I could stand and watch the warm-up sequence of the matrix LED headlights on the Audi RS 5 Sportback for minutes at a time, maybe longer.
The perfect pixel choreography that ensues once the unlock button on the key fob is pressed is truly dazzling, as small daytime runners at the top of the assembly light up in amber and white, sequentially, and then back and forth, before the amber side marker and main LEDs light up.
It’s like a digital piano slide – all that’s missing is the music. The light show isn’t just for the fronts either, as the rear LEDs also have a wake-up routine that’s fun to watch, albeit not quite as elaborate.
I mention these lighting sequences because they’re emblematic of the RS 5’s character as a technological and performance powerhouse, where nearly every aspect is turned up to 11. This car is a feast for the senses on many levels.
To reset, the current second gen RS 5 debuted in 2018 as a coupe only, which I had the good fortune of reviewing for this website. The Sportback four-door followed in 2019, and both models received a styling update for the 2020 model year that brought them to their current form.
Like the coupe, the RS 5 is based on the A5, albeit with a much more emotional and aggressive design than its siblings, and a lot more power. Audi retired the naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 used in the first gen RS 5 in favour of a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 which produces 444 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque.
The V6 has the same horsepower rating as the V8, but with an extra 125 lb-ft worth of torque in a smaller package that’s 31 kg (68 pounds) lighter. Power is put to the ground via Audi’s Tiptronic eight-speed automatic transmission and standard quattro all-wheel drive.
Because it’s an Audi Sport model, the RS 5 Sportback receives all the Four Rings best stuff from a chassis perspective. This means a standard RS sport suspension, which can be outfitted with an optional Dynamic Ride Control feature which brings hydraulic roll and pitch stabilization to the party via steel springs and three-stage adjustable dampers. All RS 5s are outfitted with standard 19-inch wheels, but several 20-inchers are available, as are carbon-ceramic brakes.
Audi drive select has been expanded to include two new modes, RS1 and RS2, which can be used to store the driver’s preferences for items such as engine sound, transmission, damping and dynamic steering, and can be accessed through the RS Mode button on the steering wheel.
Dimensionally, an extra set of doors makes the RS 5 Sportback 60.9 mm (2.4 inches) longer than the coupe overall, but it also rides on a wheelbase that’s longer by the same amount. The Sportback layout provides a commodious 617.3 litres of cargo space with the rear seatbacks folded down.
Inside the cabin, the main draw is Audi’s 12.3-inch HD virtual cockpit instrument cluster display, a deeply configurable screen that can be used to relay loads of information, from fuel consumption data to real time torque and horsepower readings, to detailed navigation maps. Another big digital display is the one located in the centre dash, a 10.1-inch HD touchscreen unit that serves as the main multimedia unit. Seat and trim finishes are a mix of Nappa leather (seating) with red quilted stitching, with piano black plastics, and brushed metallic accents.
For the purposes of this review, Audi Canada set me up with a Sonoma Green Metallic tester with a black Nappa leather interior. As the price line below indicates, this car has been outfitted with loads of optional kit, as is the norm for many press vehicles.
Among the option boxes that have been ticked here are three packages: Audi Sport, Bronze and Premium. The Audi Sport package ($3,400) includes RS sport suspension plus with dynamic ride control, dynamic steering, tire pressure monitoring system and speed limit increase to 280 km/h.
The Bronze Package ($11,200) covers 20-inch five-arm bronze wheels, matte carbon front spoiler and mirrors, black optics and black rings, black Nappa leather interior with bronze stitch and matte carbon inlays.
Finally, the Premium Package ($3,100) delivers a load of kit, including top-view camera, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, rear seat USB charging, wireless charging, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, active lane assist, and more. Stand alone options include sport exhaust ($1,350), head-up display ($1,100), carbon fibre engine cover ($650) and red brake calipers ($500).
At first glance, the RS 5 Sportback’s blacked-out trim, 20-inch wheels and flared fenders exude an unmistakable Audi Sport look that aligns well with the car’s performance credentials. I’m drawn to finer details, such as frameless windows, a wide and low Singleframe grille that sports a unique RS honeycomb pattern, and curvaceous character lines that trace the car’s muscular sheet metal. Lighting may be the RS 5’s most dazzling feature, but the car’s visual appeal runs much deeper than a cool light show.
Sliding behind the steering wheel, it’s the details that attract my attention again: a stunning and seemingly endlessly customizable virtual cockpit display, carbon fibre trim accents in the dash and centre console, a honeycomb stitch pattern in the Nappa leather seats and a magnificent Bang & Olufsen 3D audio system.
The more time spent in the RS 5, the more convinced I became that for as engaging as it is to drive, it’s just as much fun to experience. Several times during my test I just sat in the cockpit, staring at its screens, while running my fingertips over its varied surfaces. It’s quite a sensory experience.
Yes, the sloping rear roofline and smallish greenhouse are negatives for outward visibility and make the car feel smaller inside than its exterior dimensions suggest, but they don’t diminish the car’s value much.
As for the drive, well, you can probably imagine what the RS 5 Sportback is like: it’s thoroughly grin-inducing. Tapping the RS Mode button skips all the fiddling and just lets all the Audi Sport hang out. And it’s a truly delightful experience: loud exhaust with off-throttle backfiring, hair-trigger acceleration, weightier steering, delayed transmission upshifting and a stiffer ride.
I didn’t try to replicate Audi’s performance numbers, zero-100 km (62.1 m.p.h.) in 3.9 seconds with a top speed of 280 km/h (174 m.p.h.) but, dear reader, believe me when I say the RS 5 Sportback is fast. It’s fast off the line, it’s fast in mixed traffic, and it’s fast on the highway. Quattro all-wheel drive delivers power to the corner that needs it to get the car through turns with steering that provides good feedback with minimal understeer.
Interestingly, when the drive select is dialed to comfort or auto, it behaves much like a normal premium sport sedan: quiet cabin, stiff, but not backbreaking ride, and brisk acceleration. Add those benefits to a useable back seat, increased cargo capacity and full-time all-wheel drive, and there’s an argument to be made that the RS 5 Sportback is a near ideal high-performance car.
But have I told you about the lights?
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.