American Audi fans finally can get their hands on a few -- just a few -- Audi RS 5 Coupes and Cabriolets.
Sold in Europe for a few years, the highest-performance versions of the Audi A5 started to arrive on U.S. soil for the first time this model year.
With just about everything standard, these 450-horsepower, V-8-powered, two-door, handsomely crafted cars will be rare. Just 1,500 are slated for this market.
The exclusivity, the RS image that offers Americans a new alternative to BMW's M and Mercedes-Benz's AMG brands, and the lustful performance of 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 4 seconds from a hand-built engine are designed to position Audi at a new level.
Certainly, the powerful and impeccably handling RS 5s, which come standard with Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system, build on Audi's winning race heritage. It was just last month that Audi celebrated its 12th win in 13 years at the famous Le Mans 24 Hours race in France.
The RS 5s also build upon Audi's somewhat "cult luxury car brand" reputation in the United States.
For example, only Audi aficionados seemed to notice the 2013 RS 5 Coupe test car. But these Audi lovers were admiring and smitten right away and thrilled to see an RS 5 in something other than a photograph.
Nearly $32,000 more
The 2013 Audi RS 5s are up there in price, but not as much as expected.
Of course, the base A5 Coupe comes with a 211-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and lacks the torque-vectoring rear differential, the twin-clutch, seven-speed transmission or Audi's Drive Select that's in an RS 5.
A 2013 RS 5 Cabriolet is priced higher, with a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $78,795.
Still, in contrast to some luxury performance competitors, an RS 5 doesn't trigger the U.S. government's gas guzzler tax. Indeed, the estimated fuel economy ratings by the federal government for an RS 5 is 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 22 mpg or 23 mpg on highways.
This compares with the major competitors who are pegged at 13 mpg or 14 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg or 20 mpg on highways.
The RS 5s also are relatively competitively priced. The 2013 Mercedes C63 AMG Coupe has a starting retail price, including destination charge, of $63,235 with 451-horsepower V-8 generating 443 foot-pounds of torque at a high 5,000 rpm, and a displacement of 6.2 liters. That compares with the 4.2 liters of the Audi RS 5's naturally aspirated V-8 that produces 317 foot-pounds of torque at a lower 4,000 rpm.
Meanwhile, the V-8-powered, 2013 BMW M3 Coupe starts at $62,325, including gas guzzler tax, and generates 414 horses and 295 foot-pounds at 3,900 rpm.
Massive, black grille
The RS 5 Coupe test car had an unusual, darker blue color called Sepang Blue that attractively camouflaged the spirited nature of the car. From the front, though, there's no missing the wide stance of an RS 5 and the massive, black grille.
The test RS 5 Coupe started up melodiously, with awesomely deep engine sounds. Note the test car had the $1,000 optional sport exhaust that definitely was worth having for its showoff value.
A push on the accelerator brought instant response, though the car moved with a heaviness and solidity that seemed more Mercedes than Audi.
To be sure, the RS 5 Coupe weighs more than 4,000 pounds with standard 19-inch tires, and the test car had the optional-for-$1,000 20-inchers.
So, despite being a sporty two-door, the RS 5 Coupe is not a lightweight sports car.
The heft did not impair the RS 5 Coupe's handling, however. The car's crisp motions through sweeping curves and around corners were balanced by a sense that this coupe moved as one solidly built piece.
Better yet, the RS 5 Coupe's immediate steering response, its stability and its well-crafted interior with Nappa leather provided an almost Zen-like backdrop for enthusiastic driving.
While all-wheel drive is standard, the RS 5 has a 40 percent/60 percent baseline power bias toward the rear wheels, and optional summer tires on the tester provided tangible, amazing grip.
The torque-vectoring rear differential sophisticatedly dials in power to the correct wheels to help an experienced enthusiast move around corners quickly.
The Audi engine, built by hand at a plant in Hungary, delivers awesome power smoothly via a seven-speed S tronic transmission whose lightning-fast shifts felt nearly seamless in the test car.
Yet, the RS 5 Coupe was an easy driver for everyday city traffic, too, when pedal-to-the-metal situations were few and far between.