The RS 5 cabrio had its world premiere at the Paris motor show in September 2012, the coupe having been launched at the 2010 Geneva show
Two new high performance Audis have just gone on sale in the UK. Glenn Brooks tries them both.
The continuing steam roller of product launches for Audi rolls on, and with Britain being one of the company's biggest and most profitable markets, it's no surprise that the days of LHD-only production for niche models are long gone.
Sales volumes for these vehicles will never be large but with prices starting at GBP68,985 for the RS 5 Cabrio, even 100 cars a year is excellent business for Audi UK. The SQ5 TDI is another pricey proposition, starting at GBP44,055, but more on that in a moment.
No-one buys a car like the RS 5 to go about their business quietly and unnoticed. Audi names the BMW M3 Convertible as a direct rival but apart from each making one hell of a fantastic sounding racket at full throttle, the cars aren't really that similar. I asked my BMW-obsessed mate what he thought of the RS 5 and straight away he rejected it, as it's front-drive based. Me, I think that's a bit harsh, especially now that I have driven the car.
Can you really tell which wheels are driving the RS 5? You can - it's definitely an FWD-based model but so what? Unlike the M3, drive goes to all four wheels and traction is simply not an issue. Yes, there is some understeer but not enough so that you could accuse the RS 5 of being soft - this is definitely a hardcore roadster. And the noise it makes is as good as the S8 I fell in lust with last year, if not better.
Still with that M3 comparison, Audi's data show a 30 horsepower advantage (the BMW's engine produces 420PS) as well as the same surplus of torque (430Nm @ 4,000-6,000rpm versus 400Nm @ 3,900). Each has a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox - S tronic branding for the Audi and M DCT for the M3.
Performance? There's not much in it: the RS 5 charges to 62mph in 4.9 seconds, which bests the M3 by 0.2 seconds and top speeds are an identical 155mph. But wait, you can pay more for a chip that derestricts your Audi and gets you to a claimed 174mph. Should you feel a tad guilty doing that, fret not too badly as the Combined MPG is 26.4mpg (24.6 for the M3) and CO2 isn't too bad either at 249g/km compared to the BMW's 269.
There's a lot to love about the looks of the RS 5 Cabriolet, especially the 19-inch wheels, that villainous grille, a ride height that's fully 20mm lower than that of the A5 cabrio and all the matt aluminium-look trim such as the mirror casings, windscreen pillars and front wing surround. As well as flared wheelarches, painted brake callipers, and unique bumpers, you get enlarged air intakes at the front and at the rear, a special diffuser and twin oval RS exhausts. If you pay extra for the sports exhaust (I would!), that means black tailpipes so that anoraks like me will know, and be impressed.
It's a shame to have a 444bhp V8 which spins to 8,250rpm under the bonnet and not use it to full effect. The trouble is, not every day sees you out on the mythical empty roads of somewhere like North Wales. For such occasions, the lucky people expected to buy one of these cars will appreciate the acoustic roof made from insulated, three-layered fabric. I can attest to its sound-proofing.
Back to the matter of traction, which I touched upon earlier. Audi's engineers were well aware that their new car would come in for close observation from the enthusiast magazines so they chose to fit launch control as standard.
Blasting off the line is all well and good but that doesn't get you powering out of bends feeling as though Nico Rosberg would do well to watch your technique. To help with such matters, the boffins at quattro GmbH in Neckarsulm have specified a self-locking crown differential and torque vectoring. Can you notice it? Ooh yes. It isn't quite the same as the sensation of being pushed hard out of a corner as it is in the M3 but the Audi's inherent FWD bias isn't that easy to detect.
Who will buy this car in the UK? According to its maker, the core group will be 45-55 years old and mostly men who are self-employed or MDs. Such people will be "ambitious and success-oriented, with a pronounced focus on achieving, accomplishing and advancing both professionally and socially" with a household monthly income of GBP6,500 to 8,000. When the company's research also shows that these guys lease a car as a reward for their own work ethic, you tend to believe it - selling a hundred or more RS 5 Cabrios a year shouldn't be too much of a challenge when you consider just how many potential customers are out there in places such as London E14 or in certain Cheshire postal codes.
Now comes the part of product eye reviews that I especially enjoy writing - the sharing of option prices, which can on occasion be eye-watering. Let's start with something amazing such as ceramic front brakes, which you will need to know can be identified through the car's alloy rims by the words 'Audi ceramic'. Claimed to have a service life of 183,000 miles, they are priced at GBP5,250.
As well as the super-stoppers, one of the cars I drove came with what seemed like the whole catalogue of options. This included:
- RS-embossed seats: GBP1,735
- Dynamic Ride Control: GBP1,710
- 20-inch wheels: GBP1,350
- Sports exhaust: GBP890
- Nappa black leather: GBP615
- Bang & Olufsen sound system: GBP535
- 'Advanced Key': GBP470
- Carbon trim for the engine bay: GBP440
- Dynamic Steering: GBP375
- mobile phone preparation: GBP350
- 'Parking System Advanced': GBP340
- Hill-hold Assist: GBP65
There's more, believe it or not: half a tank of fuel, the delivery charge and registration plates cost a combined GBP590, the road fund licence is GBP840 and the first registration fee is GBP55. Gentlemen and ladies, that makes a total of eighty three thousand one hundred and ten pounds. If you have an aching need to push it up towards GBP85,000, then there's always heated seats (GBP300) and adaptive cruise control (GBP900). It's a lot of money for an Audi that's based on the A5 cabrio but you're paying for exclusivity aren't you?
