Audi RS5 Sportback exclusive first drive, M3 and C63 AMG rival driven in India on the NATRAX
For all the buzz around the Audi e-tron electric SUVs, fact is Audi India is fully committed to the Internal Combustion Engine and performance cars from the Audi Sport range. Months after the launch of the S5 Sportback comes the full-fat Audi RS5 Sportback and the big news is the swapping out of the V8 for the twin-turbo V6 co-developed with Porsche. In step with the inexorable rush towards downsizing, the V6 displaces 2.9 litres, a significant 1.3 litres down on the V8. Equally in step with the pace of progress, the motor drops not even one horse to the old V8, putting out an identical 444bhp. Yet, thanks to two turbos, torque has gone up massively, to a whopping 600Nm. That’s diesel-like torque, and it peaks at 1900rpm and stays flat to 5000rpm. For muscle, the V6 doesn’t lack for anything.
Yet we must shed a tear at the demise of one of the world’s great nat-asp engines; one that would set your synapses on fire at 8250rpm. Or we can stick with our half-full glasses, enjoy the combustion engine till it lasts, and chant a very vocal prayer of gratitude for the world class proving ground that is the NATRAX, which we find ourselves on.
Audi RS5 Sportback at the NATRAX
The High Speed Track of the NATRAX involved moving 50 lakh cubic meters of earth to ensure the altitude difference of 20 meters from one end to the other of the 2km straight was completely levelled out to attain zero percent longitudinal slope. Factor out wind speed and direction and this ensures repeatability of testing no matter which side you launch from. We are running in the anti clockwise direction, and it is wet, though that never makes much of a difference to Audi’s in general and the RS5 in particular. Audi was doing all-wheel-drive long before BMW M and AMG jumped on the bandwagon! Punch the RS button on the steering wheel twice to engage RS 2 mode (much like BMW’s M modes these can be individually programmed, I’ve set everything up to full dynamic in RS 2), brake-torque to engage launch control, and go.
Acceleration and top speed testing of Audi RS5 Sportback at NATRAX
If there was any fear that the new Audi RS5 Sportback won’t launch as hard as in the past, well, this grips and goes even harder. Even more ferociously. The claimed 0-100kmph time is 3.9 seconds and, on the wet track, with our VBOX strapped on, we got 0-100kmph in 4.03 seconds, ESP furiously flashing away, the drivetrain evidently fighting and clawing into the surface for grip. 160kmph takes 9.24s, the 8-speed torque converter automatic thumping in shifts that are as aggressive as a twin-clutch. 200kmph takes 14.77s. you don’t even need a VBOX to know the acceleration times because the RS5 has an acceleration and lap timer, both super-accurate. The quarter mile takes 12.26s at a speed of 184.2kmph. And it keeps going, topping off not at 250kmph but 267kmph. The claimed top speed is actually higher at 278kmph but I suspect this car needs to be run in before it can be maxed out (it had done just 200km when we got it at the NATRAX, and it’s heart wrenching doing this to a high performance engine, but we don’t have the luxury to run it in before testing). And it stays absolutely flat, rock steady as I lap the HST at top speed — a testament to both the car and the track.
Audi RS5 Sportback on the NATRAX Dynamic Platform and Handling Track
The Audi RS5 Sportback has massive directional stability, its attitude and manners on the HST evident proof of that. But what about handling? To test that we have the Dynamic Platform and the Handling Track, and we first head to the latter. Now this is not a race track, at 8 meters wide it is too narrow, the run-offs aren’t sufficient enough and neither are the kerbs. But the mix of corners — hairpins, slow and medium speed corners, even two negative camber corners over the generous 3.6km length — are perfect to judge real-world handling.
