Audi RS5 VS BMW Z4
- Tight rear headroom
- Misses V8 growl
- Rear entry/egress
- Bold exterior styling
- Surprisingly spacious
- A bit too serious to be fun
- SUV-like interior
- Ownership could be better
This car has some seriously big shoes to fill - think Ian Thorpe size, but bigger. It’s Audi’s new, second-generation RS 5 Coupe, the Bavarian maker’s mid-size performance flagship, sitting above the S5, and on paper it’s a clear step ahead of the model it replaces.
It’s powered by a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 pumping out enough kilowatts to power a small town, and features a new eight-speed Tiptronic auto, sending drive to all four wheels via Audi’s latest generation quattro system.
Sitting on the VW Group’s MLBevo platform, it’s around 60kg lighter, and more fuel-efficient, yet able to blast from 0-100km/h in less than four seconds.
The thing is, the last RS 5 had something this new rocket ship doesn’t; a superbly sonorous, 4.2-litre, naturally aspirated V8 sitting in its nose.
I straight-up loved the out-going RS 5, bonding with it over thousands of kilometres here and overseas. Up and down Europe’s most challenging alpine passes, and in a previous life, knocking over a story where we drove through eight European countries in a single day.
This new RS 5 produces the same number of kilowatts as the old atmo hero, but adds roughly 30 per cent more torque. The question is, can it match or better its older counterpart on that most intangible parameter – charisma?
|Engine Type||2.9L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
I remember the first Bond film I ever watched.
I was about eight or nine years old, and it was GoldenEye on VHS. In that film, Pierce Brosnan drove a BMW Z3 convertible, which obviously oozed cool.
I didn’t know at the time that it was just a little bit weird that he wasn’t driving an Aston Martin for the entire duration of the movie, but it didn’t matter, that drop-top Beamer with its radar and missiles imprinted itself on my mind.
As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for BMW’s 'zed' range, so I was quite keen to helm this new one as it came through the CarsGuide office, especially since it shares its underpinnings with the new Toyota Supra.
So, is the new Z4 a case of never meet your heroes? Or did it make me feel a little bit like a secret agent? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
While it may not sound as good as the outgoing model, the new RS 5 is blindingly fast, outstanding dynamically and loaded to the gunwales with standard features and tech.
A step ahead on paper, and in reality. It’s a brilliant, and yes, a brilliantly charismatic package.
Has Audi done enough with the new RS 5 Coupe to out-gun its primo performance coupe competitors? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Z4 didn’t make me feel like Peirce Brosnan’s 007. It’s way too serious – a proper gritty reboot. Maybe it’s meant for Daniel Craig. Either way, its brave design makes it one of the best-looking BMWs of recent memory, and it’s a tech- and comfort-fest that the Bavarian automaker should be proud of. I just wish it was a smidge more fun behind the wheel.
What do you make of the Z4’s looks - Is it an icon or too far from BMW’s roots? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
In developing the look of this car, Audi says its design team took inspiration from the ultra-wide-body Audi 90 IMSA GTO racer from the late ‘80s, driven to glory in the USA by the legendary likes of Hans-Joachim Stuck and Walter Rohrl.
The RS 5’s cool, confident stance is the result, with the blistered guards, the detail vents clustered with the head and tail-lights, as well as other aero pieces echoing that track weapon.
At just over 4.7 metres long, the new RS 5 is 74mm longer (there’s an extra 15mm in the wheelbase), and a single millimetre wider than the previous RS 5, but it’s still a full 15mm broader across the beam than the current A5 Coupe. The new car also wears a flatter, honeycomb version of the brand’s signature ‘Singleframe’ grille, and sits on bold 20-inch rims.
The interior is luxurious, suitably racy, and black. The multi-adjustable RS sports front seats are trimmed in nappa leather with contrast stitching and quilting on the centre panels.
A typically broad centre console is highlighted by brushed-metal elements with flashes of carbon dialling up the premium look and feel.
