Walk around Audi (NSU)’s RS5 sports coupe and take in its promise of potency. Five-spoke alloy rims, immodestly flaunting the oversized brake rotors underneath. Audi’s four-ring badge set atop the black mesh grill, shining brightly. Two pair of exhaust pipes in the rear, set at the extreme edges.
This $69,795 coupe is designed to cross swords with the likes of BMW’s $62,000-plus M3 coupe, the best sports sedan/coupe in the business.
The RS model takes the already athletic-looking S5 and gives it a sharper edge for the driver who’s always looking for a little more. Everest on your bucket list? The RS5 is your kind of car.
With extra options like 20-inch, summer-performance tires, a throatier exhaust and the latest electronics making it a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot, my white-painted, black-interior test model came to $77,320.
No question, it looked hot, but was it just another M3 pretender? The 4.2-liter V-8 engine packs a very serious 450 horsepower. The transmission is a sophisticated, double-clutch automated manual, which can be controlled by wheel-mounted paddles. Promising signs.
It wasn’t until I slowed down for a corner in sport mode and felt the transmission automatically kick down a gear that I was sure that the RS5 meant business. That robust power is meant to be exploited.
The S5 was originally released in 2007, a rather large, fashion-forward coupe which fit in Audi’s lineup between the A4 and A6 sedans. It looked cool, but I didn’t much care for it. The V-8 made just over 350 hp and it took 5.8 seconds to get to 60 miles per hour. In other words, it was no BMW M3.
And despite its rather large size, the interior was cramped, so it missed the mark as a grand touring car as well.
The S5 (and the base A5) have been face-lifted, with a bunch of revisions, including a smaller engine for the S5. (Horsepower is 333 hp and 211 hp, respectively.) Those changes have been a boon for the S5.
The regular S5 seems better balanced, with a suspension capably tweaked to carve through corners and yet remain comfortable. The entire thing is simply better executed.
Audi is beginning to ship models to the U.S. with the most extreme “RS” designation. Other than the supercar-worthy R8, these are the sportiest cars in their fleet. In addition to the 2013 model year RS5, Americans can also buy the TT RS.
Heading out of New York for the less crowded lanes of Pennsylvania, the RS5’s less forgiving side showed itself. The suspension was clearly designed for the smooth roads of Germany. On New York’s broken pavement the chassis chatters and shudders, sending the vibrations directly into the low-sitting sports seats. (They’re nicely done seats, though.)
The RS5 is not meant to be driven every day. It loses the nice duality of its more gentle cousins, the S5 and the truly excellent S4 sedan.
But on lonely, hilly roads with sparse traffic, the RS5 makes its case as a movable carnival ride. Dial in sport and dynamic modes, which shifts the transmission, steering and traction control to their most aggressive, and the RS5 suddenly feels sure of itself.
The noise the V-8 makes is a pleasure, rising to a crescendo as it reaches the top of a gear. In manual mode, it holds the gear until you pull the right-hand paddle. No need to relax your pressure on the gas pedal, either. Upshift with your foot pinned to the floor.
The all-wheel-drive system hangs on, relentlessly, to the road. Everything from the steering to the response of the accelerator feels taut, ready to burst their constraints. The RS5 wants to go-go-go, and it’s hard not to give in to the urge.
The steering wheel, which is squared off at the bottom, feels good in the hand. The seats cradle as you drop down a curvy hill at speed. Audi’s navigation and stereo are easy to use on the fly, with controls lighting up devil red in the dark.
And, as I like to do at any opportunity, I took it on the racetrack, the best arena to really see what elements hold up and which don’t, when you’re not worried about speed limits or fishtailing.
Here the RS5’s generous size and weight worked against it. I cranked down hard on the brakes before sharp corners, wrestling it through them and fully straightening the wheel and feeding in gas. It blasted down the straights, but couldn’t manage the delicate blend of balance and power needed for the best track machines.
The M3 has long been happy on both the road and the track (though it too has gotten heavier and less wieldy over the generations). Still, if you’re the type that wants to do both, the M3 wins out.
That distinction will matter for a tiny percentage of buyers. Otherwise, the RS5 offers loads of very fun go-go-go.
The 2013 Audi RS5 Coupe at a Glance
Engine: 4.2-liter V-8 with 450 horsepower and 317 pound-
feet of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed double-clutch automated manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 16 city, 23 highway.
Price as tested: $77,320.
Best features: That roaring V-8.
Worst feature: Smart cabin, but still feels cramped.
Target buyer: The driver who likes fun a bit more
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.