The auto enthusiast community is far too fragmented to ever achieve real consensus on any issue, but if there’s a single authority on performance-oriented cars, it’s Britain’s enthusiast bible evo Magazine. So when evo bashes an enthusiast-targeted model, it’s usually worth taking note of. The latest print issue of evo includes a Chris Harris review of Audi’s range-topping RS5 coupe [online summary here], the 444 hp, V8-powered flagship of its A5 lineup, and from line one the reader can tell that something is rotten in the state of Quattro GMBH. Harris describes an attempt to blow the doors off a 328 hp S4 camera car, only to find that, three gears later, his $15k more expensive coupe had barely gained any ground on the supercharged V6-powered S4. So, what gives?
Harris does give Audi props for turning its old 4.2 liter V8 into a thoroughly modern mill for the RS5. Thanks to low-friction components and an on-demand oil pump, the aluminum V8 makes well over 100 horsepower per liter, an achievement once thought impossible for a large-capacity V8. But, he notes, the RS5 makes “only” 317 lb-ft of torque at a lofty 4,000 RPM, whereas the cheaper S4’s force-fed V6 manages 325 lb-ft at 2,900 RPM. Add a porky 3,800+ lb curb weight, and the RS5’s lackluster performance comes into clear context (184 lb-ft per ton, versus the S4’s 193 lb-ft per ton).
Harris isn’t quite so harsh on the RS5’s handling, but he does note that Audi’s refusal to let him switch off ESP prevented him from testing its true limits. He calls the chassis “supremely competent though mostly unexciting” and notes that it pairs poorly with the high-revving V8. He concludes that
It’s not a bad car the RS5, it’s just lacking inspiration and clear direction: the very qualities that defined the much-missed RS4. Some people will love the noise and fuss-free environment the RS5 provides. Folk who love driving will be better off in an M3; I’d take a C63 over both because its everyday performance is so much more accessible… You’ll really have to want [the RS%'s] flared arches and some V8 noise to pay the extra. Me? I’d take the unassuming S4.
Don’t let the even-handed verbiage mislead you: this is quite the knock for a car that is ostensibly built just for petrolheads like the staff of evo. Moving the S4 from a V8 to a supercharged V6 caused quite a stir among enthusiasts, and was seen as yet another step towards the end of the German horsepower wars. That the downsized S4 does so well in comparison to the unexpectedly V8-powered RS5 shows that the performance car game really has changed. And besides moving the performance emphasis to weight rather than power, this sea change has one other unanticipated benefit: helping Americans get over their Euro-frustration. The RS5 has not been approved for the US market, and for once it seems we’re really not missing out on much of anything.