The slick, 12.3-inch ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display dominates the view straight ahead, allowing you to switch between screens depending on the mood you’re in and what you want to get up to. While the 8.3-inch hi-res colour ‘MMI touch’ display sits proud of the centre dashtop.
It's a subjective call, but I’m a big fan (no pun intended) of Audi’s approach to the front ventilation outlets, framed within a narrow, chrome-edged band, sweeping confidently across the dash.
The Z4 is a sight to behold. It’s brave, especially for a BMW, it even betrays the brand’s strongest styling pillars, making its own way with its more horizontal grille design, flat body and curved out rear.
It’s more than that, though. In black, this car looks sinister, brooding. The more you look at it, the more you notice tiny details - the scooped-out sides, or the way the entire rear seems to flick up into the integrated spoiler. I couldn’t get enough of staring at it – it manages to look even better with the roof down.
That’s probably when it hit me. To my eyes, at least, this is the most stunning BMW in years. Sure, the X7 is a sight to behold due to its sheer dimensions and borderline offensive grille, but the Z4 is the opposite. It’s subtle, it hides its details away in its silhouette.
It’s designer, Calvin Luk (an Australian no less), was inspired at least in part by the Z8 – another Brosnan bond car – and you can see the Fisker design reflected in the Z4’s low, flat grille and almost bulbous rear.
Inside, sadly, the Z4’s strong design doesn’t quite play out. There’s no wily Fisker touches here, just a standard set of BMW switchgear. While it all works well, it just dumbs down the Z4’s character.
The big, chunky steering wheel in particular is a let-down. It’s the same wheel that sits in the brand’s X5 SUV, and it feels right there, but not here in a convertible where you’re so close to the ground. A smaller wheel would not only suit this car better, it would make it feel just a smidge more alive. I miss the three-spoke M sport wheel from previous-generation BMW cars.
I do like the dash, which is seemly carved from rhomboid shapes - a theme that rolls into the doors, screens, and vents elegantly. I’m normally not a fan of gloss plastics and chrome touches, but in the Z4 they’re all tastefully applied.
The seats, too, are lovely. I’m not sure about the contrast bright-red leather our car came with, but they’re nice and close to the ground and have excellent trim that you seem to sink into just enough to be comfortable and sporty all at once.
It’s a slick place to be, I just wish it felt less like you were at the helm of an SUV and more like you were driving something that looks this damn good.
The RS 5 is a classic 2+2, providing generous space for the driver and front seat passenger, with those consigned to the rear still enjoying comfy accommodation, including adjustable ventilation control (with digital display), but tight headroom courtesy of the tapered coupe roofline.
Getting into the back is a moderate struggle, but once behind the driver’s seat, set for my 185cm frame, there’s surprisingly good legroom and decent space for your feet, but sitting fully upright meant twisting my head to an angle that would have any chiropractor rubbing their hands with glee.
Cabin storage runs to a lidded bin between the front seats (with additional space in front), an average size glove box, front-door pockets able to hold standard water bottles, netted map pockets on the front seatbacks, and oddments trays in the rear.
The cupholder count is strong, with two in the front and four in the back, and connectivity runs to two USB ports, an auxiliary-in socket, dual SD card readers, and two 12V outlets. There’s also a wireless charge bay for Qi-enabled devices if you opt for the ‘Technik package’ (more on that later).
Sensor control means the boot unlocks and opens automatically (if the smart key is detected) with a kicking motion under the rear bumper. Load space with rear seats upright is 465 litres VDA (10L more than the outgoing model), and the rear seat backs split-fold 40/20/40 to enhance flexibility and open up extra space for longer or bulkier loads.
There are four cargo tie down points and a luggage net supplied, plus a first-aid kit in a netted cubby on the passenger side, and another netted storage space (taking advantage of the space behind the rear wheel tub) on the driver’s side. The spare is a space saver.
