Call the 2013 Audi RS 5 the end of forbidden fruit. For years Audi soldiered on without a true competitor to the BMW M3, a circumstance that left the Audi faithful with gnashed teeth and wrung hands.
That changed in 2010 with the introduction of the RS 5. It appeared to have the power, handling and looks to go fender-to-fender with anything in the class, but we never knew for sure. For unexplained reasons, the RS 5 never made it to the land of baseball, apple pie and excruciating political rhetoric.
For the 2013 model year, however, the Audi RS 5 is finally available in the U.S. It's getting near the end of its current lifecycle, however, so we can't help but wonder if this RS 5 is the real deal, or too little too late?
Quattro GmbH Built My Hot Rod
More than just a stonking V8 plunked into the engine bay of an A5, the RS 5 is comprehensively massaged by Audi's in-house performance arm, Quattro GmbH. Only the roof and doors remain unaltered from the donor A5. The RS 5 is tipped off by wider fenders, a pop-up rear wing, lower ride height, a front fascia festooned with gaping maws below the headlights and rear punctuated by big oval exhaust tips. Yet despite these changes, the visual effect is subtle. It's likely many will mistake the 2013 Audi RS 5 for its lesser brethren.
No such mistakes will be made when it comes to the RS 5's engine. Quattro GmbH boss Stephan Reil explains that that RS 5's normally aspirated 4.2-liter direct-injected V8 is essentially Audi's V10 with two cylinders sliced off and shares little with the other normally aspirated 4.2-liter direct-injected V8 found in the S5. It's a puzzling circumstance, but since the result in the RS 5 is 450 horsepower at a lofty 8,250 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque, there's no reason to complain.
It's a beaut, this V8, to the eyes and ears. Red crinkle-finish valve covers provide a visual counterpart to the exhaust note that gloriously ripples and barks and spits. With the optional sport exhaust system that opens up a bypass in each muffler, the effect is enhanced to a degree that you find any excuse at all to let the revs soar and subside just so you can fire off a barrage of rev-matched downshifts and drink in the soundtrack. Delicious.
Power goes to all four wheels (quattro, natch) through a center differential that funnels 60 percent of the torque rearward en route to a trick torque-vectoring differential. Sorry, row-it-yourself fans, a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox is the only transmission available. All is not lost, as this is among the most effective automated manuals in the land. Shifts are quick — bordering on abrupt in dynamic mode — and low speed behavior is natural.
Getting the most out of this V8 is dead simple. Engage the launch control — turn stability control off, select "Dynamic" mode, hold the brake and mat the gas — and the revs climb to 5,000 rpm until the brake is sidestepped, catapulting the RS 5 forward.
In our testing, 0-60 fell in 4.3 seconds (4.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and the quarter-mile sailed by in 12.5 seconds at 110.8 mph. All-wheel drive gives the RS 5 exceptional traction at launch, firing it out of the hole with alacrity.
Its trap speed, however, shows the effects of its portly 4,039-pound curb weight. A C63 Coupe is quicker (12.3 seconds at 116.3 mph); an M3 is not (12.8 seconds at 111.2 mph). The CTS-V, however, is quicker than them all (12.2 seconds at 117.5 mph).
Its EPA fuel economy of 16/23 city/highway mpg (we managed 16.7 mpg in mixed driving) pips its German rivals, provided you can keep your right foot tamed. You won't.
With 58 percent of its mass slung forward of the front wheels, you'd expect the nose-heavy all-wheel-drive RS 5 to understeer like a bus when you threaten it with a corner. It does no such thing.
In fact, the RS 5's turn-in is pretty astonishing, as the front end just hangs on, seemingly unwilling to relinquish its purchase. Sure, its inherent nose-led balance emerges if you overcook a corner on the gas, but judicious trail-braking on entry keeps the nose biting and the rear rotating gently. It's equal parts dance and a little bit of hustle in the substantial RS 5, but turn it will.
Credit the RS 5's sport differential, which overdrives the outside rear tire while the inside front wheel is braked in order to pivot the car with unexpected agility. At any pace short of a track workout, the systems seamlessly bend the rules to make the driver look like a hero. Push harder and you'll feel the electronic trimming and nibbling that's keeping the car's physics — and trajectory — in check.
You also feel the RS 5's mass but it doesn't dominate the way it feels on the road. Cornering is flat despite the lack of the hydraulic roll control system found in the European RS 5s, and the standard electric steering delivers a quick ratio and respectable feel, giving the RS 5 accessible capability even on narrow canyon roads. It feels wieldy and exploitable, while outright grip is eye-opening. On our skid pad the RS 5 orbited at 0.95g and threaded the slalom cones at 69.2 mph.
Braking from 60 mph takes an impressively short 105 feet and the firm pedal provides good modulation. The standard brakes are not cut out for full-bore track assaults, however, as two laps of Sonoma Raceway produced some fade while hard braking for Turn 7 at the end of the back straight had the nose hunting left to right.
So the 2013 Audi RS 5 isn't a full-bore track car, rather it strikes a livable balance between speed and civility. The car's compulsory panoramic sunroof — there is, sadly, no sunroof-delete option — suggests that, indeed, the RS 5 is intentionally less focused than an M3.
Three discrete mappings that alter the throttle response, transmission, steering (all RS 5s have electric-assist power steering; our tester was not equipped with the optional variable ratio steering) and sport differential are selectable by the press of a button. A bit much? Perhaps.
The suspension setup uses conventional dampers and springs and thus has one mode only — firm. The ride is not GT-R brutal but definitely reminds you you're not piloting a plain Jane S5. Our test car's wide, short-sidewall 275/30 Pirelli P Zeros on optional 20-inch wheels lay down big footprints that can sometimes make the RS 5 fidgety on broken pavement.
Only for a Select Few
Pricing starts at a shade under $69 grand, which makes it pricier than either the M3 or the C63 AMG coupe before you start adding options. Our RS 5 tester totaled $77,320 with the addition of its fancy blue hue and three option packages.
A Google Earth-linked navigation system is part of a $3,550 package and provides brilliantly detailed images, though load times on startup can be very slow. Our tester was also equipped with the $2,500 Titanium package that consists of a few cosmetic changes and the 20-inch wheels and tires. Out of all the options, we liked the $1,000 sport exhaust system more than anything else. It's auditory candy.
Only 1,500 examples of the 2013 Audi RS 5 will find their way to U.S. shores over the remaining two years of the car's production run. Consider the RS 5 a path to exclusivity, as a successor is not guaranteed. Call it forbidden fruit, Round 2.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.