The A4 and A5 are now getting towards the end of their lifecycles so might we expect a final flourish from Audi in the form of the one obvious niche-filler, an RS 5 Sportback? "We have no plans for such a car," said a company spokesman when I asked. Perhaps in the next generation model then.
You might recall reading about this car, Audi's first S model with a diesel engine, almost one year ago. It was announced to the media on a Saturday, timed to coincide with the start of the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race. Sales didn't get underway until the first quarter of this year (May for the UK) and interestingly enough, this model isn't offered in many parts of the world outside Europe.
I've written about the SQ5's engine before, having sampled it in the A6 allroad quattro. As a reminder, it's a 230kW (313hp) version of the Volkswagen Group's 2,967cc turbo diesel V6. Torque is claimed to be 650Nm, just as it is in the allroad.
Here's where things get a touch unusual. A second derivative, named simply SQ5, had its global debut at the Detroit motor show in January. This one will eventually be sold in loads of non-EU markets. Audi went to the trouble of listing these at the time: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Russia, Ukraine and the US. So even though you'll see a couple of RHD countries there, we won't be getting the petrol-engined SQ5 in the UK.
The SQ5 comes with a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 which produces a claimed 260kW (354hp) and 470Nm of torque. An eight-speed tiptronic (torque converter automatic with paddle shifters) sends drive to all wheels - neither a manual gearbox nor an S tronic dual-clutch transmission is available. The 0-100km/h figure for the SQ5 is quoted as 5.3 seconds versus 5.1 seconds for the SQ5 TDI. Yes, the diesel is faster than the petrol.
As for distinguishing external features, there are 20" wheels (21" rims are an option), black brake callipers with an S logo, alumnium-effect mirror covers, xenon headlights with automatic range adjustment, an extended body-coloured roof spoiler, V6 T badges on the front wings, plus a grey-painted grille frame, while the vehicle itself sits 30mm lower than other Q5s.
Inside, it's as per the Q5 but with subtle yet effective extra trim upgrades. That means touches such as 'SQ5' embossing on the multi-directional electric front seats, leather door armrests, 'S' instruments and a 6.5-inch colour display, a thick-rimmed steering wheel with an SQ5 badge at its squared-off bottom section, LED lighting and matt-brushed aluminium trim on the centre console and for the scuff plates.
Other changes include a bonnet and tailgate constructed from aluminium but would you believe, in a car costing over GBP44,000, electric opening and closing of the boot costs extra? An extra GBP385 to be exact. I forgot to mention earlier that there was a shock with the RS 5 too: all that money and the steering wheel adjustment is manual. The SQ5 TDI test car was listed at GBP53,140 with most of that coming from four-digit items such as the huge glass roof and MMI Navigation Plus.
According to Audi's marketing department, around 40% of the company's UK sales are now for quattro models and that percentage is rising. In Britain, all Audis have either standard or optional all-wheel drive, while globally every high performance S or super-fast RS model is a quattro.
Whereas the RS 5 Cabrio says "look at me", the SQ5 is more of a subtle supercar. The top speed is an easy 155mph - it's limited - and the acceleration is phenomenal, and not at all what you'd expect from an SUV. Think of this as a smaller version of the new Range Rover Sport, but with room for just five occupants and the ability to park it in cosier spaces.
The RRS comparison is relevant in another way too, as like its bigger, pricier rival, the SQ5 has been designed with a close eye on limiting weight where possible. The Audi tips the scales at 1,920kg but considering the size of the engine and that eight-speed gearbox, plus the AWD system, it's hard to criticise it. Audi even claims this vehicle has the lowest unladen weight for its class.
The aluminium tailgate means a loss of 8.1kg over an equivalent steel assembly, while constructing the front cross member and crash boxes gives a claimed further saving of five kilos. The occupant cell integrates form-hardened steels "to attain extreme levels of tensile strength", Audi says, while also claiming this means a total weight of just 44kg or 15kg less than conventional parts. Tailored rolled blanks (i.e. metal sheets of varying thickness) in the rear floor area reduce mass by a further 1.9kg.
Tired of the metal-speak yet? OK, one last paragraph and then I'll stop, but the just-auto gods like me banging on about this stuff as many readers find it useful, I'm told. For this car's body-in-white (no doors, lids or sheet metal skin), form-hardened steels make up 9.1 percent of the total weight, 3.3 percent comprises ultra-high strength steel, 12.3 percent advanced high-strength grades, 44.5 percent high-strength steels and 30.8 percent deep-drawn steels.
The local importer originally thought the SQ5 TDI might take five percent of Q5 sales this year and next. It might soon need to revise that expectation as the latest data shows orders running at 10 percent of the 2,500 Q5s ordered in the first quarter.