The Z4 is a convertible, so it’s naturally compromised on space. As far as convertibles go though, you’ll be hard pressed to find one you can fit more stuff into.
The Z4 is wide - the same width, in fact, as a 5 Series - and this carries into the cabin. There are only two seats, but those seats are wide, and occupants will find themselves with luxurious amounts of airspace for their arms, as well as excellent leather-trimmed and padded surfaces for landing elbows on.
Legroom is also great, as the seats have a surprising amount of rail-travel on them, so that even taller folk won’t struggle to fit their limbs in.
A genuinely impressive characteristic of the Z4 is much head room there it is. Despite its low-slung looks from the outside, the roof towers over my 182cm tall head when I’m inside, so this isn’t one of those convertibles that feels like braking too hard might simply decapitate those above six-foot tall.
In terms of storage areas you get some long but shallow trenches in the doors, a bay with connection ports and a Qi wireless charging pad under the air-conditioning controls, a glovebox (hey, not all convertibles have them) and a trick centre console that houses two deep cupholders inside.
There’s also a netted shelf behind the seats that could fit small bags, and given the length of the cabin, you could even fit laptops and the like behind the seats provided you haven’t used the full extent of the seat’s rearward movement.
The boot is deep, wide and long for a drop-top, and offers a total of 281-litres which is more than some popular hatchbacks. It even offers tie-down points and netting either side. To top it off, the fabric roof folds away into its own compartment, so the boot space is unaffected if you choose to drop the lid.
For a convertible – the Z4 is a practicality wizard.
Price and features
Cost of entry to the Audi RS 5 Coupe club is $156,600 (before on-road costs); exactly $900 less than the most recent price for the superseded car.
And what’s more, according to Audi, the vast majority of first-gen RS 5 Coupe buyers hit the options list hard, to the tune of around $24k-worth of extras on average (some people would buy another small car with that cash).
So, to surprise and delight prospective buyers of this new version, a whole lot of extra fruit has been piled onto the car’s standard equipment list… and yes, it’s loaded.
Headline inclusions are three-zone climate control air (with ventilated glove box), ‘Dynamic Ride Control’ (with adaptive damper control), LED headlights (including LED DRLs), the nappa leather trim (door and side panel trim inserts in Alcantara), plus a panoramic sunroof (electrically tilting and opening, with electric sun shade).
Then, the RS sport front seats are a story in themselves. Electric adjustment (with memory for the driver) is a given, but they’re also heated, feature pneumatic side bolster adjustment, electric lumbar support, a massage function, and manual extendable thigh support.
But wait, there’s (a lot) more. The base price also includes an extended upholstery package, with the lower part of the centre console, door armrests and door pull handles trimmed in ‘man-made leather’, adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’ (including traffic-jam assistant and distance indicator), keyless entry and start, heated, folding and auto dimming exterior mirrors (with memory), plus LED tail-lights with dynamic (scrolling) indicators.
There’s also privacy glass (dark tinted rear and rear side windows), a headlight washer system, an RS sport exhaust (with gloss black oval tailpipes), an anti-theft alarm (with interior monitoring, tow-away protection and tilt sensor), interior ambient lighting (with 30 selectable colours and five colour profiles), a frameless, auto-dimming interior mirror, plus door-sill trims with aluminium inlays and illuminated RS emblems.
Okay, deep breath. Also included are ‘Park assist’ (helps steer the vehicle into parallel or perpendicular spaces), 360-degree cameras (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle for easier manoeuvring), auto headlights, rain sensing wipers, the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ (digital configurable colour instrument cluster), stainless-steel-finished pedals, and a flat-bottom, multifunction RS sport leather steering wheel.
And now we get to the multimedia, including ‘Audi connect’ (Wi-Fi hotspot and Google services), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a Bang & Olufsen ‘3D Sound System’, with no less than 19 speakers, and 755 watts delivered via a 16-channel amplifier.
