2018 Audi RS 5 review

Germany's answer to the Mustang trades in 2 cylinders for 2 turbos

The latest generation of Audi’s top-spec sports coupe ditches a pair of cylinders for a pair of turbos.
The latest generation of Audi’s top-spec sports coupe ditches a pair of cylinders for a pair of turbos.
The latest generation of Audi’s top-spec sports coupe ditches a pair of cylinders for a pair of turbos.


  • Class-leading acceleration
  • Well-appointed interior
  • Predictable handling


  • New drivetrain lacks the charm of the previous generation’s V8

DT Editors' Rating

I stand at the edge of the driveway, anxious with anticipation. I’ve been waiting for this one. As the car pulls up I’m relieved to see that it’s the right color: Sonoma green, an exclusive, optional hue that looks particularly fetching on the Audi RS 5.

It took engineers and designers three years to put this second-generation machine together, so I know it’s only fair to remain patient. This is, after all, Audi’s answer to the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 – Germany’s sport-luxury response to muscle bound American pony cars like the Mustang and Camaro, essentially – four-seater coupes that are packed to the gills with go-fast hardware and the latest automotive technologies.

2018 Audi RS 5 review
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

A lot can change in a generation, as evidenced by the drivetrain in this machine. Gone is the naturally-aspirated 4.2-liter V8 from the old RS 5, a gem of a power plant that sang to a lofty 8300 rpm redline. In its place is a 2.9-liter V6 that’s supplemented by a pair of turbochargers in the interest of more torque and improved efficiency. The seven-speed dual-clutch is also out, replaced by a more traditional eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Both of those changes could be cause for some trepidation. But as we’ve seen time and again, good engineering often pays greater dividends than a spec sheet might imply.

Starting at a base price of $69,900, our well-equipped RS 5 tester rang up $91,000 with destination.

Interior and tech

Modern Audis are typically a lovely place to do the business of driving, and the RS 5 is no exception. Outfitted with the optional fine Nappa leather package, the navigation package, and a Bang and Olufsen premium audio system, this RS 5’s sporting intentions are counterbalanced by a sense of opulence.

Intricate gray stitching adorns the front seats, which feature both massaging functions to keep you comfortable during a commute, and bolster adjustments to keep you in place during high lateral G maneuvers. The flat-bottomed, leather wrapped steering wheel has a dedicated button to swap between a sport-focused readout on the virtual cockpit display that puts a large digital tachometer front and center, and a more pedestrian view that packs in more information. Aluminum and carbon fiber-adorned paddle shifters await your command, but the automatic gearbox is more than happy to swap cogs on its own without a fuss.

The cabin of the RS 5 puts both yin and yang at the driver’s fingertips.

The cabin of the RS 5 puts both yin and yang at the driver’s fingertips, creating a split personality that’s just as well-suited to corner carving as it is to coddling. It’s certainly not the first time we’ve seen this concept in a sports coupe, but its execution is among the best of the modern breed.

The RS 5 is outfitted with a seven-inch infotainment display on the dash as standard. A larger, 8.3-inch infotainment display comes as part of navigation package, which also includes the aforementioned virtual cockpit digital gauge cluster and configurable display in lieu of the standard analog gauges with a digital readout situated between them. 

Driving experience

After settling in behind the wheel and pressing the start button on the center console, I’m greeted by a spirited, if a bit muted, rumble as the V6 comes to life. The 2.9-liter mill is smaller than the engine it replaces, but through the magic of forced induction, it offers essentially identical peak horsepower to its V8 predecessor while boasting 126 lb-ft more torque. It also sheds 66 pounds of weight off the front end of the car.

2018 Audi RS 5 review
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Placing the car in gear, I’m thankful for the new eight-speed automatic, a ZF design now used widely throughout the rest of the industry. In years past, dual-clutch gearboxes were a requirement in order to provide the kind of immediate response and quick gear changes enthusiasts craved, but it came at a compromise to refinement around town, betraying that whole yin and yang idea. With the introduction of the ZF eight-speed, dual clutch transmissions have become unnecessary for all but the most hardcore sports cars, as this transmission can be tuned to deliver the level of immediacy that drivers expect with no hit to its low-speed manners.

Audi’s official number pegs its sprint to 60 mph from rest in 3.7 seconds – more than half a second quicker than its predecessor – and it feels a tenth or two more urgent than that.

But as with most modern transmission tunes, when left in comfort or auto drive modes, the gearbox is eager to immediately upshift into the upper cogs for the sake of fuel economy, leaving the driver with numbed throttle response unless the hammer gets dropped. Switching to the dynamic setting solves this comprehensively, but it’s a bit too eager for driving around town. Perhaps a setting that splits the difference would solve this? They could call it sport mode.

It’s a similar story with the RS 5’s optional active suspension, known as dynamic ride control. The comfort setting provides plenty of ride compliance, but it also allows for a bit more body motion than I’d prefer at speed, while dynamic is great when attacking technical roads but is too harsh for the pockmarked asphalt of Los Angeles. A third setting that slots between the two would likely satisfy finicky drivers like myself. It’s safe to assume that auto mode is intended to serve this function, changing between the comfort and dynamic settings as needed, but it often seemed to be a step behind my inputs.

2018 Audi RS 5 review
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Ultimately, I found myself relegated to the soft settings in the city before deliberately switching over to dynamic mode on my approach to a good stretch of tarmac. Here the RS 5 can stretch its legs, and I can get to know the new power plant a bit better.

