by Gerhard Horn
Not many people know this, but the previous-generation Audi RS5 had a V8 that was essentially Audi's 5.2-liter V10 with two cylinders lobbed off. It made an ominous noise, and while it was no match for the M3 dynamically, there was something special about it. We were surprised when Audi unveiled the new RS5 back in 2019, revealing that a V6 engine would power it. Surely there had to be some mistake? Even worse was the lack of a standard sedan or wagon body, since Audi only introduced the coupe and Sportback models. Was it a smart move in a world where the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, BMW M3, and Mercedes-AMG C63 exist? Well, as it turns out, six is the new eight. In the case of the RS5 Sportback, it's a 2.9-liter V6 sourced from Porsche, replete with two turbos, an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and Audi's signature quattro all-wheel drive. 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque motivate the Sportback, with 0-60 mph coming up in 3.8 seconds. But Audi's gone soft, and while rivals may be all-out sports cars, the RS5 Sportback is now more of an uber-GT.
Just two years after its launch, Audi is giving the RS5 a bit of a facelift. It sports a new Singleframe grille, larger pentagon-shaped air inlets, and the wheel arches have been widened slightly. This is meant to give it a more imposing stance. The new ventilation slits above the grille are a homage to the 1984 Audi Sport quattro.
On the inside, the Sportback now features heated rear seats as standard. There's also an all-new 10.1-inch touchscreen interface, offering wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration via a USB port. The RS model comes with a model-specific display providing valuable performance-related information, like tire pressure and temperature, oil temperature, boost pressure, and lap times.
If you want something that will stand out even more than the standard RS5, you can buy one of two new launch edition models. They are called the Ascari launch edition and the Black optic launch edition. Both models feature unique exterior and interior design elements. Only 100 Ascari Sportback editions will be made, while 325 Black optic units will be offered.
See trim levels and configurations:
|2.9 TFSI quattro||
2.9L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
The Sportback body is a bit of an oddity. Its main rivals are either offered as a sedan or a more traditional two-door coupe, while the Sportback sits somewhere in between. It's not as handsome as the RS5 Coupe, but Audi has managed to work an extra set of doors into the mix without ruining the design. In certain colors, the Audi looks relatively sedate and could easily pass as another humdrum sedan. Luckily, Audi also offers a few vivid colors that emphasize the lines a little bit better. 19-inch alloy wheels and LED Matrix-design headlights with Audi laser light are equipped as standard. The Ascari launch edition has 20-inch wheels and blue brake calipers, while the Black optic launch edition enjoys a high-gloss black finish for its 20-inch wheels and other high-gloss black exterior elements.
The Audi RS5 Sportback has a total length of 188.3 inches and a wheelbase of 111.3 inches. Other key dimensions include a height of 55.1 inches and a width of 79.9 inches with the mirrors included. Compared to the coupe, it's about one inch taller to be more accommodating to rear-seat passengers. The addition of two doors increases the curb weight to 4,057 pounds, which is only slightly more than the coupe's 3,990 lbs. Partially because of this, the 0-60 mph increases by a split-second. Even so, the RS5 Sportback can still sprint to 60 in 3.8 seconds.
The 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged TFSI V6 powertrain was developed in-house with the help of Porsche. The latter company knows a thing or two about performance, and it needed a V6 powerplant for the entry-level Panamera. Some might miss the rev-happy, boisterous nature of the 4.2-liter V8, but in our Audi RS5 review, we found that the V6 more than makes up for it by offering loads of torque from low down. The engine's output is rated at 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, with the latter being available from just 1,900 rm. The result is a 0 to 60 mph sprint time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph for the base model, no doubt helped along by Audi's famous quattro all-wheel-drive system. The Ascari launch edition will go on to a top speed of 174 mph. The RS5 Sportback uses an eight-speed ZF automatic, which does a magnificent job. It's no wonder it's become the go-to gearbox for most manufacturers.