It also features DAB+ digital radio, ‘MMI navigation plus’, including an 8.3-inch high-res colour display, 10 GB flash memory, and integrated voice control.
That’s a motherload of stuff, and doesn’t even consider the laundry list of standard active and passive safety tech covered in the safety section below.
If all that isn’t enough, there are a series of individual options on offer, like a carbon-fibre roof ($4900), ceramic brakes ($11,900), and milled-finish 20-inch alloys ($1600). Or feature bundles, including the ‘Technik package’ (colour head-up display, ‘Matrix LED’ headlights, and more), and ‘RS Design package’ (‘Audi phone box light’ wireless charging for Qi devices, an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, extra leather, lots of red stitching, and multiple RS logos).
The Z4 isn’t cheap, but it plays in a field of expensive Deutsche drop-tops. Our car was the mid-spec 30i which comes in at an MSRP of $104,900 (before on-road costs).
For that you’ll get a more highly tuned version of the base 20i’s four-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 190kW/400Nm, 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport brakes, Adaptive M suspension, and adaptive LED headlights.
That’s on top of the already impressively-specified 20i’s kit which includes dual 10.25-inch screens – one for the multimedia functions, the other as a digital dashboard, a head-up display, full Vernasca leather interior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power adjustable and heated front seats with memory function, dual-zone climate control, 10-speaker 205W stereo, a Qi wireless charging pad, and adaptive cruise control as part of a marginally upgraded safety package (more on that in the safety section).
It’s a pretty plush set of equipment, although a challenging value proposition as the almost-as-well-equipped 20i starts from $84,900, a full $20k cheaper.
Rivals for this 30i model? You’ve got the soon-to-be-discontinued Mercedes-Benz SLC300 ($102,500), all-wheel drive Audi TT S quattro ($105,661), and, at a stretch, the entry-level Porsche Boxster ($122,960).
Of course, being a premium European car, there is an extensive options list. Our car was fitted with the excellent and probably-worth-the-money M Sport differential ($2400), as well as the rudely priced M seat belts (literally just the M pattern embroidered in - $560!) and interior ambient lighting package (lovely, perhaps not worth $550).
The Z4 is only offered in five colours, three of which – including our car’s Black Sapphire – come at a cost of $2000. The red interior, surprisingly, is a no-cost option.
If you’re keeping track that brings the car you’re looking at here to $110,410. Not cheap, and it doesn’t have six-cylinders - but given its other attributes explored later in this review, the fact that it still manages to undercut an entry-level Boxster is actually reasonable.
Engine & trans
The RS 5 Coupe’s 2.9-litre V6 is based on the S4’s 3.0-litre unit, featuring a shorter stroke, and two turbos rather than a single, twin-scroll unit.
It’s an all-alloy design, featuring direct injection, variable inlet valve adjustment, continuous camshaft adjustment, and drive-by-wire throttle control.
With the turbos sitting inside the engine’s 90-degree V, the distances from the exhaust side to the turbos and then from the turbos to the inlet side are short, so they spool up quickly and boost power rapidly.
Maximum torque of 600Nm (+170Nm) is available from just 1900rpm all the way to 5000rpm, with maximum power of 331kW taking over from 5700 to 6700rpm (the latter number being the rev ceiling).
The transmission is an eight-speed auto, taking over from the first-gen RS 5’s seven-speed dual-clutch because of the new car’s additional torque.
It feeds power to all four wheels via the latest iteration of Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, with drive normally distributed 40/60 front to rear, but able to go as much as 85 per cent rear and 70 per cent front, with torque vectoring via the ESC system, and drive managed by a self-locking centre diff, and an electro-mechanical sport diff at the rear.
Welcome to the age of ridiculously powered four-cylinder turbo engines. Despite a capacity of just 2.0-litres, the engine in the Z4 30i produces a whopping 190kW/400Nm.
