2023 Audi RS5 Competition First Drive Review: Sharper And Sexier

First Drive / 10 Comments

The RS5 Coupe and Sportback are sharper than ever, but is that enough?

In May of this year, Ingolstadt announced that it would be offering a Competition package for the Audi RS5. This would be available for both the Coupe and Sportback and would add some suspension changes to the car along with other improvements to the handling through weight reduction, new tires, and the recalibration of various software parameters. However, unlike when BMW applies the Competition name to a vehicle, the RS5 is not getting any extra power, so the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 continues to offer 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque. Is that a bad thing, especially when you consider that the base BMW M4 already offers 473 hp?

Audi RS customers have specifically asked for a more engaging and exciting driving experience, and the engineers present at the track launch at Ascari Race Resort in Spain told us that this package took three years to perfect. There must be a reason they opted against more horsepower, so we drove both cars to find out what it is.

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Exterior Design: Subtle Upgrades Give A Hint Of Increased Performance

The Audi RS5 is already a handsome machine, and despite the current generation being unveiled way back in 2017, small updates have kept it fresh. For the Competition package, subtlety is again the order of the day. The Carbon Matte Optics Package has been applied here, adding a front splitter, mirror caps, side blades, and rear diffuser trim in carbon fiber with a shine-free finish. The oval tailpipes of the new exhaust, which we'll get to shortly, are now matte black too. For a touch more aggression, the exterior trims and badges are now gloss black as standard, but the 20-inch wheels are the biggest change. These are some 4.4 pounds lighter than regular RS5 wheels and feature a milled-cut design. Sadly, the US will only have access to these wheels in gloss black, so you miss out on the diamond-turned finish. The brake calipers are also only offered in red, while other markets will have access to blue and black.

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Eight paint colors are on offer for the body in all markets: Ascari Blue, Daytona Gray, Glacier White, Mythos Black, Nardo Gray, Navarra Blue, Tango Red, and the Competition package-exclusive new shade that is Sebring Black. This is a metallic hue with hints of blue and looks brilliant in the sunlight, so if you don't mind maintaining paintwork, we'd say go for it. There's also some carbon in the engine bay, if you feel the need to look at what is otherwise a sea of plastic.

For those that know, these restrained, hard-to-spot design changes are evidence of increased performance, but to the average onlooker, this could be just another RS5. Whether that's good or bad depends on your definition of tasteful styling, but we like it.

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Interior Design: No Buckets, But Who Cares?

Inside, the changes are hardly obvious. Unfortunately, while Europe and other markets with access to the RS4 get to spec gorgeous buckets, we get regular sports seats. We're not complaining, though. Adjusting these were easy, and we found an ideal driving position with enough thigh support in just a few seconds. On long cruises through the Ronda area surrounding the circuit, these seats were supportive and comfortable, and on track, they never flung us from our perch.

The upholstery is noteworthy for the fact that the optional Dinamica and Pearl Nappa combination looks and feels fantastic, despite the fact that this Dinamica is made of 45% recycled PET fibers. In fact, the Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, shift lever, and center console provided almost no difference in tactility compared to the faux suede trimmings.

To make the cabin a little more special, carbon inlays are complemented by gloss black accents on the seats and other areas, while the seatbelts get red edging and the floor mats get the same treatment, plus RS logos. The cabin is a sporty yet comfortable place to spend hours, but again, those seeking some shouty drama will wish for the sexier seats.

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Technical Changes And Weight Reduction

While the aesthetics may not have changed much, what's happened under the skin is nothing minor. Those special wheels that reduce unsprung weight are wrapped in Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber that was developed specifically for the car, and new coilover suspension is added. Your car is delivered 10 millimeters lower than a regular RS5, but you can drop the car another 10 mm when you hit the track.

Together with beefier front and rear sway bars, as well as a recalibration of the front and rear differentials, the car aims to be sharper and more direct, reducing understeer. There is also less noise insulation between the cabin and the engine bay, and this not only saves weight but gives the car more character. That new RS sports exhaust, a first for the RS5, can be heard more easily. The eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission has been recalibrated too, and the optional carbon-ceramic front brakes are now standard. These stoppers save some weight, but the thicker stabilizer bars negate this saving.

Altogether, the car loses some 16 kilograms (around 35 pounds). While each of these changes made in isolation would be difficult to discern, the sum of all these parts is a great car that handles better than ever, says Audi. So how does it actually drive?

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Driven: An Audi RS5, But Better

The car is unchanged in Auto (Audi's default, balanced configuration) and Comfort modes, behaving the same as a regular RS5 - and that's great. RS5 customers aren't looking for a bone-shaking GT3 rival here. But when you switch to Dynamic, the difference is clear. On start-up, the car now gives a slight overshoot of revs, with a very mild burble accompanying the ignition procedure. This burble is also evident at low-rpm downshifts, but it's not the sort of obnoxious noise that will wake your neighbors either.

We left the airport in Malaga and found that the accelerator pedal has been recalibrated to give a little more feedback - there's a sort of almost imperceptible click when you tap off the gas completely, and while this may seem silly on paper, it really helps to better judge throttle inputs. The steering ratio is also noticeably different, with a lot more weight. It's now a fixed 1:13.1 ratio in Dynamic, and you get a lot more resistance the more you turn the wheel. However, it's not perfect.

