Driven: The 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback adds extra heat to a spicy ride
Alex is a New York based automotive writer and content producer. He drives a '08 Mustang GT/CS when not driving everything else.
A while ago, a friend of mine and I were grabbing our routine post-bar-hop burrito, and in our hubris, slathered our meals in a Scoville-chart-topping hot sauce. Pretty soon, we were stumbling out into the streets openly weeping and gasping for non-burning air in abject misery, but we survived.
The following week my friend texted me saying he sought out the sauce with a mission to put it on everything because he “had to beat it” somehow. This was perplexing to me because I couldn’t fathom putting myself through that pain again, and I was unsure of what exactly needed to be proven. Furthermore, while I’m not above adding some extra spice to things, it didn’t exactly improve my burrito.
This experience ran through my head throughout my time with the Audi RS 5 Sportback. Did smothering the sports sedan in extra everything enhance things? Or does it simply detract from all the things the car does well?
"A little dab'll do ya"
Whether in its four-door sportback or two-door coupe guise, the Audi A5 is a well put-together car, but it's decidedly mild. All the ingredients are there, but 248 horsepower from a turbo four-pot doesn’t have much bite, and its exterior looks favor a muted seriousness rather than flair. It’s completely fine to want a fundamentally good car that suits your needs, but those looking for a little kick would be perfectly satisfied with the S5’s turbo V6 and extra 100 hp (RIP the manual V8 version).
The RS 5 is essentially the S5 smothered in chili oil. A twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V8 offers up 444 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, sending it to all four wheels by way of an eight-speed tiptronic gearbox. It sits lower, has a tighter suspension tune, and looks a heck of a lot meaner than the A5 or S5.
On the inside, the sportback is form-fitting. The cabin isn’t especially tight but it’s not what one would call roomy. That tailored fit is most experienced up in the front, particularly in the driver’s seat. Audi’s current interiors do well to balance analog controls with the MMI digital interface, an experience further enhanced by the virtual cockpit in lieu of a traditional gauge cluster. All told, it feels sharp and streamlined, taking care to not tip the scales to either gauche or spartan.
Driving the RS 5 is as effortless as you’d expect from a car in this segment. When it comes to pulling daily duty, it’s a suave runabout that will upstage the driver every time, no matter how much confidence the car’s “contact cool” imbues you with.
Out where there’s room to stretch your legs, the RS 5’s performance mirrors its looks: sharp, professionally executed precision, but there’s something extra underneath the skin that’s waiting to be unleashed. Every backroad thrash I had in the car didn’t leave anything to be desired, in fact, it was hard to offer the RS 5 any particular challenge. Highway bursts and overtakes teased that there was so much under the hood left untapped that my heart ached – which brings me back to my dilemma.
I recognize that we’re talking about 440-odd horsepower and a bit of body kit, not a turbo-tastic street rocket with more wings than a superbowl party. What I struggle to reconcile is if all these extra tweaks really enhance the experience of a car like this. Sure, there are loads of vehicles on the road that have capabilities beyond what the street allows, but there’s something to be gained from experiencing that level of lunacy, even if you’re not using it to its full potential.
The other side of this is having something kick-ass to take to the track, if only once in a while to let it loose. I’d wholeheartedly take the RS 5 up to my local course, but I suspect I’d be alone in that endeavor.
Scaling down to the S5, to me, makes sense as it’s right-sized for a car of its segment: plenty of usable power, looks that keep it grounded but stylish, and enough handling to have fun with on a frequent basis.
… At least that was what my head was saying. My heart had other feelings on the matter. Spending time with the RS 5 challenged my logic more than any car I’ve driven. I’d carefully considered how much more sense the S5 made over the RS 5 and yet having tasted what the spicier Audi had to offer, I’d choose it over the S5 every time.
You can’t argue with your heart, and while some people are better than others at ignoring it, I guess I’m not one such. Maybe this is the customer for the RS 5 – the ones who recognize what makes practical sense but needs a big spoonful of impractical thrown into the mix. Just having all that extra everything is the point, regardless if you’re going to use it or not. It’s always there, burbling under the hood, daring you to take a bite that others wouldn’t be able to handle. But you can. And all that extra body work? That’s the warning label. I’d go back for seconds, if I could.
I’m never trying that damn sauce again, though.
Fancy an RS5 but can't stretch to a real one?
How about this instead: an Audi RS5 radio controlled car in DTM livery – a perfect Christmas gift!