That’s probably enough for a car this size. I’m keen to drive the six-cylinder, but surprisingly it seems to offer diminishing returns for extra cylinders offering a 60kW/100Nm power boost for an extra $20,000. Perhaps a six-cylinder is the way to go in a BMW, and given this car’s other seriously sporty attributes, it might be the only way to make it a bit more… fun. More on that in the driving section.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.8L/100km, the RS 5 emitting 199g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over 500km of twisting, central Tasmanian roads on the launch drive program, we averaged a dash-indicated 12.4L/100km, which represents some intense periods of ‘spirited’ driving, with a best of 11.9L/100km recorded on one slightly more sedate 120km city and outer-urban section.
You’ll need 58 litres of 98RON premium unleaded to fill the tank.
It’s claimed that the Z4 will drink just 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the official combined cycle test, but I found that sticking my foot in occasionally resulted in a slightly more realistic sounding figure of 8.4L/100km.
That’s still a great fuel consumption number for a car like this, and perhaps one of the strongest benefits of having just four cylinders.
A discerning vehicle, the Z4 will drink nothing less than the best-quality 98RON unleaded to fill its 52-litre tank.
First impressions are dominated by the V6 twin-turbo engine’s mountainous torque. In fact, it’s less a peak and more of an imposing plateau, with 600Nm available across a broad spread from 1900rpm to 5000rpm.
Maximum power takes over from 5700 to 6700rpm, so from go to whoa there’s monumental thrust lurking under your right foot. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 3.9sec, which is six tenths faster than the previous V8, with the RS 5 able to surge on to an electronically controlled top speed of 250km/h (280km/h with the limiter optionally removed). This car is a rocket.
The eight-speed auto is smooth yet quick and positive. And in terms of the speed and definition of shifts, you’re not really losing anything relative to the seven-speed dual-clutch in the old RS 5.
Suspension is a five-link design front and rear, the first-gen RS 5 using a trapezoidal link set-up at the back. This car’s lighter engine (a hefty 31kg down) improves balance with less weight on the front axle improving steering response and agility. Even at 1.7 tonnes, the car feels agile, planted, and puts its power down with reassuring authority. Damping is outstanding.
Rubber is high-end Hankook Ventus S1 evo2s, and despite their 20-inch size, they are surprisingly compliant and quiet. And speaking of noise, the previous car’s atmo V8 was raucous music to any performance enthusiast’s ears, and somehow Audi’s managed to tune in its characteristic, guttural growl for this V6, mainly using flaps in the exhaust. Not quite as free and angry as the V8 it replaces, but satisfyingly gruff all the same.
The engine and exhaust noise won’t be an issue if you’ve never heard the old one. This car sounds great, and the mid-range is so beautifully meaty, that on a twisting B-road a smile naturally appears on your face.
‘Drive Select’ allows tuning of the engine and gearbox, suspension, sport diff and exhaust. But beware the ‘Dynamic’ suspension mode, if you have fillings they’re likely to rattle free. Best left for track days.
The (electro-mechanical) steering feels great, with linear response, and road feel is also good. Overall, the RS5 Coupe delivers a truly involving drive experience.
The brakes are pretty much professional grade, with big six-piston calipers up front and two-piston floating calipers at the rear. Rotors are ventilated and perforated all around (375mm front / 330mm rear).
If you’ve got a lazy 12 grand burning a hole in your pocket you can add the carbon-ceramic package, but the standard brakes are fantastic, and you’d have to be a dedicated track-day fanger to need them.
A car that looks this good better live up to the promise behind the wheel, right?
For the most part, the 30i does, but it’s a victim of its own performance credentials and luxuriousness.
See, a drop-top should be fun-packed, you should feel close to the road, connected. Sadly, a combination Z4’s excellent suspension and not-so-excellent SUV-like interior separates you too much from the surface below.
An advantage, of course, is the refinement on offer. The Z4 is easily one of the quietest, most refined convertibles I’ve ever driven, but it’s a little too insulated.
