If you thought the previous Audi RS5 needed more of a bad-boy profile (I was one of those) look no further than the 2021 facelift.
The design team might have shaped a winner here, notwithstanding the high-performance credentials backing it up, despite the mostly carryover mechanicals.
It’s without question the ultimate all-weather daily, capable of serving as an all-wheel drive supercar and a five-door coupe with room for your MTB and surfboard thanks to its liftback body.
It’s also important to make the distinction between the RS5 Sportback we drove and its less practical two-door sibling, which we didn’t get a steer of due to the logistics on our COVID-sensitive launch. However, I had the real pleasure going full tilt in the pre-facelift model a couple of years ago and understand the attraction.
There’s no denying it’s a beautiful thing (as most authentic coupes tend to be) but active lifestyles demand a level of built-in practicality the two-door just can’t offer.
The RS5 Sportback is a perfect example of how to offer versatility when it comes to space packaging and hard-core street credibility. In this case the car’s low-slung stance with a wide track and a mean soundtrack show you mean business.
Even at standstill the RS5 Sportback is more intimidating than before, with a lower, wider grille framed in the body colour, along with a deeper, more aggressive rear diffuser which visually drops its ride height. It definitely feels as low as my 911 when sliding into the driver’s seat.
Inside, it gives off the same performance-focused ambience as the exterior with the same cutting-edge technology and impeccable materials that have been an Audi trademark for so long.
To be honest, the Sportback has my vote over the RS5 coupe, notwithstanding the allure of a ‘proper’ two-door sports coupe. Granted, it’s not quite as pretty, but it’s more purposeful with a bigger dollop of attitude.
It’s about the imposing matrix LED headlights with laser lights and new-look taillights that project a more pronounced light signature while adding a more technical look to the entire package. The blacked-out front fascia and RS5 script also look the business. I’m a fan.
Where coupes once commanded sizeable premiums over their less flashy four-door stablemates, the good news with these new cars from Audi is both the RS5 Sportback tested here and RS5 Coupe are priced from $150,900 before on-road costs.
And for those interested in the cargo-carrying convenience of a wagon, you can also look at the third car in this string of mid-life refreshes: the RS4 Avant from $147,900 before on-roads.
The 2.9-litre V6 powertrains remain the same but there’s more equipment and cheaper prices all round, with the RS5 siblings slashing $6800 off their previous asking price. The new RS4 will cost you $4629 less than its predecessor.
However, the go-fast Audi five-door is not without its rivals – even if they follow a more conventional design with a boot. BMW is in an interim period at the moment while waiting on new M models to drop, but you could very easily cross-shop the current M550i xDrive priced from $152,900 before on-roads.
If you’re after a Mercedes-Benz badge it comes down to the CLS450 at $161,535 before on-road costs or the E43 AMG from $159,611 before on-roads. Neither are liftback designs, nor fully-fledged AMG models though.
Audi has clearly lifted its standard equipment levels in the latest RS models and the RS5 Sportback is no exception. Inside, the biggest change is the infotainment system, as well as the RS1 and RS2 drive buttons on what is a well-crafted, flat-bottom Alcantara steering wheel.
Sorry, for my obsession here, but this is simply the best in the business for its perfectly contoured thickness and feel in the hands.
The paddle shifters are now aluminium instead of plastic and the infotainment system now runs through a 10.1-inch touchscreen, though gone is the rotary controller that becomes redundant with the new setup.
Apart from those new inclusions there’s a stack of standard kit like 20-inch alloy wheels, a black exterior styling package, and matrix LED headlights with front and rear dynamic indicators and animation sequences on start-up and shut down.
Exterior mirrors are heated, folding, and dimming and with auto-dipping kerb-side function. There’s keyless entry and start with gesture control for the tailgate opening, too.
There’s a panoramic sunroof, a sports exhaust with black oval pipes, nappa leather upholstery and honeycomb stitching, illuminated front door sill trims, sports alloy pedals, and powered front seats with seat heating, lumbar support, massage function, and driver memory.
You also get tri-zone climate control, a frameless auto-dimming rear-vision mirror, ambient lighting, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite navigation, wireless charging, 12.3-inch virtual cockpit, and park assist. Audio is by Bang & Olufsen with 19 speakers and 755 Watts for what is a glorious sound at any level.
If that’s not enough, out tester was also equipped with a few options including gloss black 20-inch wheels ($400), Audi rings and badges in black ($700), and inlays in carbon twill (should almost be standard in an RS).
Additionally, our car was fitted with the RS Design package in red which added the Alcantara steering wheel and gear selector with stitching in red, door armrests also in Fine Nappa leather, and RS-specific seat belts and floor mats.
Besides that, buyers can also option the carbon and black package which adds a few nice strips of lacquered carbon-fibre in key spots like the front spoiler blade, rear diffuser insert, mirror cups, and side sill extensions for the cool sum of $11,200.
As a no-cost option you can have the matte aluminium package that swaps out most of the carbon bits for matte aluminium.
The RS5 Sportback is available in seven colours, all of which are no-cost options except Nardo Grey.
