2021 Audi RS5 Sportback review, test drive

    Published on Aug 24, 2021 08:00:00 AM

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    Can Audi's baby RS7 deliver a thrilling driving experience, along with the everyday practicality expected from a Sportback?

    Make : Audi
    Model : A5 Sportback

    Audi RS5: what is it?

    The original RS5 was one of Audi’s icons. Nothing short of a German muscle car with a compact silhouette, a brawny, naturally aspirated V8, and a generous dose of 'Vorsprung Durch Technik’, it was one of the pillars on which Audi rested its considerable technical bulk.

     

    All this has changed today. First up, in 2018, Audi chucked out the naturally aspirated V8 and plugged in a twin turbocharged V6. So, bye bye V8 icon. If you thought that was a big change, today Audi only sells the RS5 here as a 4.8m-long Sportback. Compact coupe it isn't. The Sportback gets four doors, a huge estate car-like boot and loads of added practicality. But can Audi's baby RS7 deliver both, a 'pukka' RS driving experience and loads of everyday practicality?

    Audi RS5: what's it like on the outside?

    One thing's for sure, I think it's one of Audi's stunners, a car you can look at endlessly. The low-slung profile gets you first. The arched, tight-fitting coupe-like roof, the pillar-less doors, and fastback rear work superbly together. Then the wheel arches bulge out that extra bit and help give the RS5 a crouching cat-like stance. While the nose has been well executed and has plenty of character with its sharp cuts and creases, it's the rear of the RS5 Sportback with its arrow like form that really is drool-worthy. The wide hips and subtle spoiler set the tone, and then the strip of decorative  faux 'metal' that runs around the big oval exhausts looks just great.

     

    Audi RS5: what's the engine like?

    Under the hood, the V6 is also a bit special. Co-developed with Porsche, the 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 puts out a strong 450hp and has a torque profile that, here, has been tailored specifically to give it strong performance. You get 600Nm from 1,900-5,000rpm. The turbos are placed inside the 'V' for quick responses and what makes the engine feel even sportier is that it comes hooked up to a lightening quick 8-speed automatic gearbox. The quattro system also used here makes a huge difference. It uses the sportier crown wheel differential where 60 percent of power is normally sent to the rear, which can be increased up to 85 percent to counter understeer (or a lack of front end grip).

     

    The suspension is also tailored to give it a sporty drive. It has a five-link setup at the front and rear, and while there's no rear-wheel steering and air suspension, the steering has been specifically set up to give it a good amount of agility.

    Audi RS5: what's it like on the inside?

    The interiors are typically Audi. That is to say they are built to a very high standard and, for the most part, display levels of fit and finish that set class standards. The materials here are all first rate, and what makes the experience inside the cabin feel even more special is that Audi has used new shapes and forms that look great. This is especially true of the metallic carbon-fibre weave that runs in an organically shaped band right across the cabin. Matched by a single decorative band of wide trim on the centre console, it amps up the cool factor of the cabin considerably. And boy, has Audi made the 50 shades of grey cabin work. Subtle glints of chrome sporadically scattered across the cabin highlight the important bits, and the various textures and colours have been layered in an extremely sophisticated manner.

     

    In addition, you get all the RS regalia and badges. You get logos on the seats, on the centre console, and at the base of the steering wheel. The sport steering wheel now also gets two programmable RS modes. The screen isn't large enough to impress on its own, but Audi's MMI user interface (Modular Infotainment Platform or MIB 3) is amongst the best there is. Neat, clean, tidy and intuitive, it is quick to respond and has slick functionality. Audi, in addition, seems to have provided a hardware upgrade, so the speed with which it works also impresses. As this is an RS, the system also delivers performance-related information. You get info on engine and transmission temperature, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and there's even software that will give you lap times around a circuit or acceleration from 0 to 100 kph.

