of its German counterparts, Audi sells its A5 coupe and cabriolet in several different flavors. All share the same basic chassis, and most of the cabin appointments, but mechanically they are all a few yards apart. And each is distinguished by its individual performance envelope.
The entry-level model, known as the standard A5 2.0T, is fitted with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four rated at 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It starts at $38,745 (all pricing includes Audi's $895 destination charge), and that buys ownership of a well-respected coupe. The performance-oriented S5, one nice leap up the ladder, arrives with a supercharged 3.0-liter six rated at 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Its base price of $51,795 will further thin the wallet, but the investment is well worth it.
Seated at the top of the hierarchy is this RS5, with a base price of $69,795.
Seated at the top of the hierarchy is this RS5, with a base price of $69,795. The enthusiast-tuned coupe boasts a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter eight-cylinder rated at 450 hp and 317 lb-ft. Unlike its siblings, offered with manual or automatic gearboxes, the all-aluminum direct-injected engine is mated to a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission. Matching its siblings, power is sent to all four wheels through the automaker's famed Quattro all-wheel-drive system, with a torque split that generally sends 60 percent rearward, to improve driving dynamics. The RS5, however, gains a rear sport differential to ensure that traction is maintained regardless of how hard it is pushed.
But the RS5 isn't just a powertrain upgrade. Audi's Quattro GmbH division – the automaker's in-house tuning department – has given the entire vehicle a nice massage from the tip of its nose to its gunmetal tailpipes. Aesthetically, the RS5 wears much more aggressive attire when compared to its lesser siblings. The front fascia of our Misano Red pearl effect tester, optioned with the $2,500 Titanium package (exterior mirror housings in body color, black trim and 20-inch graphite-colored wheels) featured a sinister blacked-out trapezoidal grille and matching lower intakes. The only brightwork on the nose was found at the bottom, where a thin aluminum strip added just the right amount of contrast. This beauty was also equipped with Audi's $1,000 Sport Exhaust system with black finishers, meaning its derriere was devoid of anything shiny – just two massive oval pipes beneath a dark lower valance. One other mention is the retractable rear spoiler, an RS5 exclusive. Compared to the standard A5, or even the upgraded S5, the ominous RS5 takes its physical appearance to a whole different level.
Compared to the standard A5, or even the upgraded S5, the ominous RS5 takes its physical appearance to a whole different level.
Mechanically, the RS5 shares the same basic five-link front suspension and independent trapezoidal-link rear suspension as its kin. However, dampers and springs have been upgraded for its higher-performance mission and the ride height lowered to reduce body roll. The brakes have also received an upgrade, with eight-piston monobloc front calipers and single-piston sliding rear calipers over vented and drilled rotors. Standard wheels are 19-inch alloys, but our model had the aforementioned 20-inch five-blade units wrapped in sticky 275/30R20 summer rubber.
Inside the cabin, Audi has treated the RS5 to a few additional magic touches that include a special three-spoke flat-bottom multi-function steering wheel, RS design carbon fiber inlays, black headliner and upgraded Nappa leather. The twelve-way front sport bucket seats, embossed with the RS5 logo, are the icing on the cake.
Audi introduced the RS5 at the 2010 Geneva Motor Show, but it didn't arrive on our shores until last year as a 2013 model. Tweaked slightly from its European counterpart, the most significant difference is that the US variant doesn't get the company's trick dynamic suspension. Keeping us Americans smiling, though, Audi has also altered spring rates to improve the ride, revised transmission tuning to speed up shifts and added variable-ratio electric power steering to increase fuel economy.
The most significant difference is that the US variant doesn't get the company's trick dynamic suspension.
Whether one is staring at the pictures or reading the specification sheet, Audi's RS5 comes across as gloriously spectacular. But those two attributes only make a good museum display – engagement, performance and refinement are what matter to the enthusiast. After a week-long date, let's just say she left me breathless.
The driving position is just about perfect, with the operator and front passenger coddled by matching deeply bolstered bucket seats. Both hands rest comfortably on the thick flat-bottom steering wheel that's wrapped in perforated leather with wheel-mounted paddle controls just behind each side spoke. The black carbon fiber trim paired with the black leather interior meant my tester's cabin was dark and businesslike, but everyone who rode inside seemed to like it. The splashes of real aluminum encircling the vents, window switches and buttons provided a nice contrast and were often noticed by passengers.
Audi's Multi-Media Interface is rather slick once the operator becomes acclimated with how it works.
We've covered the ergonomics and second row seating of the A5/S5 before, but a couple of points deserve mention. First, Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI) is rather slick once the operator becomes acclimated with how it works. It comes complete with its own subscription data plan, cloud-based mapping stream from Google and WiFi connectivity for multiple devices inside the car. MMI is quick, easy to navigate and the screen contrast is excellent. Second, the RS5 is technically a four-passenger coupe. However, I found that few people will enjoy spending a lot of time in the second row, as legroom is negligible behind any front passengers over six feet tall (I'm six-foot two-inches, and few dared sit behind me). My youngest found the back seats bearable, but only because she sat with her legs Indian-style on the cushion.
