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2018 Audi RS5 offers all-weather thrill ride

Our 2018 Audi RS5 tester was powered by its 444-horsepower, 2.9-litre, V6, twin-turbo engine.
Our 2018 Audi RS5 tester was powered by its 444-horsepower, 2.9-litre, V6, twin-turbo engine. - Justin Pritchard

Racy RS5 is built to thrill, but has a comfy side, too

Mostly, the Audi RS5 is a high-performing luxury powerhouse for big-dollar ballers. But it turns out that, despite being comprehensively engineered to thrill, it’s also got a comfy and sensible side.

Twin-turbocharged and capable of 0-100 km/h in under four seconds, the just-launched second-generation RS5 is packed with a range of performance enhancing systems and features, including a paddle-shift transmission that shifts at lightning speed and a two-mode exhaust system that can be loud or quiet.

But it’s also an apt long-haul highway cruiser for the sort of drives where power, torque, thrust and performance are far from mind.

It’s all up to the currently-selected drive mode, engaged via RS5’s little “drive select” switch. drivers toggle between a self-regulating auto mode, a customized individual mode, and both comfort and dynamic mode presets. Each triggers a slew of changes and optimizations from vehicle systems, affecting the feel of the steering, ride comfort, throttle response, transmission shifting characteristics, and more.

With just a few clicks, the RS5 can switch from as mild to wild as you like.

And wild it is. A 2.9-litre V6 engine uses twin turbochargers for 444 horsepower and nearly as much torque. With minimal turbocharger lag, this little V6 simply performs like a great big V8, providing mountains of on-demand torque and a pleasing sense of constantly-rising action at full throttle. Careful though, it’s ‘go directly to jail’ fast if you don’t practice a great deal of self control.

Full throttle acceleration in dynamic mode is potent and unrelenting. Here, a smoothly-exotic howl soaks the cabin, gears shift so quickly that there’s no detectable interruption in acceleration and the RS5 consumes the road ahead at a nearly horrifying rate.

Every change in the throttle effects a massive change to the melodious exhaust tune. Every little steering input translates into a big change in direction.

Every slight prod on the throttle seems to kick the RS5 further ahead. Gears change in scarcely more time than it takes to click the paddles, with perfect computer-controlled rev-matching instantly and perfectly, every time.

Driven as intended, the RS5 impresses the most by responding with almost exaggerated immediacy to your smallest inputs.

Further, it rides like a weekend track-car on an aggressive coilover setup, the body undulating tightly over the wheels. Grip is massive, and as quickly as you’d push it on a public road, it’s right there with you.

For long days at the wheel, thoughts of power and noise tend to fade into the background, which is why RS5’s comfort mode is such a joy to use. Click it, and in milliseconds, the car relaxes, unwinds, loosens up, and quiets down.

The powertrain is nearly invisible — little the engine or transmission does can be felt or heard. Flaps in the mufflers close, dramatically quieting the whole thing. The steering gets light and lazy and easier to drive smoothly. The shocks release, going from their concrete feel in dynamic mode to something more on par with a comfy luxury sport sedan.

Add the nicely-muted road and wind noise, and decent cruising mileage, and here’s a rocket-propelled plaything suited nicely to a long day of driving. Despite packing 444 horsepower, you’re clear for the majority of a day’s touring around, without having to stop for fuel.

It’s taken in from a cabin that’s equal parts luxury and high tech — about half futuristic spaceship cockpit, half nearly flagship-level luxury. There are details, sculpting and plenty of craftsmanship on display, alongside gorgeous quilted seats and two fantastic display screens comprising the entire all-digital instrument cluster and central command interface on the dash.

Also included with my loaded tester were massage seats, ideal if you’ve ever wanted to lose some demerit points while getting a level-3 stretch massage. In terms of feature content and trimmings, the RS5’s cabin works in full support of its big price tag.

If needed, rear seats are relatively easy to access, though occupants at or beyond five-foot-eleven will run quickly out of headroom.

Two gripes are notable.

First, presumably in exchange for its handling capabilities, the RS5’s ride quality diminishes rapidly on rougher roads. It’s a comfortable cruiser on a smooth highway, though test-drivers are advised to confirm rough-road ride quality against their preferences before they buy.

Second, the optional carbon ceramic brakes can, at times, be difficult to work smoothly in traffic thanks to a somewhat inconsistent pedal feel. This special type of brakes (and a $6,000 option in this car) are meant for severe track use and tend to feel the most precise and smooth when they’re very hot from hard use. You don’t really need ceramic brakes for street driving and most shoppers are best to save the $6,000 for use elsewhere.

Ultimately, RS5 packs gorgeous looks, authentic moves, great sounds and a playful, instant and confidence-inspiring drive when pushed but, also, it proves to be a luxurious touring coupe that’s just about as comfortable as you want it to be.

This one’s worth a serious look if you’re lucky enough to be shopping in this segment.

The specs

  • Model: 2018 Audi RS5
  • Engine: 2.9-litre V6, twin-turbo, 444 horsepower
  • Drivetrain: Quattro AWD
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shift
  • Features: Adaptive suspension, automatic climate control, Bang and Olufsen stereo, adaptive headlights, massage seats, sunroof, push-button start, ceramic brakes
  • What’s hot: has an effective quiet side, absolutely thrilling, all-weather ready, killer looks, exclusivity, incredible stereo system
  • What’s not: inconsistent pedal feel from ceramic brakes, harsh ride on rougher roads
  • Starting price: $82,500

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