Kempten, Germany - What’s in a name? A lot actually when you consider just how many car names have gone on to become legends. Would the Mustang have gained fame and fortune had Ford simply called it the Fairlane Coupe? Would the Ferrari 365GTB/4 have become so deeply etched in automotive history had the media not nicknamed it ‘Daytona’ after Ferrari’s 1-2-3 finish at the 1967 edition of this famous 24-Hour race?
Back in 2003 Audi held an internal competition to come up with a name they could apply to sportier versions of their five-door models. The vote went to ‘Sportback’, a name that conjures up images of a sleek machine with fastback styling. Needless to say our eyebrows were raised when Audi presented the A3 Sportback in 2004, this first car to wear the new moniker looking more like a cross between the normal A3 and a small, sporty fashion estate.
The five-door Coupe style that we properly associated with the Sportback appellation finally arrived with the A5 Sportback in 2009, and the concept truly came into its own with the lovely A7 Sportback of 2010 that clearly drew its styling cues from the elegant Audi 100 Coupe S of 1969. With the Audi Coupe revered by enthusiasts as Germany’s answer to the Bertone-designed Fiat Dino Coupe, Audi’s Sportback concept was at last cooking with gas.
A decade on and the A5 and A7 Sportback models are on sale in their second generations, with revised chassis and powertrains to match. The A5 continues to be popular, its five-door configuration providing stylish transport for families or business users who need space and versatility sans the utilitarian image of an estate car.
The good thing about the mid-size Audi MLB platform shared by the A4 and A5 ranges is the wide choice of engines. If you need good fuel economy for high mileage use then the 2.0 turbo-diesel motor is your friend. At the other end of the scale the RS5 Coupe and Sportback share their potent 450hp, 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 motor with the RS4 Avant.
While the RS5 Sportback already cuts a dash, owners who want to make a more individualistic statement gravitate towards ABT Sportsline, who will happily craft you an RS5-R like the one you see here. The factory metallic grey paintwork of their demo car toned nicely with the darker anthracite carbon-fibre aerodynamic components and black alloy wheels, creating a near monochromatic mood.
Of course this is a matter of individual choice, and a different paint colour paired with alloy wheels in silver, bronze or even a multi-coloured finish all add to the chance of never seeing exactly the same car at the stop lights or in the golf club car park.
The ABT aero components start at the front with a carbon-fibre front spoiler lip and air intakes and front grille frame. More carbon-fibre adorns the cars flanks, and these parts include the side vents on the arch flares aft of the wheel arches, exterior mirror caps, profiled trims along the side sills, and the fins at the rear of the sills whose position and shape helps to control airflow spillage in front of the rear wheels.
At the rear the factory valance benefits from a carbon-fibre diffuser and exhaust outlets surrounds that bracket the four 102mm diameter outlets of the ABT Sportsline rear exhaust silencer. The subtle spoiler lip attached to the trailing edge of the boot lid tops off the aero parts list.
As the RS5 Sportback comes with a pretty high cabin specification as standard, ABT’s designers had to come up with something a bit special to help this interior stand out.
Once again they turned to carbon fibre as the material of choice for the dashboard and centre console inserts. The leather of the seat squab and backrest are trimmed in high-grade black leather with red hexagonal stitching. ABT logos in white are set into the headrests and complement the red RS5-R motifs stitched onto the anthracite Alcantara seat backrest panels. Alcantara with red outline stitching also features on the sides of the centre console.
The carbon-fibre fest continues for the centre console, gearshift lever cover, and dashboard trim inserts, while a small badge on the passenger side shows the production number of each ABT RS5-R “Limited Edition of 50”.
ABT has always been critical of the unfinished look of the dashboard sides when the door is open, and produced carbon-fibre caps to fill this visual void. As a finishing touch the sill entry panels have RS5-R logos that are illuminated at night.
Thanks to a pair of turbochargers nestled between its cylinder heads in the first ever hot-side-inside configuration to be used on a V6 engine the Audi 2.9-litre TFSI motor is even lustier than the naturally aspirated 4.2 litre V8 it replaces.