Audi doesn’t crash test its RS models specifically because in most cases they share the same platform as the regular models. In this case that’s the A5, last tested in 2015 and awarded a full five-star safety rating with solid scores in all-four categories.
It was awarded 89 per cent for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent in child occupant protection, 75 per cent in vulnerable road user protection, and 75 per cent for safety assist.
Bear in mind, the new RS5 Sportback is equipped with advanced safety systems including adaptive cruise control with stop/go, traffic jam assist, and active lane assist with corrective steering intervention.
The RS5 also gets autonomous emergency braking up to 250km/h. There’s Audi pre-sense rear (prepares if a collision is imminent), collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, exit warning system, blind-spot monitoring, and turn assist.
Additionally, there’s a 360-degree camera view, and front and rear parking sensors. There are also eight airbags on board.
For this level of expenditure the fit, finish, and materials used inside the RS5 Sportback border on peerless. The sports seats are exceptional for their blend of thickly-cushioned comfort and sporty bolstering.
That combination marries perfectly with the Alcantara steering wheel to create a truly driver-focused environment that also oozes luxury at the same time.
The same goes for the Alcantara-trimmed gear selector, polished metal accents, and deliciously lacquered carbon-fibre trim bits. It’s as visually appealing as it is nice to touch.
There’s also the tech fest you find in almost any Audi these days; namely the super-size digital instrument display dubbed Virtual Cockpit but with RS specific graphics that are mirrored on the large head-up display to help the driver keep their eyes on the road.
Measuring 4783mm in length, the RS5 Sportback is longer than a Skoda Kodiaq RS which is graced with limo-like rear legroom, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the rear-seat legroom in the Audi is only fair. However, luggage space behind the second-row seating is a strong 465 litres.
The RS5 Sportback makes more sense than the coupe if you want practicality
It’s the same 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 as found in its predecessor making 331kW of power between 5700 and 6700rpm and 600Nm of torque between 1900 to 5000rpm, going to all four wheels through an eight-speed auto transmission.
While both RS5 models and the RS4 Avant are powered by the same engine the RS5 can go from rest to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, where the RS4 needs 4.1 seconds. Top speed for all three cars is a governed 250km/h.
Drive it like your mother and you’ll come close to the 9.4L/100km consumption claim for the car. That said, pushing it we were seeing 16.3L/100km.
There’s huge firepower from this engine, but it’s the burbly idle that I like immediately. It doesn’t matter we’re driving to the 50-60km/h speed limits until we leave suburbia, hitting the RS button means you still get full noise.
Soon the speed limit ramps up to 100km/h and we can lean on throttle for a few seconds to feel the heavy-hitting mid-range punch, which feels like it will never let up. Pity we’re not on an autobahn to experience the full onslaught.
I can’t help feeling how low in the car I’m sitting – it’s a car where you immediately feel comfortable and in control. It feels more sports car than grand-tourer for me. The braking, too, is very strong with prefect pedal progression.
The steering is nicely weighted and throttle response is quick, though still with some lag if you roll off the throttle approaching a roundabout and get back on for the exit. Once the revs increase it’s a non-issue, thankfully.
It’s nicely balanced, too, because even though it’s equipped with quattro all-wheel drive the default torque split sends 60 per cent to the rear and 40 per cent to the front axle. Up to 85 per cent can be shifted to the rear if conditions are right. Indeed, we felt that moment as we leaned on it heavily through some flowing corners.
Audi’s RS Sport suspension with fixed damping is standard in the RS5 Sportback. For what it’s worth, it’s 15 per cent stiffer than the setup in the S5. Better still, our tester was equipped active damping as part of the Dynamic Ride Control option which helps reduce both roll and pitch under heavy loads when having a bit of a crack.
I’d argue adaptive damping should be part of the standard kit list at this level of Audi’s performance hierarchy, given its availability in significantly less expensive performance cars.
It’s a sophisticated bit of kit. The front and rear dampers are interconnected with oil lines – the flow of which is controlled by valves that enables the car’s pitch and roll to be managed – and they’re adjustable in three stages using the Drive Select system.
Not once did I detect any excess roll or pitch – in that way the RS5 Sportback handles more like a sports car. It changes direction sharply with a relatively neutral feel, though you can feel its 1795kg heft in the hairpins.
Away from the bends, highway cruising is truly effortless with this engine barely ticking over given the huge torque on offer. It’s a proper all-rounder this RS5 Sportback with performance, comfort, and a high level of practicality to boot.
Audi still offers a three-year factory warranty, unlike the five-year coverage offered by Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Genesis.
Servicing plans are relatively simple. The RS5 Sportback and RS4 Avant are offered with a five-year scheduled service plan for $3050.
Audi is clawing its way back to leader of the pack with cars like the RS5, especially with the Sportback tested here. It’s a better car than the coupe for many reasons, mostly for the convenience of four doors and the liftback for easy loading.
In my opinion, there’s little if anything that can touch it on price, performance, comfort, practicality and the sheer build quality.