Sonoma Raceway in Northern California’s Napa wine region is one of the country’s faster and more technical tracks. It’s high speed turns aren’t the place you want to lose control of a $70k sports coupé, so we tried to keep something in reserve as we reacquainted ourselves of the track’s blind brows and challenging esses.
In these situations, we were glad to find the RS5’s seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic transmission – its paddles allowing rapid changes without interrupting the flow of power to all four wheels, or you needing to relinquish your grip on the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
However, its presence perhaps signaled the end of manual options for the Audi RS range. In a conversation with Stephan Reil, Head of Development for quattro GmbH, we asked whether a manual had been considered for the car: he indicated the dual-clutch was a better solution; “You can just put it in D and go, or put it in S, and you have a manual mode, depending on how you feel. This gives you the perfect options.” he told us.
So would we see a manual transmission in any future RS models? “No, not really. It’s expensive to develop both and we’ve seen a sharp decline in manual TT RS sales, so everything will be dual-clutch in future.”
As far as tuning is concerned, Reil indicated there was some extra torque capacity built into the transmission but wasn’t sure it could withstand a supercharger installation, for example. However, he did point out every RS model completes an 8000km endurance test on the Nürburgring before it is signed off, emphasizing how the RS5 was perfectly prepared for track days in stock form.
And we can confirm its track abilities. The handling is safe and predictable while being enormous fun. Initial turn-in on a trailing brake brings a little understeer, which is eradicated with mild rotation through the standard rear Sports diff, followed by a touch of oversteer on the exit thanks to a 60:40 split from the center diff. The Pirelli tires don’t give up the fight easily, and will slide predictably, communicating their intentions with clarity.
While Audi’s speed-sensitive steering can feel slightly artificial on the road, the racetrack perfectly demonstrated the virtues of selecting the Dynamic driving mode, with its sharper settings for the throttle, steering, shifting and diff, plus a louder exhaust.
With its enormous potential, the racetrack was perhaps the only place we could safely explore the RS5’s incredible abilities, such as the huge front brakes with eight-piston calipers and 365mm rotors (six-piston/380mm ceramic brakes are an option). The wave rotor design was borrowed from the motorcycle industry and helps reduce unsprung weight by 9 lb per corner without affecting braking performance.
Besides its 4000 lb mass, it was the 450hp at 8250rpm that put the most demands on these brakes. The 4.2L V8 shares few components with the previous B7 RS4’s motor of the same capacity. Revving to a heady 8500rpm, we were all bouncing off the rev limiter out of the pits, as it spun up with alacrity. Its lack of torque less noticeable in this environment, but the seven closely stacked gears kept you in the sweet spot.
Digging into the throttle was an interesting experience. It seemed to have several stages, with each push unleashing additional performance. In manual mode, the transmission won’t shift up without you, but would
kick-down at WOT if it sensed you were in the wrong gear. In Sport mode, it wouldn’t chase the rev limiter as hard, but did execute aggressive rev-matching blips when coming to a stop.
And blipping is a very popular sport among RS5 drivers. During our drive, nobody missed a chance to change down and hear the V8. It’s a menacing Nascar noise that rivals the C63 and outshines the discreet M3. At high RPM, the RS5 takes on a more urgent note; the perfect soundtrack to a summer track day – rich and full of intent.
Our US cars don’t get adjustable suspension; crash requirements necessitating different rear bumper internals that eradicate the system’s mounting points. Instead, we get one good set up, which was something we always liked about the previous RS4 – suspension done right the first time. Yes, it’s a little firm but it’s a 174mph coupé: it’s supposed to be. Compared to a modern coilover set-up, this is comfortable and compliant. We liked it.
Priced at $68900, the Audi RS5 is significantly higher on paper than the aging M3 or C63 AMG Coupe. But put that into perspective because the Audi is more economical than both, so doesn’t have a gas guzzler tax on top. It’s also extremely well equipped, putting it on par with the Merc if you match specification, yet neither competitor can offer quattro traction in winter.
Although this RS won’t be a limited edition like the RS4, don’t expect to see many on the road. But when you do, it’ll certainly make a big impression. Its quattro-style fenders don’t have the authority of the original, overshadowed by the single-frame grille with its honeycomb mesh and giant intakes.
The rear bumper has a distinctive mesh section that wraps around the twin oval exhausts, and has a slim spoiler that raises from the trunk above 75mph (lowering at 50mph).
It’s a handsome car, especially on the optional 20" five-spoke Rotor wheels we drove. The wheels are available separately or as part of the Titanium package that also includes color-matched mirrors, black grille surround and black tailpipes.
There are few stateside arrivals we’ve anticipated more than the RS5. It’s the first model to successfully mimic the look and feel of the revolutionary Ur quattro: a car that changed modern motoring. And while the RS5 won’t win the same accolades, it will win a devoted fan base of Audi aficionados who will fall for its poised chassis, wonderful engine, head-turning looks, perfect interior and high-tech gadgets.