First Drive: 2011 Audi RS5

Tom Salt

In view of the Audi's awesome on-paper form and the favorable driving conditions, we set off from Audi headquarters in Ingolstadt with the engine/exhaust, the transmission, and the sport differential in dynamic mode. In addition, we raised the stability control threshold with the sport program. Unless you use the paddleshifters or push the lever into the manual gate to prevent automatic upshifts, the driveline needs no further instruction to deliver exactly as expected. Throttle response is brisk and eager, and pickup at low revs is commendably energetic, but you still need to keep the V-8 revving within its 4000-to-6000-rpm sweet spot. With the transmission in auto and Drive Select in dynamic, the black box does most of the thinking for you, which could be a good thing, except that we often disagreed. After all, late upshifts and very early downshifts are a nuisance in town: at 30 mph, the cogs will decide to engage second gear, fiercely blipping the throttle in the process and firmly keeping the exhaust in that blat-blat hooligan setting. In dynamic mode on the open road, the transmission will try not to shift up to sixth or seventh gear, which sounds and feels fast but is not a particularly practical proposition. So after a couple of hours, it's back to auto mode with a frown and a question: could it be that the Drive Select software is a touch too clever for the environment it must work in?

Still, on the winding but open road between Vohburg and Münchsmünster, the RS5's sport differential, Quattro, and tuned suspension created an almost eerie virtual-reality cornering effect. Can these speeds be true? Are the RS5 and Kacher still on the same planet? What happened to all the familiar warning signs like body roll, tire squeal, lift-off oversteer, the steering firming up or becoming lighter? The RS5 is teaching me new lessons here, like how to approach and detect and deal with the limit without relying on familiar instincts. It's an unreal experience, and yet it is electrifying, intoxicating, and addictive. The network of filters takes out most of the vagaries and the imponderables, but at the same time it simplifies the car's complex character and personality.

If speed from point A to point B and total composure are your priorities, the new Audi promises total satisfaction. But if feedback and transparency matter most, the RS5 puts you on a relatively strict diet. As it is, the RS5 ticks all the boxes with robotic accuracy and awesome ability, but I, for one, need more time to adjust to this new quality of focused, fuss-free performance. Most of all, I need more time to mix a Drive Select cocktail that really works for me.

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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.
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!
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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