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What we suspected on the drive to the circuit became more evident on track: the steering wheel has an odd off-center feel that is maybe a fraction too light, and the weight that builds up thereafter is not linear, so you find yourself putting in more effort than expected when your arms get close to crossing. The benefit is quicker initial turn-in, but it's not intuitive.

Moreover, the RS5 uses electric power steering rather than a hydraulic setup. We know this is a dead horse that everybody continues to beat, but there is absolutely no feedback from the wheel and you have no idea what the front tires are doing. Fortunately, those Pirelli P Zero Corsas are excellent, so you won't easily find the limit on public roads and can push hard on the track, but when they do let go, you're not aware of it early enough unless your helmet and closed windows allow the tire squeal to inform you of diminishing grip. This is a small gripe that takes hamfisted driving to uncover, though - the rubber here is simply incredible.

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We intentionally tried to upset the car, but without the retuned stability control system deactivated. The result? The car will become unsettled if you drive like a tool, but the ESP system will almost certainly prevent you from hitting a wall, even if you clip the grass. Basically, you get more freedom to explore your limits and those of the car, but experienced drivers will still have more fun with everything off. The car comes alive without the electronic nannies at work, and the three years of development and honing become clearly evident with everything off.

The RS sport suspension pro system (adjustable coilovers with a higher spring rate and three-way adjustable dampers) and retuned differentials help you find some oversteer if you prod the throttle early, so the car will rotate more easily, but don't expect this to behave like a car equipped with a drift mode. It wants to go fast, not unnecessarily sideways.

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As we touched on earlier, the car has less sound deadening - saving nearly 18 pounds of weight alone - and a new exhaust system. This makes the roar of the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 more characterful and wringing the engine out to the redline is more fun. Speaking of the redline, if you're in Dynamic and have the transmission in manual mode, the car will no longer force an upshift, so you can bang into the limiter all day until the RS display tells you that things are getting too hot. Audi hasn't given you free rein, though, and you can't downshift too early. This is probably a good thing, or broken gearboxes and engines would be commonplace.

In terms of figures, you still get 444 hp, but the revised ECU, the new tires, and the updates made to the differentials and the transmission mean that 0-60 drops by 0.1 seconds on both the Coupe and Sportback, now arriving in 3.7 and 3.8 seconds, respectively. Both cars have also had their speed limiters raised from 155 mph (or an optional 174 mph) to 180 mph with the Competition package. The car is fast and, left to its own devices, the transmission hangs onto gears as you press on, so it's highly enjoyable no matter how involved you choose to be.

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Pricing And Availability

The Audi RS5's new Competition package is available for both the Coupe and the Sportback. As a package rather than a new model, this means adding $16,100 to your base pricing. For the Coupe, the base price is $75,900, while the Sportback has a base MSRP of $76,200, so you'll pay $92,000 before destination for the two-door and $92,300 for the liftback. Both prices exclude a $1,095 destination charge.

If that sounds like a lot, bear in mind that you're getting all the toys Audi has for this car. That said, we can't ignore that the BMW M4 is newer, has more power, and comes with a base price of $74,700 (excluding $995 for destination). While the RS5 is outstanding, its price simply doesn't make sense on paper. Of course, you could justify the purchase with the facts that the Sportback is more practical and either RS5's styling is far less challenging than a modern BMW's.

Orders are now open, with deliveries to take place before 2022 comes to a close.

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Verdict: For The Discerning Enthusiast

Audi could easily have given this car M3-rivaling power, some new wheels, and a bit of a diet, but it listened to what its customers really wanted, and that was a more engaging drive and a more characterful experience in Dynamic mode. Sure, a little more power wouldn't go amiss - the Coupe still weighs roughly 3,955 lbs and the Sportback is a porky 4,022 lbs, which you can certainly feel - but more power often means less control. The minute changes applied here have added up to a car that can still soak up bumps with aplomb, providing a relaxing drive on your daily commute, and change its character when you feel the need for speed. Dynamic mode makes the car feel like an upgraded version of the same great car, not an altogether new and hardcore track monster that gives you back pain and requires a racing driver's reflexes to enjoy. It's sharp and fun, not nervous and scary.

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It's still more than 100 lbs heavier than the base M4 and has less power, but this isn't for people seeking bragging rights. It's for those who want something safe and secure that is engaging and capable, a car that you can explore without needing the skills to drift. It remains luxurious, well-built, and good-looking. It's comfortable and capable and doesn't shout about its RS lineage. Basically, this is a sports car for the middle-aged person who can afford to throw more than $90k at a car that will get them to work and back in a safe and relaxing cocoon but transforms into a playful and sharp sports car when needed. We could also argue that too much power would have made the car more exhilarating but less fun for the average buyer. Simply put, this is a great - if slightly overpriced - package that is sure to provide RS customers with exactly what they asked for, and in an age of horsepower wars, Audi has chosen to make its RS5 more enjoyable and more deployable. For that, it deserves respect. Good job, Ingolstadt.

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