The Sportback doesn't weigh that much more than the coupe, so the handling characteristics are similar. The electrically-assisted steering is accurate but provides little feedback. Audis are known for understeering when you push them too hard, but you can easily bypass this by using the slow in, bomb out method. Approach a corner at a reasonable pace, and as soon as it's straightened out, you can lean on the gas. The quattro system will sort it all out for you. The ride is simply too stiff in Dynamic mode, with the RS5 performing at its best in Comfort mode. It's not as engaging nor as fun as its rear-wheel-drive competitors, but it is a much easier car to drive quickly. If you're a novice driver, the RWD cars will eventually bite you when you start taking liberties. The quattro system will work with you rather than against you.
The 2021 Audi RS5 Sportback has EPA estimates of 18/25/21 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. Compared to its six-cylinder competitors, it's on par. The Alfa Romeo Giulia has EPA estimates of 17/25/20 mpg, while the new BMW M3 returns a poorer 16/23/19 mpg. The Audi has a 15.3-gallon tank, giving it a range of just over 321 miles in mixed driving conditions.
Audi is renowned for building some of the best interiors this side of Bentley, Rolls-Royce, and Mercedes-Maybach. It has always been a source of great pride, and in our Audi RS5 Sportback review, we found its interior to be yet another one that the German marque can be proud of. All the touchpoints have a substantial feel, especially those you interact with most. The flat-bottom steering wheel looks magnificent and feels even better. The front seats offer a nice balance between comfort and enough bolstering to keep you in place when driving enthusiastically; these seats are power-adjustable and heated. New for 2021 is standard seat heating for rear-seat passengers as well.
The Sportback is more practical than a standard A4 sedan. Oddly, Audi won't offer the RS4 wagon in the US, even though the all-new RS6 Wagon has just gone on sale. Still, the Sportback's 21.8 cubic feet trunk is more than large enough for most occasions. With the rear seats folded flat, the cargo space increases to 35 cubic feet. Cabin storage consists of the standard cupholders and bottle holders in the doors, but the center console storage is smaller than you get in some of the competition.
As one of the halo models in the lineup, and because there is just one trim and not multiple configurations, the RS5 is equipped with many standard features. You get that beautiful leather-wrapped, flat-bottom steering wheel, 12-way power-adjustable sport bucket seats, wireless phone charging, dual-zone climate control, and carbon fiber accents. On the convenience side, you get a power liftgate and heated front seats. The previously optional heated rear seats are now also offered as standard. Of course, a range of safety items like a rearview camera, lane departure warning, and a full suite of airbags also form part of the package.
If there was one drawback, it was the 8.3-inch MMI system used previously. It did not have touchscreen functionality, and you had to operate everything from a dial. This old system has been dumped in favor of an all-new 10.1-inch touchscreen housing the MIB 3 infotainment system. It's compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay, but you still need a USB cable for Android Auto. You also get a 12.3-inch digital instrument display that the driver can customize to his taste. The available displays include navigation and audio and RS-specific details such as horsepower, torque, oil temperature, and tire information. A ten-speaker sound system is standard, but a premium Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system is available as an optional extra.
The Audi RS5 Sportback does not have a J.D. Power rating, nor does the A5 it's based on. According to the NHTSA, the 2019 RS5 Sportback was affected by two recalls. The first was for a passenger airbag that may have switched off by itself, while the second was for an incorrect cover on the 12-volt power supply, potentially disrupting the power supply and causing the doors from being unable to be opened from the outside in the event of a crash. The RS5 remained recall-free for 2020, and only one recall has been issued for 2021 so far. It concerns missing scuff protection on the rear wiring harness. Generally, though, the RS5's reliability doesn't appear to be a serious drawback. The RS5 is sold with a 12-year/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty, a four-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a standard four-year/50,000-mile warranty.
The NHTSA hasn't completed a full crashworthiness test for the RS5 Sportback, but it did attain a five-star rollover score. The Audi A5 Sportback on which the RS5 Sportback is based has an overall safety rating of five stars, although it attained just four stars for the frontal crash specifically. The IIHS gave the standard 2021 A5 Sportback a Top Safety Pick award, and it received a "good" rating across the board for crashworthiness. The only anomalies were "acceptable" and "marginal" ratings for the headlights on some of the lesser trim levels, so it does not apply to this RS5.