Delivering 450hp (155.5hp/Litre) between 5,700 and 6,700rpm, with 600Nm of torque from 1,900rpm to 5,000rpm in factory fresh form this motor boasts 179Nm more twist than its predecessor, and at lower revs.
Using their piggyback AEC (ABT Engine Control) unit to intercept signals between the motor and the factory ECU, ABT Sportsline applies bespoke fuel, spark and boost curves for a smooth increase in output throughout the engine speed range.
Importantly, the revised mapping protocols are not just active on full throttle. Here the boost pressure for a given situation is not an absolute, but rather is defined by the required torque and calculated maximum load.
With their usual thoroughness the ABT team designed the AEC to read over 25 parameters from the sensors and then provide the optimum solution with respect to load, ambient temperature, throttle position and other parameters. This is not just a chip tuning exercise.
The resulting 503hp and 698Nm are well within the motor’s headroom, thus ensuring long-term reliability. Because of this ABT Sportsline has no reservations in applying their comprehensive warranty to the conversion.
While this power increase is within the headroom of the standard turbochargers and fuel injectors, there is still the issue of heat. Heat is the enemy of reliability as well as sustained power, since the protection protocols will be triggered to reduce output if operating temperatures exceed the set factory limits.
ABT thus replace the factory water-cooled intercooler with their bespoke unit, which is about 25% more efficient, and works with a higher flow pump. The efficiency part is important because the actual unit has to be about the same size as the OE unit since there is limited space in the engine bay.
The lower charge air temperatures achieved with this uprated intercooler more than compensate for the greater heat output of the tuned motor. This keeps operating temperatures within factory limits even in high ambient temperatures when running hard on the autobahn or heat soaking in a summer traffic jam.
Deployed with quattro all-wheel-drive traction the extra grunt enables the ABT RS5-R to shave 0.3 second off the time to 100km/h, which now falls in just 3.6 seconds. The ECU remap also removes the 250km/h top speed limiter, allowing the RS5-R to match the 280km/h Vmax that Audi offer as an option.
While some enthusiasts who have owned the previous incarnation of this car will miss the deep growl of the outgoing 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 motor there is no argument that the bi-turbo V6 punches beyond its weight.
And if you were to step straight out of a standard RS5 Sportback the extra grunt can be felt the moment you bury the throttle in the carpet. Even though ABT has not changed the response of the e-gas throttle the bi-turbo V6 feels even more willing, with palpably greater low-end response and mid-range urge that carries on unabated to the redline.
In Sport mode the sports exhaust sings its own warbling V6 melody in each of the seven forward gears, punctuated by a brief “brapp” as the exhaust signals another upward ratio shift initiated by a pull of the right paddle.
The uprated motor also has a stronger grip over mid-range thrust, and just keeps going at the top end of the rev band. While this means you will arrive at a given bend that much faster the Audi ceramic brakes have plenty of excess capacity, so no heart stopping moments there.
The extra power and torque are certainly no problem for the Audi ceramic brakes, while the uprated ABT suspension and larger footwear work with the quattro all-wheel-drive system and Sport Differential to challenge the ability of the mere 503hp output to make them do anything untoward on a bone-dry road. If anything the chassis felt like it could happily absorb another 100hp or more with ease.
The ABT height adjustable coil-over suspension kit is based on the KW V3 system and is set 30mm lower than stock for a more purposeful stance that visually centres the big wheels in their arches. This electronically adjustable damping works with the factory Drive Select system, maintaining the choice of Comfort, Sport, Dynamic and Individual settings. Roll angles are further reduced with the uprated anti-roll bar kit that was fitted to this car.
The Comfort setting works well in normal driving, allowing the suspension to breathe. Sport really battens down the hatches and the ride becomes noticeably firmer no thanks to the huge 20-inch wheels shod with 275/30ZR20 Continental Sport Contact 6 rubber.
Right now Audi has a range of stylish, high performance cars that comes close to offering something for everyone. If you need a load carrier with muscle this is covered by the RS4, the four-seat Coupe recipe is the remit of the RS5, while the RS5 Sportback majors on style with practicality.
And if you find the showroom stock power and visual gravitas are inadequate, then the answer lies in the comprehensive ABT Sportsline catalogue. Their limited edition RS5-R Sportback that so impressed us on the day certainly speaks for itself.