Simply put, what the V6 lacks in sonic charm and revs (its redline dropped to 6700 rpm) it makes up for in shove. This thing is fast. Audi’s official number pegs its sprint to 60 mph from rest in 3.7 seconds – more than half a second quicker than its predecessor – and it feels a tenth or two more urgent than that. With the all-wheel drive grip of the Quattro system it’s repeatable, too, and while the RS 5 can’t offer the potential for power-sliding antics that its rear-drive competition can, it instills more confidence in the corners to find its limits and drive with spirited precision rather than ostentation.

It may be quick, but this is a gentleman’s sport coupe, good sir!


Audi offers a four-year/50,000 mile limited warranty, along with one year/10,000 miles of scheduled maintenance free of charge and four years of roadside assistance coverage. J.D. Power gives Audi a 3/5-star rating for overall quality and four out of five stars for dependability.

How DT would configure this car

Although our tester wasn’t short on looks, luxury, or capability, the price tag was roughly 30% over the base MSRP. We’d consider the dynamic package ($3,350) to be essential, as it adds the dynamic ride control active suspension system and livelier sport exhaust, but we might skip the $6000 dynamic plus package, which includes a higher 174-mph top speed (up from 155), carbon ceramic front brake rotors, and a carbon fiber engine cover.

At $950, the Bang and Olufsen audio system seems like a bargain, as does the $575 fee placed on the Sonoma green paintwork. We’d probably also spring for the $2,600 navigation package to get the virtual cockpit gauge cluster and larger infotainment display.

Our Take

With the second-generation RS 5, Audi has elevated the capability, efficiency, and overall experience substantially from its predecessor. The fact that a tangible amount of charm was lost in the process is an unfortunate side effect, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

For those that can’t live without the rumble of a V8, Mercedes-AMG’s C63 is the only game in town. And, if you want a manual transmission, the BMW M4 wins the debate by default. But if neither of those are factors in your sports coupe buying deliberation, the RS 5 makes a strong case for itself.

Rear-wheel drive offers great photo opportunities, but very few buyers in this segment actually make any use of that tail-wagging capability on a regular basis. All-wheel drive, on the other hand, is not only useful in inclement weather, but provides the RS 5 with consistent, fool-proof launches and predictable handling characteristics at the limit.

At the same time, the value of a high-performance machine is as much about how it makes you feel as it is about what it can do. Potential buyers would be wise to weigh what’s in their heart with as much importance as what’s on the spec sheet and act accordingly.


Peloton’s tech lets truckers play follow the leader to boost fuel economy

Peloton Technology can help semi trucks save fuel by running close together on the highway. Using short-range wireless communications, the trucks get a kind of super cruise control.

In McLaren’s 600LT Spider, the engine is the only sound system you’ll need

The McLaren 600LT Spider is the inevitable convertible version of the 600LT coupe, itself a lighter, more powerful version of the McLaren 570S. The 600LT Spider boasts a 592-horsepower, twin-turbo V8, and a loud exhaust system to hear it…

Muscle cars, trucks, and EVs roared into the subdued 2019 Detroit Auto Show

The 2019 Detroit Auto Show was the quietest edition of the event in recent memory, but that doesn't mean nothing significant happened inside the Cobo Center. Here are the new cars and concepts we saw at the show.
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Product Review

If you don't know about Genesis yet, the G70 is going to change that

The 2019 Genesis G70 is Korea’s first attempt to take on the vaunted German trio of BMW 3 Series, Audi A4, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Competition doesn’t come much tougher than that.

With 341 horsepower, the WRX STI S209 is the most powerful Subaru ever

The Subaru WRX STI S209 is the latest in a series of special editions that have never been sold in the United States before. The 341-horsepower pocket rocket debuts at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

China’s GAC Motor cruises into Detroit with all-electric Entranze concept

Chinese automaker GAC Motor brought its all-electric Entranze concept to the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. This is the third straight year that GAC has appeared in Detroit, and the company has established a design center in California.

2020 Ford Explorer branches out with sporty ST, efficiency-focused hybrid models

The 2020 Ford Explorer gets two variants never before seen on Ford's stalwart family hauler. The ST focuses on performance, while the hybrid aims for decent gas mileage. Both models will debut at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show.

Some of Volkswagen’s electric models will wear a ‘Made in the USA’ label

Confirming earlier rumors, Volkswagen has announced it will build electric cars in its Chattanooga, Tennessee, factory. The facility currently produces the Passat and the Atlas. Production will start in 2023, Digital Trends can reveal.

Infiniti previews its leap into one of the hottest industry segments

Infiniti will unveil the QX Inspiration concept at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show. The design study is an electric crossover shaped by Infiniti's newest design language that may point to a future production model.

Hyundai’s Veloster N hot hatchback will prove its mettle on the track

The Hyundai Veloster N will go racing to prove the credibility of Hyundai's new N performance division. Unveiled at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Veloster N race car will compete in a class with other small cars.

Nissan IMs concept teases a future long-range, autonomous electric car

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Nissan IMs is an electric car with a 380-mile range, autonomous-driving capability, and a backseat designed for being chauffeured. Too bad it's just a concept car.

The 2020 Lexus RC F goes on a diet to run faster and hit harder

The Lexus RC F has been one of the heavier cars in its competitive set since its introduction. The Japanese firm's engineers set out to shed weight as they gave the model a mid-cycle update.

Lexus LC convertible concept teases a new open-air flagship

Debuting at the 2019 Detroit Auto Show, the Lexus LC convertible concept adds open-air motoring to the sleek LC's resume. But Lexus won't commit to a production version of the car just yet.