On paper, the new Audi RS5 falls right in line with its closest competitors. Whether it be price, performance, or available options, this fast four-door has the firepower to fight Germany’s best. However, there’s more to the RS5’s story and just on-paper stats. Since it is so close to its rivals, it needs to deliver on the driving experience to make a proper case for itself.
The exact car I’ve been testing is the 2021 Audi RS5 Sportback Ascari Edition, a limited model with just 100 produced that includes notable performance upgrades alongside a hefty price tag. After a week of city and canyon driving, it’s clear that while the RS5 isn’t the most exciting car in its segment, it is likely the easiest to drive quickly, seemingly delivering outrageous performance on a silver platter.
The Audi RS5 Sportback received a few significant visual updates for the 2021 model year and two special edition models, the Ascari Edition being one of them. Upfront, the changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary. With an updated front grille and new headlights, the RS5 looks better than ever. Large air intake and gloss black trim pieces surround the updated grille to complete the front end. Despite being the highest performing version of the A5 platform, the RS5 still leans on being elegant rather than outright aggressive for the better.
The rear gets a few subtle improvements, namely with the updated taillights that match the LED pattern found in the headlights up front. A mix of silver and gloss black trim pieces adorn the rear diffuser, which also houses the two enormous exhaust tips. With a subtle lip spoiler on the rear hatch matching the rest of the styling, the RS5 continues that theme of sporty elegance.
Being an Asacari Edition, the exterior finish is the shiny shade of Ascari Blue, a sparkly finish that has replaced Sonoma Green Metallic as my favorite color offered on the RS5. A set of 20-inch five-spoke wheels also included in the special edition package tie in nicely with the silver trim accents while allowing the blue brake calipers to pop behind them. Overall, the spec of this car works to emphasize how excellent the base RS5’s design is. In Sportback trim, this speedy sedan uses its sloping roofline and proportions to create an imposing stance that isn’t over the top.
With a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 under its hood, the Audi RS5 Sportback delivers 444 horsepower and 442 pounds-feet of torque. The result is a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds and a standard limited top speed of 155 mph. However, the Ascari Edition raises that top figure to 174 mph. Sending that power to all four wheels is a standard all-wheel-drive system via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
After a week of driving the RS5 in multiple driving scenarios, those power figures feel underrated. This vehicle easily feels like it’s pumping out 500 hp. While it may not have a proper dual-clutch transmission, the quick-shifting automatic makes excellent use of the available torque, giving you ample power down low in the rev range while holding strong to redline. Despite being heavily turbocharged, the engine is also quick to respond, suffering from little to no lag.
As part of the Ascari Edition, you get Dynamic Ride Control, whereas the standard RS5 comes with a fixed suspension. The adjustable suspension softens up considerably thanks to various driving modes, easily handling Los Angeles’ broken roads. However, there’s a fair amount of bounce in its tightest setting. As a result, I opted to leave the suspension in comfort mode while having the engine and transmission in their most aggressive settings.
While a variable steering system quickens up the RS5’s turn-in, there’s also great feel coming through the wheel. This is a departure from Audi’s of old, including the RS5’s cheaper sibling, the S5.
Inside, the Audi RS5 Sportback’s elegance continues thanks to its excellent use of materials. Since my tester is an Ascari Edition, there’s carbon fiber everywhere. However, Audi made the right choice by choosing a matte finish to dial back its flashiness. There’s also a fair amount of Alcantara throughout, including the excellent flat-bottom steering wheel.
While the seats may look like average black leather chairs from afar, they feature a honeycomb stitch pattern that makes them look like a quality product. Sitting in them, I found plenty of support and adjustability without being uncomfortable. While there is some side bolstering, it’s clear that these seats are better optimized for daily on-street driving than all-out performance.
On the tech side, the Audi RS5 received an updated central infotainment screen for the 2021 model year, now measuring 10.1-in. Despite offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, I spent most of my time utilizing Audi’s native infotainment system, mainly via the digital instrument cluster. While the onboard navigation system took me through some odd routes, it looked beautiful, with a sizeable readable map placed directly in front of me. If Audi added the smartphone connectivity to the instrument cluster, I’d be fine getting rid of the screen that protrudes from the dash.
Thanks to excellent sound isolation, the cabin remains quiet at speed. However, the RS5’s exhaust is still loud enough to permeate through the cabin, so you can easily hear its engine note.
While the Audi RS5 Sportback Ascari Edition is great to look at and drive, it comes with a hefty price tag. In base form, the RS 5 Sportback starts at $75,400. However, with the optional $20,500 Ascari Edition pack, that price creeps up to $95,900, at which point we’re talking about a six-figure vehicle with taxes and fees. While the RS 5 Sportback arguably delivers a six-figure experience, lower trim levels likely get close to this level of performance without the high cost.
The Audi RS 5 Sportback delivers on almost every front. This fast Audi is more than just a fast Audi, whether it be speed, looks, or versatility. Yes, its limited-edition package and pricing are shocking, but it helps the driving experience with the updated suspension, brakes, and tires. This likely won’t be the car to take to a track day or if you’re looking for the rawest driving experience. However, to live with the RS 5 is incredibly well-rounded and tough to beat.