Road test: Audi RS 5 Sportback

By Ged Bulmer, June 14 2019
Road test: Audi RS 5 Sportback

What we’re driving: Audi RS 5 Sportback 

What it costs: $157,700 (plus on-road costs); as tested, $167,050 (plus costs)

Why we’re driving it: The RS designation has a special symbolism with fans of German luxury marque Audi. The initials stand for RennSport, which translates literally as “racing sport” and, since first affixed to the rump of the iconic RS 2 in 1994, these initials have designated cars with a level of performance, focus and driving exhilaration that sets them apart.

When the opportunity presented to sample Audi’s latest uber sports model, the recently arrived RS 5 Sportback, we seized the chance – and its chunky leather-trimmed wheel – with glee.

What it costs: To the best of our knowledge, no Audi press car has ever rolled out of the brand’s landmark Sydney HQ without lashing of optional extras fitted, and our Daytona Grey RS 5 Sportback proved no different.

Not that the standard car wants for anything, loaded as it is with the latest safety, performance and convenience features, from stylish 20-inch alloy wheels to a glamorous panoramic sunroof and a banging Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system.

There’s more – much more – of course, all contained in a mind-boggling list of acronyms that run out of the dealership and around the block. But equipped as it was with the expected frosting of extras, our Sportback tipped the scales at chump change below $170k (plus on-road costs); right in the ballpark of rivals such as the BMW M4 Competition and Mercedes-AMG E 53.

On the outside

While it’s easy enough to find prestige rivals of similar price and performance, you’ll look long and hard to find anything resembling the RS 5 Sportback’s body style.

Call it a clever cross between a coupe and a wagon and you’d be just about right, since the Sportback cleverly blends many of the stylistic attributes of the former, with much of the load-lugging practicality of the latter.

Like its RS 5 Coupe stablemate, the Sportback is blessed with a well-proportioned body and crisply chiseled lines; but where the Sportback deviates markedly is the addition of two rear doors and a hatch, which adds a degree of practicality the Coupe can’t match.

In side profile, the sweeping roofline and handsome 21-inch alloys dominate the view. Linger a moment, though, and you notice sophisticated design details such as the taut shoulder line that runs from just aft of the headlights, all the way to the truncated tail.

Up front, the powerful curvature of the bonnet is rippled with a quartet of accents, cut like the sharp lines of a well-tailored suit and converging on the distinctive black honeycomb grille.

Under the bonnet

Despite looking every bit the V8 bovver boy, the RS 5 Sportback follows the trend to smaller-capacity turbocharged engines. In this case, a bi-turbo V6 punches out a V8-matching 331kW and 600Nm.

The drivetrain mirrors what you’ll find in the RS 5 Coupe and the RS 4 Avant (wagon) and, while traditionalists may bemoan the loss of cylinders, five raucous minutes at the wheel is enough to convince anyone what a deliciously potent combination this is.

The engine is mated to an excellent eight-speed Tiptronic-style automatic and puts its power down via Quattro all-wheel drive and a limited-slip rear diff. This combo fires the RS 5 from 0 to 100km/h in a neck-straining 3.9 seconds. That’s two-tenths quicker than the smaller RS 4 Avant, three-tenths quicker than the similarly powered BMW M4 Competition, and four-tenths quicker than Mercedes-AMG’s turbo-hybrid inline six-cylinder E 53. ‘Nuff said.

On the inside

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep on saying it until someone else ups the ante: Audi sets the standard for interior design and finishes in this segment of the prestige market. 

The RS 5 is no exception and features tasteful combinations of fine Nappa leather, carbon-fibre, polished alloy and dark grey macro-suede.

Its gorgeous flat-bottom steering wheel is trimmed in high-quality perforated leather and feels just right in the hands, with fingertip access to the paddle shifts nestled behind.

Quilted, honeycomb patterns stitched into form-fitting RS-embossed sports seats connect interior and exterior design, while the crisp digital dash is as hi-tech as anything this side of a Tesla, but thankfully not quite as minimalist.

On the road

Switching the Audi drive select system from Comfort to Sport mode has a tangible impact on not just throttle response and shift speed, but also on ride quality, thanks to adaptive dampers.

In the softer setting, the suspension offers impressive compliance as the RS wafts along like a big, docile luxury coupe. But switch to Sport and things sharpen in an instant. The RS 5 gets up on its toes and is ready to do what the badge on its grille and rump suggests.

Drop the hammer and there’s instant urgency and a lovely metallic timbre from the sports exhaust as the V6 races across its rev band to headbutt the limiter at 6700rpm, followed by a brief cacophony of pops and crackles on the over-run.

The steering isn’t as meaty as pure sports coupes such as a BMW M3, but there’s enough heft and feel to telegraph what’s going on at ground level when leaning hard on it.

In summary

Audi’s impressive new RS 5 Sportback melds sophistication and style with rippling athleticism. It’s a hedonistic, high-performance machine that bristles with restrained muscularity, yet can be so demure and accommodating it could be driven by accountants. Devilishly quick and absurdly practical, if it’s not already tax deductible it darn well should be. 

Ged Bulmer

Executive Traveller motoring correspondent Ged Bulmer is one of Australia's most respected motoring experts and a former editor of Wheels, Motor, WhichCar and CarsGuide

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