    Also on the RS5 is Audi's virtual cockpit or fully digital instrument panel, massaging seats for the front passengers, electrically actuated pneumatic lumbar support (that feels more natural), and enough Alcantara on the door cards, steering wheel and elsewhere to enhance Audi's cool factor. Other features include Parking Aid Plus, a panoramic sunroof, and a button that allows you to switch the screen off at night; this is important on long night drives, as bright, contrasting lights tend to accelerate eye fatigue. You don't, however, get cooled seats, wireless charging or wireless Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

     

    The rear seats are a bit compromised because of the low roof, but there's a decent amount of legroom, the seat back is comfortable, and the big sunroof prevents the rear of the cabin from getting gloomy. This clearly is no A6, though. You are seated a bit low, and if you are above six feet, headroom could be tight. Space and comfort up front are excellent. The sporty seat supports your shoulders perfectly, the lumbar support is very effective and easy to adjust, and after a day of hard driving, the massage function is a welcome addition. I also just love how the seats look. Finished in black and rock grey, with a honeycomb motif, they are superbly done in Alcantara and leather.

    Those who value practicality will also be thrilled with the lift-back boot – the access is good, it is wide and deep, and is easy to load. And although boot capacity, at 465-litres, isn't huge, its uniform shape means you can use every square inch of space. 

     

    Audi RS5: what's it like to drive?

    On paper, the RS5 doesn't seem particularly exciting, especially at first glance. It comes powered by a V6 engine and weighs a considerable 1,742Kgs. Get behind the wheel and initial impressions aren't very strong either. The big turbos need time to spool up, and while it accelerates smartly when you put your foot down, the explosive performance you expect of an RS model isn't quite there.

    Use a bit more throttle and the situation remedies itself very quickly. Two things happen almost simultaneously. First, the reactive gearbox delivers a lightening quick downshift, and with the turbos now blowing madly, the RS5 shoots forward towards the horizon. Before you know it, you hit 7,000rpm, you are up a gear and into the thick of the powerband once again. So quick are upshifts, I'm initially convinced this is a twin-clutch gearbox. The real star, however, remains the engine. Past 4,000rpm, the engine just seems to run away from you, gathering a momentum and energy of its own. The RS5 even has a fun and exciting exhaust note, especially towards the top end. While Audi says 0-100kph comes up in 3.9sec, it feels even quicker! I sure didn't expect it to be this quick.

    What I do expect is loads and loads of grip, even on a slippery road. Yes, the steering is as inert as Helium and I'm not sure if the rear is stepping out minutely or I'm just imagining things. Still, if you are looking for the weapon system with the best ballistics, this is it. The grip is just prodigious, even in the wet, and what I particularly like is that there's a simplicity and predictability about the way the RS5 goes down the road. Its ability to find grip is in fact so good, it makes a wet road feel merely damp, and a damp road bone dry. How does Audi do it? The quattro system is clearly still a step ahead.

     

    Once you sync your driving style with the manner in which the quattro system puts power down to the road and up your confidence levels, the RS5 is just massive, massive fun. Unlike the RS7, the RS5 rotates beautifully on turn in, and then what amps it up even more is that it displays the agility of something half its size. It even allows you to put power down early and rocket out of corners. It still won't do slides, but the more rear-biased differential does allow you to point it into corners more aggressively, and that makes all the difference.

    The RS5’s suspension also rounds off a majority of bumps pretty okay and it isn't too noisy. Audi has, however, deleted adjustable dampers from the features list, so the ride is stiff even in Comfort; on a badly surfaced road, you even get plenty of short and sharp up-down movements. Those driving regularly in traffic will also have to ignore a sometimes snatchy and hesitant gearbox that, despite having a relatively smooth torque convertor, feels highly strung and on edge.

    Audi RS5: should you buy one?

     

    If you are someone who likes to drive, loves performance and wants a car that can seat four in relative comfort and carry a good amount of luggage, the RS5 is a strong candidate for your money. For one, it's extremely attractive. A lithe athlete dressed in a designer suit, its low-slung lines and fastback rear grab your attention. The engine’s performance is very strong in the top end, the four-wheel-drive system offers massive grip, and handling is so friendly that it goads you into driving harder and faster. Yes, the ride is stiff, the engine doesn't quite have the bottom end urge of rivals, and it isn't as well equipped as it should be at its Rs 1.04 crore. Still, if you want one car to do it all, the practical and fun Audi RS5 could just be the one for you.

    Also see:

    New Audi RS 5 Sportback launched in India

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