The 2023 Audi RS5 Competition Is an Emotional Step in the Right Direction
With the $16,100 Competition pack, the RS5 becomes a bit less German.
If you’re going to knock Audi for anything these days, it’s that the German automaker can be … well, a little too German in its approach to building cars. The competition does seem to be having more fun: BMW’s gone truly batty recently, and it’s still cranking out fan-service enthusiast models like the new M2 and M3. Mercedes takes itself pretty seriously, but it also does V8 wagons with drift mode and drunkenly tosses Formula 1 powertrains into its Project One hypercars. Audi puts out some supremely competent vehicles, but outside the RS6 Avant and the R8, it’s been missing that spark, that excitement, that intangible thing you feel when you slide behind the wheel and just know the people making this thing were having the time of their lives. But even Audi knows its Nietzsche-like pursuit of the uber-auto isn’t everything, which is why the new 2023 Audi RS5 Competition was born.
In a rare moment of candor, Audi straight up admits that loyal customers have complained that the regular RS5 (available in Coupe and four-door Sportback flavors) just isn’t emotional enough. Its solution is to make the car a little less perfect and a little more personal. Fifteen pounds of sound insulation have been yanked from the firewall, for example, while three-way manually adjustable coilovers let buyers tinker with the setup themselves to find their ideal ride, not that of Audi’s engineers.
The result is a car that feels like what the RS5 should’ve been all along. But frustratingly, one that’s also held in check by that stubborn Audi sensibility, which keeps it from really cutting loose and delivering an experience that lives up to the RS5’s stellar chassis and fantastic looks.
2023 Audi RS5 Competition Review Specs
- Base Price: $93,095 (Coupe) | $93,395 (Sportback)
- Powertrain: 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 | 8-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 444 @ 6,700 rpm
- Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
- 0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds (Coupe), 3.7 seconds (Sportback)
- Top Speed: 180 mph
- EPA Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city | 25 mpg highway | 21 mpg combined
- Quick Take: It brings back some—some—welcome emotion to the RS5 experience, but the price will be a stumbling point for many.
- Score: 8/10
The normal RS5 is no slouch, with a 444-hp, 2.9-liter V6, a tight chassis and balanced handling, carbon ceramic brakes, and a beautiful, sleek countenance (especially in Coupe form) that I think still carries the best interpretation of Audi’s current design language. Despite all that, the whole package still felt like Audi was holding back. It’s as if the company used some proprietary algorithm to determine that yes, this is the ideal blend of fun and normal-car usability, even though it’s still a ways below what the platform can handle. No drift mode for you!
In response to those complaints, Audi came up with the $16,100 Competition package. The car benefits from the aforementioned reduction in sound insulation, stiffer stabilizer bars, a louder sport exhaust, a 180-mph top speed (standard RS5s are capped at 155 mph or 174 mph with the Dynamic plus pack), updated engine and transmission control unit software to shorten shifts and increase throttle sensitivity, and new 20-inch wheels that are four pounds lighter apiece. New Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires specially developed for the car are also an option. Under the perfectly imperfect category, the eight-speed transmission now allows you to bang off the rev limiter in manual mode too.
The package also throws in a host of cosmetic tweaks inside and out: blacked-out exterior trim, carbon fiber mirror caps, black interior with red-trimmed seatbelts, and more. It’s fair to say it’s not different enough visually from the normal A5, but compared to the jarring design jump from, say, the A3 to the RS3, I’ll take subdued speed any day.
The real party trick is the manually-adjustable coilover suspension, dubbed RS Sport Suspension Pro. Unlike how it works with Polestar, another company that’s made a show of physically dialing in your own setup, Audi puts three adjustment dials—low- and high-speed damping, plus rebound—right on the shock itself. You have to turn the front wheels to full lock to get in there with your hands, and there’s really no way to adjust the rears without taking the back wheel off. It also comes with a special wrench-like tool that clamps onto the bottom of the damper and spins to raise or lower ride height. From the factory, it’ll come set up about 0.4 inches lower than the normal RS5, and it can go down another 0.4 inches if you want to slam it.
Is it a bit ridiculous to offer that level of hands-on adjustability in a car where most buyers will rarely if ever try it? Yes, but that’s kind of the point. Plus, Audi claims it decided against making the suspension electronically adjustable to save weight, though the whole thing is already made of aluminum.