First impression is the RS5 feels lighter. 31 kilos has been reduced over the front axle thanks to the lighter engine and another 29 from the rest of the body so that impression is backed up by the numbers. The RS5 gets an evolution of the VW Group’s MLB platform with a longer wheelbase and five-link suspension front and rear. The Audi RS5 gets the mechanical sport differential that together with wheel-selective torque control and the rear-biased quattro system (up to 85 per cent can be sent to the rear axle) can torque-vector the outside rear wheel to get get it to oversteer ever so slightly and straighten out the corner. Predictably the Audi RS5 Sportback generates a mountain of grip — throw it into a corner, boot the throttle and the torque control system and locking differential will sort out where to send power, even pivoting the RS5 round the bend. But, there’s a limit to how much you can play with it. Even with the stability control fully switched off the RS5 will only do a wee tail wag before ESC reports for duty to tidy things up. There’s no drift mode, no way to smoke the rear tyres. Get over ambitious and you’ll end up having to lift to tidy out the understeer.
Which, on a new (and wet!) test track that I do not know the corners to, and with minimal run off, I am quite thankful for. As a point and shoot bazooka the RS5 works incredibly well, saving you from the embarrassment of being the first to bend expensive metal at the NATRAX. On unfamiliar roads, particularly so in the wet, you will appreciate its unshakable traction and inexorable rush of performance from the V6.
The reason the handling track doesn’t have huge run-offs is because the Dynamic Platform offers acres of it. Until the HST became operational this was the most used track at NATRAX, a 1.5km absolutely flat straight leading up to a massive 300 meter skid pad, one of the largest of its kind in the world. This is not only to test cornering g-forces but also to calibrate ESP systems, and perform all kinds of dynamic tests including the J-turn, fish-hook, slalom, elk test, cow test, whatever you can think of. According to the RS monitor on the RS5, it pulls 1.1 cornering g-forces and after 5 minutes of subjecting my internal organs to this I had to stop and get out to sort out the dizziness in my head. Of grip you will hardly want for more in the RS5, that’s for sure. But with so much space to play with, and nothing to hit for miles if things do go wrong, you want to be left alone — except the RS5’s ESC always has you on a leash.
Audi RS5 Sportback on NATRAX Comfort Track
What all Audis do very well is comfort and we head out to the Comfort tracks where ride quality can be objectively and accurately measured. From rough and smooth concrete to cobble stones, washboards, bridge joints, steps and cleats, even a village road simulation with that typical patch work road surfacing — ride comfort over every kind of surface you find in India can be tested out. Over the rough asphalt that’s representative of the roads you’ll find on regular commutes, the Audi RS5 Sportback doesn’t feel overly stiff. In fact Audi positions this as a grand tourer, and it works very well in that mould, India-spec cars also getting the RS Sport suspension with dynamic ride control that delivers a rather absorbent ride over broken roads in comfort mode.
Styling of Audi RS5 Sportback
Both the S5 Sportback and Audi RS5 Sportback have the 4-door-coupe body style (no 2-door RS5 for India any more) but the RS5 is ripped and pumped. The wheel arches are blistered to evoke the original Audi Quattro, the nostrils are flared even more, there’s satin silver trim contrasting with gloss black, and a huge rear diffuser with twin oval tail pipes barks its sporty intent.
On the inside too you get more Alcantara, beautiful sports seats, Audi’s virtual cockpit and a full-fat, flat-bottomed, steering wheel with metal-finish paddle shifters. You jump in and get going right away, no familiarisation required.
Price and rivals of Audi RS5 Sportback
As of right now the Audi RS5 Sportback does not have a direct rival in India. The Mercedes-AMG C63 S and C63 Coupe both are not on sale anymore. And the new BMW M3 and BMW M4 are not yet on sale in India. As such the Audi RS5 Sportback finds itself in a nice little sweet spot with all the space to play with. The pricing of Rs 1.04 crore is damn competitive against the Rs 1.39 crore that the 469bhp four-door Mercedes-AMG C63 S was priced at. And the outgoing BMW M3 was priced at Rs 1.3 crore so it is safe to assume the new one with be at Rs 1.4 crore.
What the Audi RS5 Sportback lacks against its rivals is the ability to switch off traction control, engage drift mode and pull massive, smoky, spectacular drifts. But what it does better than its rivals is comfort and daily usability. It’s a typical Audi in that sense and one that works very well in our Indian conditions.