2013 Audi RS5: First Drive Page 3

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A Finnish line

A quick track talk, and we're buckled in for Sonoma's kinky take on afternoon delights. The warm-up laps bring it all back--the uphill clabber right out of pit lane, the skid marks of doom careening off from turn 8.

The RS 5's the emotional car in the A5 range, according to the morning preso, and it's holding true. The V-8 rips to life, even snarkier than the old S5's eight and way more vocal. Building up speed comes quickly: there's still some body roll even with the RS 5 tightened down into its most aggressive setup, but it moves with predictable footwork. You get confident quickly, and the grip on the wheel gets less white-knuckled, more sensitive--more open to a light touch. It's all understeer, almost all the time, until the RS 5 takes a set into a corner. Then your right foot can make the call.

Still, it's Sonoma. A driver like Hans Stuck can say "never lift" because he's full of talent. I'm full of something that requires a Depends, so I lift a little. The RS 5 refuses to snap, and just curls back into that default understeer. Rolling into the throttle prods it out of yawn mode, and I have to give it credit--it never gets impatient, waiting for me to get how much is still left in its portfolio.

It digs in, and so do I. I let it lighten up over the second blind turn, and tuck it in for the double-apex downhill ahead with a little throttle before I unwind it and let it flatten out for a big, long, fast straight. We boomerang out of Turn Six and I hang on late for the next set of esses, before a final surge into fourth and a final brush on the brakes, before glancing by the final curb and cooling down the rest of the way into the pits.

For a minute, I bother to play with the luxotouches we've diddled with in our full review of the 2013 Audi A4 over on TheCarConnection. The RS 5 has a sport interior with firmer seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel; a choice of Nappa and Alcantara trim; aluminum, stainless-steel, piano-black or carbon trim; aluminum pedals; a lap timer; and RS badging. Other major options include blind-spot monitors, active cruise control, and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.

We'd pay for that sound, as well as Audi's MMI and navigation system, which ties in with Audi Connect 3G wireless service and Google Earth and Street View mapping for what's indisputably the most beautiful and effective nav system on offer today. The maps show me from an overhead view, sidling into the pits from an ESPN angle that may as well be called the HeroCam. And since we're just a few dozen miles from Silicon Valley, the maps themselves are just a few weeks old--new construction nearby already shows on the screen.

Audi promises they won't do an RS edition of every model, and given the age of the current A4/A5 lineup, this could be the new plus ultra of this generation. It feels every ounce of it, bracingly fast and unflappable.

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