Review: The Audi RS5 Sportback Is One Bad Mother
It’s versatile, stylish, and RS quick—plus it has a useful hatch in back.
Say you're an upwardly mobile couple looking to embark on a multiday journey with a pile of luggage to haul around. Convenience is key, and there are no shortage vehicles on sale that would do the job. But say you also want something fast, fun, luxurious, and elegant that isn't some sort of crossover, and that list shrinks considerably to a handful of cars like the 2019 Audi RS5 Sportback.
The Sportback's trick hatch-like rear opening is in many ways its reason for being. Well, that and its two extra doors, which offer far more cargo carrying capacity (humans and luggage) than the mechanically similar RS5 coupe we had a go in a while back. It's arguably better looking than the coupe as well, with an elongated silhouette and a sloping greenhouse that has as much—or more—panache than its two-door sibling.
It's a car that proved a stellar option for taking the long way from L.A. to Pebble Beach and back for the annual Monterey Car Week, starting with all of the luggage my wife and I (um, mostly my wife) brought up for the occasion. The RS5 Sportback's hatch made it stupid easy to stow and organize our big bags and assorted other luggage and to flip up and down the 60/40-split rear seats—far easier than any sedan or coupe in the Sportback's general competitive set.
Enough about cargo, this Audi is far more about its go, provided courtesy of a 2.9-liter twin-turbo six with 444 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque backed by an eight-speed automatic. Audi says the powerplant (which is shared with Porsche) is capable of propelling the 4,057-pound RS5 Sportback from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. Our test car was also fitted with the Dynamic Plus package ($5,800), which boosts top speed from 155 to 174 mph and adds 15.7-inch carbon-ceramic rotors up front.
Launching from zero to hero speeds in the RS5 isn't going to melt your face, but it will potentially spill your passenger's coffee (ask me how I know) when all four wheels launch, Quattro-style. When I wanted to get after it, I popped Audi's Dynamic Select setup into Dynamic mode, with Sport shifting selected, and let it fly. When we were on the slow go through L.A. 's mangled morass of traffic, I dialed it back to the Comfort or Normal drive modes, and we wafted along as happily as you can when you're going 10 mph on a freeway.
Once we got into California's Central Valley, things loosened up considerably on the I-5, where we got into the classic duck, dodge, and haul past left-lane slowpokes and big rigs. There were times in the more pedestrian drive modes where the RS5 Sportback would take a good long beat before the power would come on strong. When it did, we'd blow past the putters, touching triple digits in mere ticks, boosted six hitting all its high notes. For maximum shift quickness, you'll need to use the manual mode. It isn't double-clutch quick, but it's the most responsive way to pop through the gears and keep things in the powerband.
As for halting matters, modulating the carbon brake system took a little getting used to as the clampdown can come on hard at first. But once you press through it, the pedal feel is strong and the setup will haul you down wicked fast—especially helpful when you spot a local patrol car off in the distance.
When you're traveling some 350 miles one way, it's always a good thing to do so in relative comfort, with a healthy dose of convenience thrown in for good measure. Predictably, the RS5 Sportback didn't disappoint. It's more of a GT, so the seats aren't going to hug you to death, but they are more than capable of holding you in place when you're getting after it in the canyons. The Nappa leather package ($1,500) swathed the cabin in hides, and the seats have a cool honeycomb stitch pattern. Ramping things up further was the RS Driver Assistance package ($3,700), which adds Audi's color head-up display, a surround-view camera, adaptive cruise, and other nannies. Audi's Virtual Cockpit and present-generation center stack dominate the proceedings up front, and it all works well. But the Audi RS6 Avant features Audi's new dual-screen haptic touch setup, which we hope will come to all RS cars soon.
Given that this car is on the smaller side, everything's a little bit tight, such as the center-console armrest cubby, which doesn't hold much, and the backseat isn't a place where big people will be able to spread out. But in some ways that's part of the allure of a car like the RS5 Sportback. It's on the snug side, but like that old shirt you love so much, it still fits.
The shirt analogy also applies to the exterior of the car, but this one is designed more show off those abs you've working on at the gym. Audi has been making a point of further differentiating its RS line, and while it's still a restrained look, the Audi "singleframe" grille and front fascia are far more aggressive than on the base A5 line. Add on the matte-aluminum optic carbon package ($5,000) and the Dynamic package ($3,350) and you'll get all of the good-looking stuff, including the sweet 20-inch five-spoke forged wheels wrapped in 275/30-size summer performance rubber, multiple carbon accents, and the sport exhaust system with black tips. And things are going to get even more aggressive with the RS cars to come if the America-bound RS6 Avant is any indication.
By now you may have noticed a lot of options that came with the Navarra Blue ($695) car we had for the long weekend. The base price of the 2019 Audi RS5 Sportback is $75,195. Add on all the add-ons, many of which we wouldn't want to delete, and you're looking at $96,990. That's a lot of scratch, but it's also a lot of car—one that has few peers in the space. Admittedly, that space is merely a niche, but if you're looking for a grand tourer with tons of bite, style, and functionality, then you may want to look the RS5 Sportback's way.
2019 Audi RS5 Sportback Specifications
|PRICE||$96,990 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.9L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6; 444 hp @ 5,700-6,700 rpm, 443 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||18/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||188.3 x 73.4 x 54.6 in|