Review: 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback
With its exceptional real world acceleration and dynamics. It is the complete package.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Outstanding performance, utility, and style.
- What’s Bad: Driver assist systems need polish.
Let’s call this Audi RS 5 Sportback a low roofline sedan, but with a hatch. Audi has gone on record calling this a coupe, but we know it’s not. The hatch simply makes this muscular sedan eminently more usable for those of us who like to haul our golf clubs, bicycles, and snowboards.
Under the hood, there’s Audi’s 2.9-liter twin turbo V6 that makes 444 horsepower and 443 pounds-feet of torque. I think those numbers are somewhat misleading because the way this RS 5 actually accelerates makes it seem like it produces much more than just 444 horsepower.
The transmission is a quick-shifting eight speed automatic with manual control and the way it works is as perfect as a gearbox can get today. Manual mode is a push of the shifter away and you can pull the paddles any time, overriding the standard Drive mode shift protocol.
Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system is optimized specifically for the RS 5 and standard torque distribution is 40% front, 60% rear for a little rear-drive biased feel. When there is some tire slip, the system will send as much as 75% of available torque to the front axle or up to 80% to the rear, as required. Dynamically, it’s much more neutral than a standard Audi Quattro sedan and its rear torque bias makes it much more enjoyable to drive when the roads turn twisty.
In a straight line, however, this RS 5 is capable of zero to 100 km/h in under four seconds and, assuming you have a race track with a long enough straight, can reach a maximum speed of 280 km/h.
The way the RS 5 accelerates reminds me of the RS 3 with its real world quickness. Throttle response is immediate and there’s never any waiting for the turbos to spool up and the all wheel drive system ensures all of that power reaches to the ground.
This particular RS5 tester has the massive, optional carbon ceramic brakes and they just work magnificently. There are steel brakes in the back, just like its smaller RS 3 sibling, and the suspension is based around a sophisticated five-link set up in each corner with adaptive dampers.
The suspension calibrations are unique to the RS 5 and it shows with its excellent balance between handling and ride. This is one Audi that gives you high levels of confidence in the corners and, when you’re cruising, delivers a comfortable and complaint ride. Truly the best of both worlds.
The muscular fenders are a fair bit wider than those of the regular S5 Sportback and it also sits a little lower than an S5. Those wide fenders define the overall style of the sedan and, combined with the optional twenty-inch wheels, this car simply looks fantastic. The RS 5’s street presence is a perfect match for its performance.
The cockpit is not only attractive, but also highly functional. The seating position is excellent, with much credit due to the range of adjustment in the seat and steering column. The seats themselves are supportive and comfortable, and while they’re heated and available with a superb massaging function, they’re missing ventilation, a glaring oversight at this price point.
The RS 5 is tremendous fun to throw around and it’s exceptionally surefooted, as you’d expect from Audi. There is a lot of mass here, but the excellent Continental Sport Contact 6 tires stay in touch with the road and the adaptive dampers are masters of body and wheel control.
The steering is precise and it’s the variable assist and variable ratio type. It’s quick at parking pace and appropriately slower at higher speeds.
This is a big sedan at 1,800 kilograms, mind you, but there’s not much feedback from the steering and the chassis. If you’re a visual driver, as I am, then it’s not much of a concern. The RS 5’s steering is precise and predictable at any speed or level of enthusiasm, and handling is always confident.
As much as it’s competent in the corners, when you’re cruising along on the freeway, this Audi is so comfortable that, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t think there’s an RS badge on its flanks.
My only dynamic concern centres around the optional, $6,000 carbon ceramic brakes, which under initial application seem to amplify your pedal input by a factor of ten. In practice, that means the pads grab the rotors aggressively on first bite and, even after hundreds of kilometres worth of practice, I still couldn’t be as smooth as I’d like under low speed braking.
On the open road, however, they’re flawless in actuation and have a tremendous capacity for repeated, heavy use, for which all ceramics are known. If you’re considering an RS 5, do yourself a favour and drive both the steel and carbon ceramic brakes to be certain.
I think the best way to describe this RS5 Sportback is as a grown up RS 3. It’s got the aggressive looks of an Audi RS, but it’s larger than the RS 3, has more power, enjoys much more refinement, and is more usable, given the cargo-eating ability of the hatch.
Audi does an exceptional job with their interior design and the RS 5 is a fine example of the company’s work. The driver interface is near perfection and the overall design and materials are the best in the business.
The RS 5 includes Audi’s customizable Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster. You can customize this display to suit your preferences and driving style, and having a full screen map in the cluster is one of those why-didn’t-I-think-of-this moments.
The front row is very spacious and despite the low roofline, the cabin has an airiness about it. The second row, on the other hand, is passable for a pair of adults, but better suited to children. Plus, given that the RS 5 is a hatchback lends it meaningful utility for a young family.
This particular test car has the optional driver assistance package, which includes important things like forward collision warning, however, the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist systems react abruptly. They’re not quite on par with the best systems and would benefit from further refinement.
To spec your RS 5 Sportback with the lovely Alcantara steering wheel and shifter requires that you also take the flat-bottomed steering wheel, rather than round. The flat-bottomed wheel is purely a quaint design feature and serves no practical function, and I’d much prefer to work with an Alcantara-wrapped round steering wheel.
This particular test car is fitted with nearly every available option, taking its modest base price of $84,350 to something rather immodest – $116,545. That’s right. It’s been bestowed with nearly thirty thousand dollars in options. Plenty of them are necessary, such as the Audi Sport Package and the gorgeous twenty-inch wheels, but I’d only order the carbon ceramics if they were superior to the steel brakes on a daily basis.
What I find about this RS5 Sportback is that it’s a wonderful alternative to similarly priced performance sedans. The all-wheel drive system makes it unique, particularly at this price point, and it’s all around, all-weather performance makes the RS 5 Sportback an exceptional choice among high-performance sedans.
The hatchback makes the RS 5 very usable and its styling lends an athletic look to this Audi. Where it shines, though, is from behind the wheel with its exceptional real world acceleration and dynamics. It is the complete package.
Just don’t call the RS 5 Sportback a coupe because this, my friends, is a brilliant, all-weather, performance sedan.
Review: 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback
BODY STYLE: mid-size, five-door sedan.
DRIVE METHOD: front-engine, all-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine (444 hp, 443 lb/ft of torque) with an eight-speed automatic transmission.
CARGO CAPACITY: 430 litres.
FUEL ECONOMY: 13.5/9.0/11.5 L/100 km city/hwy/combined.
PRICE: RS 5 Sportback, $84,350; as tested $116,545 plus destination fee of $2,095.
WEB SITE: RS 5 Sportback