As standard the RS5 is equipped with six airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and a head-up display. Rear passenger side airbags can also be equipped for a fee of $350.
It may be a weird choice, but the Audi RS5 Sportback offers the best of both worlds. It has sleek coupe-like lines and mind-warping performance, but you get more than double the cargo space of the RS5 Coupe, which only has 10.9 cubes available. The interior is lovely to behold and interact with. Alcantara, carbon fiber, and real leather are just some of the interior finishes you'll find in there. It feels more expensive than it is, which is not something many manufacturers can claim.
The performance is blistering. The RS5 can accelerate to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, which is proper sports car territory. The 444-hp twin-turbo V6 is an epic engine, and it has almost as much character as the V8 that came before it. It has a different set of skills, and it does things a little bit differently, but the result is still a massive grin on the driver's face. It's not as engaging as an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio or Mercedes-AMG C63, but it's easier to use all the available power. You need to be a next-level driver to get the most out of its rivals, while Audi's quattro system will hold your hand and let you know well in advance when you're pushing too hard.
The 2021 Audi RS5 Sportback has an MSRP of $75,400 in the USA. The Audi RS5 base price excludes the $1,045 destination charge, taxes, title, and dealer charges. The RS5 Sportback doesn't have any direct rivals, but we can compare it to some sedan offerings. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio has a price of $74,500, while the pricing for the all-new 2021 BMW M3 sedan starts at a base price of $69,900. Of course, the Audi RS5 will cost even more after adding a couple of options. We recommend a test drive of each before making a final decision.
There is only one model to choose from and it will cost $75,400. We can give you some buying advice when it comes to optional extras, however. We'd add one of the dazzling metallic options for $595 but keep the standard wheels. The ride is already firm, and there's no need to make it any firmer. The only other thing we'd add is the $3,000 RS Driver Assistance Package, as it adds adaptive cruise control, lane assist, a head-up display, park assist, surround-view camera, and traffic sign recognition. This package won't change the performance of the Audi, but depending on how much you value modern driver aids, it could be worth it.
The Alfa is a more traditional performance sedan and not a hatch disguised as a coupe. They do have similar powertrains, however. The Alfa also has a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6, and its performance specs include an output of 505 hp, all of which goes to the rear wheels only. Like the Audi, the Alfa takes 3.8 seconds to reach 60 mph, but by comparison, the Italian feels more exciting doing it.
The Audi RS5 Sportback is one of those cars that want to be all things to all men. It offers a comfortable interior, a generous helping of standard luxury features, and supercar-like pace. The Alfa isn't like that. It feels like an actual supercar that just happens to have four doors.
There's nothing else that drives quite like the Alfa. Its unapologetic focus on providing the ultimate four-door driving experience is the reason why you'll love it or loathe it.
The Audi RS5 sedan is built for people who like their speed with a decent helping of added luxury. The Alfa demands your undivided attention at all times. As gearheads, this is an easy choice. But we wouldn't blame you for choosing the Audi as it will likely be an easier car to live with more of the time.
The C63 Coupe could be considered a better match against the Sportback than the C63 Sedan, as it also offers svelte lines and a handsome exterior. It's worth noting that the Audi is more practical, as it still has four doors, decent rear-seat space, and a big trunk. The Audi is more comfortable to drive enthusiastically, thanks to its quattro all-wheel-drive system. This is worth keeping in mind if you live in a state where it regularly snows or rains. The Merc's primary weapon against the Audi is its 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine. It packs a 469 hp and 479 lb-ft punch in the guts. Go for the C63 S, and you get 503 hp and 516 lb-ft. It's an epic engine, but it's tough to unleash so many horses daily. The traction control will simply step in and say "nein." And you can't switch it off because the car will want to go sideways all the time. But, and it's a big but, the 4.0 V8 makes a lovely noise. It's intoxicating, and it's doubtful we'll see the likes of it in AMG products again.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Audi RS5 Sportback: