Automakers are putting on a brave face about tightening fuel economy regulations, but they know there's no substitute for a high-performance, naturally aspirated V8. That's why Ferrari continues to use this type of engine in its purest car, the 458 Italia.
It's also why the 2014 Audi RS 5 exists.
And no, mentioning the RS 5 and Ferrari's finest in the same breath is not a hyperbole.
Here's the back story. Audi already makes a dynamic coupe called the S5 that looks great, handles well and goes pretty darned fast. But the S5 no longer features Audi's excellent 4.2-liter V8, instead making do with a more fuel-efficient but less engaging 3.0-liter supercharged V6.
That's where the RS 5 comes in. It boasts a heavily modified version of the old V8 that tops out at a stratospheric 8,500 rpm. And if you treat that number as a "shift now" indicator, you'll be rewarded with a soundtrack that's genuinely worthy of an Italian badge. You'll also enjoy 450 purebred German horsepower versus the S5's 333 hp. Various suspension tweaks ensure that the RS 5's handling likewise eclipses that of its more sedate sibling.
Given that the RS 5 is aimed at the small subset of drivers who truly appreciate the V8's added value, we're surprised it's only offered with Audi's admittedly superb dual-clutch automatic transmission. If you care that much about engines, you may also prefer to handle the clutching duties yourself.
But hey, who are we kidding? This Audi is pure awesome. And with the BMW M3 having ditched its epic V8 in favor of a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder, the 2014 RS 5 may be the most appealing V8-powered performance car under $100,000.
What's New for 2014?
The RS 5 coupe is joined by a convertible version: the RS 5 Cabriolet.
What We Like
Scintillating V8 engine; beautiful to behold; sticks like glue in corners; classy interior; technology aplenty
What We Don't
No manual transmission; top-shelf MMI system with Audi connect costs extra
The RS 5 is powered by a naturally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 that makes 450 hp and 316 lb-ft of torque. The sole transmission is a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
Fuel economy actually isn't that bad for a high-revving V8. The coupe checks in at 16 miles per gallon city/23 mpg hwy, while the Cabriolet drops a smidge to 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Audi RS 5 is offered as either a coupe or convertible (Cabriolet).
The RS 5 coupe ($70,495) comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels (20-inchers are optional), adaptive xenon headlights with LED accents, LED taillights, special "wide body" exterior panels, an automatic power rear spoiler, keyless entry/ignition, a panoramic sunroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, 12-way sport front seats with driver memory, carbon-fiber interior trim, Bluetooth and iPod integration, the Multi-Media Interface system (MMI) with a dash-mounted control knob and a 10-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and satellite radio.
The RS 5 Cabriolet ($78,495) features a power-operated soft-top that remains functional until the car exceeds 31 miles per hour. It also substitutes a fixed trunk-lid spoiler for the coupe's automatic spoiler.
Opting for MMI Navigation plus adds upgraded MMI software with navigation and a console-mounted joystick knob, Audi connect with online services, a rearview camera, SiriusXM Traffic with a 4-year subscription, a blind spot monitor and a 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system with HD radio. Both coupe and Cabriolet are eligible for neck-level heating vents built into the seat backs. Additional packages contribute niceties such as adaptive cruise control and Black Optic exterior trim.
With regard to the back seat, we've said it before of the A5 and S5, and we'll say it again: Only pint-sized humans will be happy back there for more than a few minutes. Trunk space, though, is respectable, measuring 12.4 cu ft in the coupe and about 10 cu ft in the Cabriolet.
The 2014 Audi RS 5 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and eight airbags (front, front side, front knee, full-length side curtain). Heat-resistant ceramic front brakes are optional, and a blind spot warning system is also available.
Like the A5 and S5, the RS 5 has not been crash-tested in the U.S.
Behind the Wheel
The RS 5's interior is highlighted by extraordinarily high-quality materials and a low-slung, intimate driving position with a cool flat-bottomed steering wheel. The aggressively bolstered front seats buck Audi's tradition of skimping on lateral support, yet they remain exceptionally comfortable on longer treks. We wish they were standard in every Audi. The tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability, so most drivers should be able to find a comfortable configuration.
Ergonomics, however, are hit-or-miss in the RS 5, just like in the A5 and S5. For example, want to adjust the climate control's fan speed while driving? Good luck, because it's a 2-step process rather than the simple twist of a knob. Audi has made huge strides as of late with the MMI system's intuitiveness, at least if you get the superior MMI Navigation plus version. It's now possible to accomplish the most important tasks without consulting the owner's manual, and that's real progress.
Under the hood, the 4.2-liter V8 is one of autodom's true gems. At full throttle, with the tachometer needle sweeping effortlessly toward 8,500 rpm, this motor is about as close as you can get to nirvana without ponying up for a Prancing Horse. It's not just the speed that impresses; it's also the astounding lack of vibration through the controls, and the exquisitely refined noises from both engine and exhaust. As for the transmission, it may only have two pedals, but it's as good as any automated manual we've tried -- and that includes Porsche's PDK. Just rip off a few rev-matched downshifts with the standard paddle shifters and you'll be a believer, too.
On winding roads or racetracks, the RS 5 starts with the confident high-speed demeanor of its lesser siblings and cranks it to 11. There's a real sense of invincibility: Just plant your right foot mid-corner and let the magical V8 and quattro all-wheel-drive system sort out the rest. Notably, the RS 5's version of quattro comes standard with the sports rear differential (optional on S5), which virtually eliminates understeer by sending extra power to the outside rear wheel as required.
In normal driving, the RS 5's ride proves rather stiff. We think the fixed damper settings could stand to be relaxed. But you can still feel that characteristic German suppleness in the suspension, so impacts are rarely harsh. Moreover, the quiet cabin makes this Audi a stellar road-trip companion.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW M3 -- The discontinued V8-powered M3 is the RS 5's true nemesis, but there's also a new M3 with a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder for those so inclined. We recommend driving both before deciding.
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG -- The C63 coupe lacks the RS 5's heroically controlled handling, but it'll do power slides all day if that's your thing. Plus, the 6.2-liter AMG V8 makes beautiful noises of its own.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 -- We know it's a dark-horse candidate, but the ZL1's unique suspension gives it world-class handling, and there's something to be said for its supercharged 580 hp and look-at-me styling.
We recommend the RS 5, period. If you have the means, you're not going to be disappointed.