Key fob in pocket, the engine fires quickly after pressing the aluminum start/stop button on the center console. It soon settles to idle as a smooth burble rumbling from the rear. Without any question, the optional Sport Exhaust is a must-have purchase, as the music coming from the tailpipes is refined and never raspy. As expected, Audi has fitted the RS5 with its Drive Select system that allows the operator to choose one of three settings (Comfort, Auto or Dynamic) to alter the steering, transmission, differential and engine response. Being an adrenaline junkie and wanting to enjoy the coupe in its rawest form, I chose Dynamic mode and never touched the switch again.
The optional Sport Exhaust is a must-have purchase.
The RS5 is plenty quick, as it should be. Audi quotes a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 174 miles per hour. It feels more spirited than that, especially since its smooth engine will willingly run all the way to its 8,500-rpm cutoff effortlessly. Everyone it seems, even Audi, is going with forced induction these days, yet this wonderful V8 is a throaty reminder of just how good a well-sorted naturally aspirated engine can be. (Trivia: The R8 V8 and RS5 are both fitted with 4.2-liter V8 engines, but the engine in the RS5 is more advanced, more powerful and the two share little common componentry.)
Audi's dual-clutch gearbox does a satisfying job staying ahead of the game too. Shifts are crisp and timely in auto mode, and the transmission responds well to manual input when the paddles are pulled. For the most part, I let the computer make the decisions and didn't find myself cursing under my breath at its choices even once. As mentioned, the naturally aspirated engine is a real screamer that enjoys tempting its limiter, though it would be even better with a manual gearbox. Sadly, that isn't in the cards.
It would be even better with a manual gearbox. Sadly, that isn't in the cards.
Going fast is easy, but the RS5 stops well, too. The rotors are eye-catching and a bit gimmicky (watch the Short Cut video to learn more about Audi's "wave" rotors), but they do their job. They effectively stopped the two-ton coupe effortlessly, under every on-road condition I threw at them. That said, I still won't sign off on them until I've had a chance try the Audi on a track and determine how well they hold up under severe abuse.
To put its agility to the test, I headed over to my favorite deserted California canyon road over which I have traveled hundreds of times. Empty of traffic and with the corners memorized like the creases on the back of my hands, I was able to focus purely on the RS5's driving dynamics.
Overall, I was extremely pleased. My concerns over the electrically assisted power steering proved moot, worry-free, and there was an insane amount of available grip as I pushed the coupe into countless turns. Audi's Quattro system is magical, especially when strong power is applied mid-corner and the long two-door just hunkers down and pulls. I pushed harder and harder, and my confidence grew exponentially with each turn of the wheel. The RS5 was stable, competent and very engaging to drive. And that exhaust note sure was sweet, too.
The weight distribution of the flagship RS5 is nose-heavy and this shows its ugliness as understeer.
But all was not blissful, as I had traveled the road about a month earlier in a standard A5 2.0T Quattro. That coupe was about 328 pounds lighter on the scale and about $30,000 lighter on the wallet. My recollection was that the smaller four-cylinder engine was slower around the corners, but provided much better overall chassis balance – even though the mass of its engine is placed forward of the front axle – meaning the lesser model was almost neutral at the limit. The weight distribution of the flagship RS5 is nose-heavy (58 percent front/42 percent rear) and this shows its ugliness as understeer. At the limit, I could feel the front tires, supporting more than a ton of mass, chewing at the pavement. It was not a deal breaker, but it did leave me scratching my head.
Just before the sun dropped below the ridge, I pulled over and stopped at a wide overlook. After unfastening my belt, I climbed out and walked 30 feet away before turning around and looking back at the red two-door. Warm rays reflected off her paint, her glass glistened and the sunlight caught her curves just right. Yes, the Audi RS5 really is an exotic supermodel.
How many other coupes turn heads as they carve a path down the road, leaving fingers pointing in their direction? How many other coupes are fitted with a naturally aspirated jewel of an engine that delivers power in a manner as silky as its exhaust note? How many other coupes offer build quality and interior appointments that are first-rate, and boast infotainment systems that are nothing short of innovative? In a typical crowd, the RS5 has no peer.
The Audi RS5 really is an exotic supermodel.
But look beyond the typical crowd, and one realizes that there are a handful of other supermodels on the market. And, each appeals with its own special talents. BMW offers the perfectly balanced rear-wheel-drive M3, while Mercedes-Benz sells its burly, and arguably over-engineered C63 AMG. And, nobody can overlook the supercharged tire-shredding CTS-V Coupe from Cadillac.
Asking me which of those I would I choose over the other is rather unfair – I'd argue that each is brilliant in its own mission. But without question, I'd ardently beg the stunning and alluring Audi RS5 for a very long second date.