2013 Audi RS5
That fret dissolves rapidly with the RS 5. It's a rollicking ride to tour Sonoma, especially if you're a fan of the balance and control that comes from all-wheel-drive cars that blast along, covering up naivete with ass-saving traction. The RS 5 has it, while none of its head-to-head challengers--CTS-V, C63 AMG, M3--do. Audi, different. There you go again.
As little as it has in common with those other trailblazers, the RS 5 keeps its distance from the A5 and S5, too. It only shares its hood, roof, and doors with those coupes--everything else is new, though Walter d'Silva's subtly erotic shape is in full effect. The telling details are specific, not brash: 19-inch wheels (or 20-inchers as an option), LED detailing front and rear, an active rear spoiler that deploys at 50 mph and above, and oval exhaust tips, so you know exactly what's just blown you off.
The RS 5's also the last of this genre of Audis to carry a V-8 engine, at least in the current generation. The RS 5's crisp exhaust bark issues from a 4.2-liter V-8 with its roots in the R8 semi-exotic and its V-10 (not the older V-8). Noisy and excitable off idle, the V-8 hits a torque wave at 4000 rpm, climbing through 6000 rpm on the way to an 8250-rpm redline, and through stratospheric numbers that still fall shy of those generated by the awesome supercharged eight in the Caddy CTS-V. The Audi rumbles with 450 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque--darting to 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds like it's evading a summons, surging to a 174-mph top end you probably can hit in a state where triple-digit speeds don't end in multi-year penalties. The S5 can't rival those rivals; the RS 5 pulls up smartly along their flanks.
How it gets to speed is important, because the RS 5 abandons some of the pretense of lightness and simplicity that colors the other Teutonic and mock-tonic cars chasing the same money. The RS 5 does it with a dual-clutch automatic and quattro all-wheel drive, with picture-perfect launches within reach thanks to launch control, shift paddles, and all that constantly redistributed traction. The quattro setup here's tuned for 60 percent of the weight to distribute to the rear until it needs to move around--when a Torsen differential sends it on its way, 85 percent to the rear if needed, or 70 percent to the front, and torque vectoring balances power side to side between the rear wheels.
Ethical objections to Audi's paddle-shifted dual-clutch just don't hold up. It's a brilliant piece of work, extremely quick to swap gears, programmed here to obey the paddle and not its own brain. The RS 5'll hit the rev limiter and stay there, and it only gets more eager and edgy when Drive Select, Audi's configurable-car controls, are dialed up to Dynamic from their streetable Comfort and Auto settings. Drive Select changes up throttle, transmission, and sets the variable steering to a fixed ratio in the RS 5--but not the suspension, which also has adjustable controls on Euro versions, but is plain steel and aluminum here. It's better that way: as we've found in the S5 and even the A5, Drive Select can offer too many options that don't match each other well.
Hauling everything down back to suborbital speeds are eight-piston front brakes with raised discs for heat dissipation, or optional carbon-ceramic discs that cross over into truly must-have, truly exotic territory for a machine that bridges the everyday and track driving spectrum as easily as the RS 5. Even the optional 20-inch wheels seem like a necessary extravagance compared to the bone-stock-gorgeous 19-inchers. The sport exhaust? It's a cost-no-object thing.
All told, the $69,795 RS 5 can push $80,000. Audi says it's the most fuel-efficient of its exclusive set, without a gas-guzzler penalty at 16/23 mpg, versus 14/20 mpg for the BMW M3, 12/17 mpg for the Mercedes C63 AMG, and 14/19 mpg for Cadillac's CTS-V.