AUDI RS CARS are supposed to be special, right? Formidable track-honed machines capable of putrefying Tarmac, bending time and defying the laws of physics with arachnid-like levels of adhesion – well, not all of them I’m afraid. Remember last year’s RS5? Yeah, that one. It never quite conjured the same level of dynamism and exclusivity as its predecessor, the RS4, as from a performance and handling perspective it didn’t feel that much different to the regular S5. The RS5 you see here, however, is a very different machine to the vehicle we tested last year. That’s because Audi’s Quattro GmbH skunkworks has seemingly eradicated all the gremlins of the previous model and crafted a car clearly capable of challenging the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and BMW M3 for segment spoils.
Despite the RS badges and Daytona Grey paintwork, a feature that makes the Audi RS5 look like it’s been forged entirely from mercury, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell it apart from the S5. The RS5 may not shout too loud about what’s happening under its flexing bonnet but it’s this understated approach to design that instils it with a formidable road presence. For the 2012 model, the front end has been subtly revised with two prominent air dams and a lower front splitter, while the headlamps and bevelled grille present Audi’s updated family face. The rear end adopts a dual sports exhaust system with black bezels, LED tail-light clusters, a larger diffuser and a rear spoiler that extends automatically at 120kph. The muscled-up haunches are filled by 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels but, if you look between the spokes, you’ll notice the peculiar petal-shaped brake rotors. This isn’t a fancy artistic touch – oh no, this distinctive shape actually saves the RS5 from 3kg of unsprung weight. Not much, but every gram saved counts, I guess.
It’s immensely difficult to find anything wrong with the RS5’s interior. Ingolstadt takes great pride in crafting superbly thought-out and ergonomic interiors and the RS5 is no exception. Compared with the cooking A5, the cabin hasn’t been tampered with too much so you get a familiar instrument layout with Audi’s customary high level of refinement. Like the exterior, the cabin is also fairly understated but several touches such as the RS-branded Nappa leather/Alcantara upholstered sports seats, Quattro-stamped facia and RS5 badges on the steering wheel and instrument cluster allude to its sporty persona. There’s also a chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel that looks like it’s been stabbed repeatedly with a fork…
As a veritable sports coupe, rear legroom is pretty generous and is spacious enough to adequately accommodate two, albeit small, passengers. Boot volume is pegged at 455 litres, which can be increased by folding away the rear seats but, let’s be honest here, most owners wouldn’t dare ruining the fine upholstery with a mountain bike.
RS cars are all about performance and with 331kW and 440Nm of torque on tap, the RS5 fails to disappoint in this regard. The void under the bonnet is inhabited by the well-known 4.2-litre V8 mill that is a close relative of the unit found in the RS4 and R8 V8, albeit in slightly tweaked form. From the moment you jam the oblong key into its housing and the engine erupts into a burbling and spluttering V8 cacophony, the RS5 has your full attention. This particular model is a lot rowdier than I remember, but then again it has been fitted with a sports exhaust system, a pricey option at R12900 that adds decibels rather than grunt.
When it comes to performance, the RS5 has a split personality and can go from genial to hostile at the flick of a switch thanks to Audi’s Drive Select module. Our test unit was fitted with optional extras such as dynamic steering, a sports differential and RS suspension with adaptive dampers – all of which can be individually tailored in one of three settings (Comfort, Auto or Dynamic) through the Drive Select module.
It’s unrelentingly quick in a straight line. Bludgeon the throttle and the upshift from the seven-speed S tronic transmission will smash your head back with such vigour that it feels as if you’ve been punched in the face by Wladimir Klitschko himself. And that’s in Comfort mode! Selecting Dynamic removes the RS5’s electronic muzzle and the extra urgency is felt immediately as the throttle and gear shift responses become notably more sensitive. At 1715kg the RS5 is not exactly what you would call light but the sensation experienced by activating launch control is reminiscent of being shot from a medieval trebuchet. It comes as no surprise, then, that we equalled the claimed zero to 100kph figure (4.5secs) with a pass of 4.48 seconds, in addition to completing a respectable quarter-mile time of 12.6 seconds. That’s notably quicker than the 4.7secs 0-100kph and 12.83 quarter-mile time recorded by the BMW M3 Frozen, but how au fait is the RS5 at stringing together a collection of twisties?
Pretty good, actually. It’s very easy to become a hooligan in the RS5 because the underpinnings are so flattering that scything through a series of bends is just a matter of joining the dots – yes, it’s that good. Chuck it into a corner, let the all-wheel drive system sink its claws into the Tarmac, hold your prescribed line, then repeat. There is a reason for why the RS5 never feels like surrendering grip. As well as the electromagnetically-controlled dampers (which err on the side of harshness), crown-gear differential and torque vectoring system, our test car came fitted with an optional electronically-controlled rear differential that quells any Quattro-induced understeer and stops the rear wheels from getting restless.
Life behind the wheel still isn’t as telepathic as in a BMW M3 though, but the steering does weight up as you increase speed allowing you to feel – rather than incoherently wrestle – your way through corners. Still, the dynamic steering isn’t without fault. It’s a little dead for the first fraction of a turn either side of the straight-ahead, but once you begin applying lock, the weight and feedback paint a pretty sharp picture of what the front wheels are doing.
No matter which way you look at it, the Audi RS5 it’s an impressive machine. It certainly feels more alive and willing to tackle corners than the inanimate model we tested last year. Furthermore, the Audi Drive Select system makes it an amazingly versatile machine that can dispatch both the daily commute and weekend track day with ease, all at a smidge over 10.1ℓ/100km (as tested over our mixed-terrain economy run). At R908000, the RS5 is significantly cheaper than the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG but you’ll need to spec it as generously as our test car for it to compete with these two thoroughbred rear-drive monsters. This means cramming it with over R60k-worth of options such as dynamic steering, dynamic ride control, a sports diff and a sport exhaust system. These additions have genuinely improved the driving experience, but one question still remains. Is the RS5 as dynamic as the current E92 M3 or C63 AMG? Well, it comes pretty damn close. In fact – in the right hands – I’m sure it will give either one of them a proper go around a track. Perhaps a group test is in order…