I can’t help but feel like it’s all business and no pleasure. It feels a little more like I should be cruising to work on the autobahn and a little less like I should be flinging it around corners on a tight B-road.
It feels almost wrong to drive it in a T-shirt. It’s serious and doesn’t want you to mess around, it wants you to wear a suit and tie.
This grand-tourer style feel is one that will keep a lot of buyers in the premium space happy, but I’m of the opinion that BMW will have that segment well and truly covered by the new 8 Series. If the budget allows.
Regardless, the 30i’s four-cyl engine feels like any six-cylinder would have a few years ago. It’s got a surge to it in the straights that’s quite satisfying, and it responds via the exhaust with an angry tone that makes it feel a little more alive, especially with the roof down.
This feeling was all helped along by our car’s M active differential which simply won’t let the fat tyres at the rear slide unless you’ve got high-speeds and loads of tarmac to play with – for better or worse.
The Z4 also has ‘variable sport steering’ which reacts to the car’s speed and position of the wheels to adjust the input ratio. It’s good when you’re at speed, but the weight and response of the steering can make the Z4 feel bigger than it actually is at lower speeds.
The suspension is firm, and can be a little bouncy over rough surfaces, but seems well suited to the Z4’s chassis.
Other than those notable characteristics you’ll find that the Z4 is wonderfully tuned in terms of its inputs, everything is slick and smooth, suited perfectly for long meandering drives.
The RS 5 Coupe doesn’t leave much on the table when it comes to active and passive safety.
Attention assist, ‘Audi pre-sense city’ (with AEB and pedestrian detection), ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and Brake Assist are all standard.
There’s also a tyre-pressure-monitoring system, adaptive cruise control (including a distance indicator and speed limiter), active lane assist, ‘Audi parking system plus’ (front and rear with visual display), ‘Audi pre-sense front’ (provides collision mitigation up to 250km/h), blind-spot warning, collision-avoidance assist, rear cross traffic assist, turn assist (monitors oncoming traffic when turning right at low speeds), an exit warning system (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors), and auto high beam.
And if all that’s not enough to help you avoid a crash, there are six airbags on board (front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front passengers, and head-level curtain airbags for front and rear).
Convertibles and safety don’t often fall in the same sentence, unless its one where a concerned relative is trying to convince you not to buy one.
In any case, the Z4 benefits from four airbags (dual front and dual side), as well as the expected electronic stability controls. That optional M Sport differential will have the added bonus of preventing any unexpected slip and slide at the rear.
On the active side the Z4 gets ‘Driving Assistant’ which includes forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and rear collision warning. The 30i grade also gets 'active cruise control with stop & go' which allows for full auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Not on the spec sheet, but apparently present in the car I drove was some form of traffic sign recognition (TSR) and lane keep assist (LKAS).
A nice high-res reversing camera displayed on the massive touchscreen is a welcome standard addition.
Considering the meagre safety specification of most convertible cars, the Z4 30i shines with a half-way decent active safety suite. But you can forget ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. There aren't any.
Audi provides a three year/unlimited warranty, with three years paint cover, and a 12-year rust perforation guarantee. ‘AudiCare’ 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
The recommended service interval is 15,000km/12 months, and the ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plan’ is available to cover scheduled servicing for three years/45,000km (whichever comes first).
If recent quotes are anything to go by BMW is set to stick by its lacklustre three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, as it says its customers simply aren’t interested in five years (or longer) when it comes to warranty coverage.
In terms of servicing, there are two fixed-price plans available – the suspiciously cheap ‘Basic’ plan which comes at a cost of $1373 for five years (or $274.60 per year) and the more realistic-sounding ‘Plus’ which costs $3934 over five years (or $786.80 per year).
Like every other BMW, the Z4’s computer tells you when its service time: how often it needs maintenance will depend on how often – and how hard – you drive it.