The Competition pack also brings two other notable changes that are supposed to make the car more characterful: a fixed-ratio 13:1 steering rack, and a tweaked Quattro sport differential that sends more power to the rear in Dynamic mode. Doing away with an adjustable ratio rack makes the steering more direct and predictable at the expense of optimizing your every twist of the wheel, while the diff adds more RWD character in a performance situation that dials back the neutral handling typical of AWD cars. It’s not enough to easily slide the car on command, but it does feel looser (in a good way) and more playful.
Before we really dive into the driving, though, there’s one big caveat to share—neither package offers any additional power over the regular RS5. 444 hp is what you’ve got. Meanwhile, BMW is happy to throw an extra 30 horses into its own M Competition models, likewise with Mercedes-AMG’s S cars. Audi’s logic is frustratingly … logical; a product manager told me the power is the same because increasing it would mean redoing the whole emissions testing process at a cost of millions of euros, and Audi just doesn’t think it’s worth it. Plus, he added, can most people really feel an extra 15 or 20 horsepower on top of 444? Of course not, but talk about missing the point. You want people to pony up an extra $16,000 for the ultimate, emotional RS5? Even a token increase in power makes it seem a lot more like an upgrade. (Admittedly, stat freaks might appreciate that the zero-to-60 time drops from 3.7 to 3.6 seconds thanks to the new tires and weight reduction.)
I put the RS5 Competition Coupe through its paces on the private Ascari race track in southern Spain, plus a number of hilly B roads crisscrossing the olive orchards and holly oak tree stands stretching out over the dusty Mediterranean landscape. It’s a fairly calm driving experience overall; the chassis does feel stiffer and the new coilovers more aggressively tuned, but bumps aren’t uncomfortable by any means. It is louder in the cabin, but the 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 is still pretty quiet overall until you get into the throttle. When you do, plenty of power is always on tap, and the transmission is quick to downshift for a pass. It’s not the torquiest thing in the world, though. You can feel that Audi wanted to preserve the daily drivability; the “emotionality,” as it puts it, doesn’t bubble up to the surface during a pleasure cruise. The fixed ratio steering is still way too light and uncommunicative, for example. But I’d commute in this any day. It is, by any straightforward definition, an excellent car.
Whereas the Competition pack is working in incognito mode during a normal drive, the improvements shone through on Ascari, a moderate street course with a few banked turns and just enough straight sections to get a feel for handling with your foot to the floor. Here, the tweaked throttle and transmission response in Dynamic (plus Sport shifting) mode were immediately noticeable, the car lunging forward with every blip. The transmission nails both upshifts and downshifts, holding gears appropriately as you breathe off the throttle. The Quattro sport diff makes the car eager to rotate, but not uncontrollably so. It’s a great balance between typical AWD handling characteristics and the beguiling sense that if you really punch it, you’re in for a spin.
Not as great: though the carbon ceramic brakes combined with the new tires cuts braking distances, the RS5 Competition feels too squirrely under hard braking. At one point, I jammed the brakes in a straight line approaching a tight 70-degree turn, and the car shimmied so much it was obvious to the driver behind me. Could I have been smoother with my footwork? Probably, but all the same, I felt no such instabilities hammering the RS3 around Silver Mountain Raceway outside Las Vegas this spring. And man, the fixed ratio steering is definitely more accurate for track use, but it’s still disappointingly light and communicates next to nothing about the surface.
Despite its small faults, the RS5 Competition is a distinct improvement over the regular RS5. Whether it’s enough to sway you when competitors from BMW and Mercedes still wear their personalities on their sleeves even more, I dunno. And let’s not forget about the Cadillac CT4-V and CT5-V Blackwing; those exist, you know. And because I’m a masochist, the Alfa Romeo Guilia Quadrifoglio remains the standard bearer for … “emotionality” in this $80-$100K performance coupe-sedan space despite its issues. At its new prices, the RS5 Competition models remain fantastic choices if you’re already an Audi fan, but perhaps not the thing to win over loads of new ones.
What might: the new RS4 Avant Competition, which has all the same mechanical bits as the RS5 shoved under a striking wagon body that feels a lot more right-sized than the RS6. Sadly though, it’s not going to be sold here. I know, that’s because wagons don’t sell in America. But halo wagons do, and that could’ve been a real statement of purpose. As it sits, the RS5 Competition is more of a reminder that vorsprung durch technik leads to some great cars, but not quite wild ones.
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