First Drive: 2011 Audi RS5

Tom Salt

Engineering highlights include a two-mode intake manifold with tumble blades, variable intake and exhaust timing, and a multimode exhaust system.

To trim parasitic losses, Audi reduced piston friction, lightened the DOHC valvetrain, and fitted a variable-output oil pump. A regenerative braking system increases alternator output during deceleration and reduces its output during normal driving. A seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic is the only available transmission.

The RS5 gets the latest evolution of the Quattro system that debuted on the new S4 sedan. Its salient feature is a center differential capable of directing up to 70 percent of the torque to the front axle and up to 85 percent to the rear. An optional computer-controlled rear differential adjusts torque between the rear wheels to prevent wheel spin and aid cornering.

As one would expect, the chassis wizards have come up with new springs, dampers, and antiroll bars for the RS5, as compared with those of the stock A5. The calibration of the suspension software has been firmed up quite a bit, ride height is lowered by nearly an inch, and the standard tires are 265/35YR-19, with 275/30YR-20 footwear optional. The brakes employ thicker, larger-diameter discs, and the front brakes employ eight-piston calipers and 14.4-inch-diameter vented and drilled rotors pinned to aluminum hubs.

Through Drive Select (the interface for steering, powertrain, and suspension that debuted in the Q5) the driver can personalize all essential dynamic traits. The settings known as comfort, dynamic, auto, and individual also apply to the sport differential. Other variations can be dialed in by sharpening or softening the performance of the dual-clutch transmission, by focusing or relaxing the mind-set of the V-8 engine, and by altering the tunes played by the restrained, raucous, or rowdy exhaust. As for the steering, Audi engineers have found ways to massage its action in three almost equally compromised directions. Comfort is stiff, dynamic is even stiffer, and auto varies between the two, which are both disappointingly lifeless and uninspiring. As a result, the helm feels heavy and doughy and lacks fluidity and progression. This setup is quite clearly more interested in execution than in communication.

In theory, Drive Select combines the best of all worlds. In reality, it makes falling in love with this car a trial-and-error experience that can be either enlightening and entertaining or frustrating.

Although the new Audi RS5 is lightning quick, some of its motions have a strangely synthetic touch. A competent and classy car, it delivers the goods in a rather cold and detached fashion. Like the new A8, the RS5 overwhelms the driver with modern conveniences and with optional behavioral manipulations. With Drive Select, one can now almost reach deep into the carĀ¹s brain and tweak the flow of its neurotransmitters, which takes some getting used to and could even call for an attitude change not unlike the one we went through when the automotive industry introduced antilock brakes, traction control, and stability control, all of which evolved from potential incapacitators to indispensable saviors.

d81840
We need to bring it over here (to US). Then when I win the lottery I'll just have to run down to the store to buy mine, which I will. It's better looking than anything else that Audi is putting out and they are all beautiful.
tinlizzy50
Doesn't ANYBODY drive a manual transmission any more??? I guess if the manufacturers don't make them, they probably won't! What a loss!
mo_pho
I never cared for the A5's much-praised styling, but in RS trim, this thing is a beauty. Reminds me of a Continental Supersports.

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