The arrival of the facelifted Audi RS5 saw us revisiting the Ingolstadt firm’s M3 rival for the first time in over a year. We were largely quite taken with the pre-facelift car, but there were a few issues surrounding the transmission and handling. Given that this newcomer largely constitutes a cosmetic change, are we revisiting a satisfyingly powerful, yet marginally flawed, performance coupe or will we fall for its charms the second time around?
Styling and packaging:
It was said that when Audi design boss Walter de’Silva first saw the A5 he shed a tear for its beauty. If the facelifted version is anything to go by, Walter must’ve had to wave off concerned fellow designers between heaving sobs. It’s not that the changes are sweeping – they largely comprise the subtlest of tweaks to the bonnet and grille, along with revised LED-rimmed head- and brakelamps – and it’s not as though the pre-facelift model was at all unfortunate-looking, it was a very handsome machine, but the refresh makes it look less bluff-nosed and even more purposeful than before.
The cabin remains largely unchanged, but is none the worse for it thanks to its tasteful execution, solid build quality, a satisfyingly low-slung driving position in supportive sports seats and a tactile, flat-bottomed sports steering wheel with paddle shifters. Room in the back is still seriously limited, but the boot goes back a fair way and swallowed 336 dm3-worth of our measuring cubes.
Power is still provided by Audi’s naturally aspirated 4,2-litre V8 developing 331 kW and 430 N.m of torque. It’s a free-revving unit that’s quite happy spooling up to the 7-8 000 r/min mark and, with our test unit’s optional sports exhaust, probably one of the most aurally satisfying engines in its class; emitting a clean, metallic rasp to the staccato V8 note while downshifts are announced by an addictive huffing bellow. Its flexibility and low-end urge are also timely reminders that, in a segment that’s leaning increasingly towards forced induction, there’s little to match a well-sorted naturally-aspirated engine.
Our previous experience with the RS5 saw a few of the testers walk away grumbling about the occasionally harsh downshifts served up by 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in ‘S’/dynamic mode. This malady didn’t seem to affect this particular car with both up- and downshifts being crisp and swift in both manual and auto/preset modes.
A stint at our testing ground confirmed that the performance on offer is, quite frankly, blistering. Our first launch control-assisted acceleration run saw the RS5 breach the 100 km/h mark from standstill in 4,4 seconds (Audi claims 4,5), hit 140 km/h 3,3 seconds later and cross the 1 kilometre mark in 22,9 seconds at a speed of 231,5 km/h. Those of you paging back to our March 2011 issue test of the pre-facelift model will notice that there’s an appreciable difference in this car’s performance. We’re not sure just how much of a role that sports exhaust, temperature on the test day (16 degrees vs. 23 degrees) and the inevitabilities that are manufacturing tolerances played in this instance, but the new car is otherwise mechanically identical to its predecessor.
Dynamics and ride:
Audi’s drive select module sits at the heart of the RS5 controlling such variables as throttle input, engine and transmission mapping. Our test unit was fitted with optional dynamic steering and RS suspension with adaptive dampers, allowing drive select to tailor the steering weight and ride characteristics. While selecting dynamic added some heft to the tiller, it still lacked the liveliness of the M3’s set-up, that’s not to say it’s bad, though; it’s quite accurate and possesses enough weighting to satisfy most drivers.
Our car also featured Audi’s sports differential, which apportions drive between the rear wheels depending on the car’s attitude under cornering. We were understandably sceptical of Audi’s claims that this system basically banishes understeer, especially given that a high-powered all-wheel drive car such as the RS5 should be a perfect example of a performance car that defaults to understeer when pitched into a corner, but the system works a treat. You can barrel the car towards a bend, stamp on the anchors (impressive units that halted the car in 2,64 seconds in our braking tests) and then plant the throttle mid-corner without all hell breaking loose. The nose is reluctant to push wide, there’s bags of grip and it makes for a confidence-inspiring approach to spirited driving. The degree of precision and accuracy the RS5 exhibited on this occasion also went a long way to assuaging our previous feelings that the car felt heavy and a touch reluctant.
As with many adaptive damper systems, the tendency is for the Audi’s system to get slightly caught out by small, regularly spaced road corrugations. In it’s stiffest sport setting there was a noticeable degree of vertical movement when hitting a bump, but while the ride is firm regardless of the dynamic drive setting, it is well damped and lateral body movement is well reined in.
While we can’t, in all confidence, pinpoint the reasons behind this car’s improvements in terms of transmission operation and agility, it has to be said that the RS5 is a seriously impressive machine. The powertrain set-up is responsive, feels bulletproof and lends the car a formidable turn of pace while the handling, although not totally resolved ride comfort-wise, is sharp for a car of its ilk.
Those seeking a more visceral and challenging driving experience may find the RS5’s limpet-like grip and generally neutral steering set-up a bit too subdued compared to that of an M3, but this car inspires more confidence when driven in anger and demands less of its pilot to unlock its potential.
It seems that in this case our re-acquaintance with the RS5 really is a case of things being better the second time around.
Model: Audi RS5 Coupe Quattro S tronic
Engine: 4,2-litre, V8 petrol
Power: 331 kW at 8 250 r/min
Torque: 430 N.m at 4 000 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 11,5 L/100 km
CO2: 252 g/km
Top speed: 250 km/h
Price: R908 000
Maintenance plan: 3 years/100 000 km
Service intervals: according to on-board computer
0-100 km/h: 4,4 seconds
100-120 km/h: 1,7 seconds
120-140 km/h: 1,85 seconds
100-0 km/h: 2,64 seconds (average of 10 braking tests)
CAR fuel index: 13,0 L/100 km
CAR fuel run: 11,5 L/100 km