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Rowdy Germans – Audi RS 5 vs BMW M4

Chris Kaiser

The Germans love building raucous sports cars, and we love driving them. The only real trouble with the Audi RS 5 and the BMW M4 is choosing between these two Teutonic buzz saws.

A Subtle Display of Power

How do you say doppelgänger in German? Oh, right, never mind. I ask because, while not quite siblings, the Audi RS 5 and BMW M4 do a decent impression of Germanic turbo-twins. Both offer 6-cylinders and over 400hp, both combine aggression and sophistication in equal measure, and both feature heavy doses of carbon fiber and Alcantara to remind your passengers they aren’t quite worthy.

netcarshow.com | bmwusa.com
netcarshow.com | bmwusa.com

Combining raw power with comfortable daily drivability is what German luxury sports cars are best at. The RS 5 and M4 excel in this area. So much so that we had to dig deep into the details to find what distinguishes them. There are some key differences, but, when it comes to driving excitement, neither disappoints.

Specs – Two Paths, One Destination (444hp)

Audi RS 5

2020 Audi RS 5 2.9L twin turbocharged V6 - audiusa.com
2020 Audi RS 5 2.9L twin turbocharged V6 - audiusa.com

The RS 5 may no longer possess a rumbling V8 under its hood, but the current 2.9L twin turbocharged V6 packs enough punch that, aside from the aural differences, there’s little lost in the transition. This V6 puts out a clamorous 444hp and 443lb.ft. of torque, and once paired with a lightning fast 8-speed automatic, can rocket the RS 5 from 0-60 in just 3.7 seconds and to a top speed of 174mph. The RS 5 comes equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system, rear-biased, of course. All that power comes with a less than stellar gas mileage at 18 city and 27 highway mpg.

BMW M4

2020 BMW M4 3.0L turbocharged I6 - bmwusa.com
2020 BMW M4 3.0L turbocharged I6 - bmwusa.com

For anyone out there who thinks they need to wait for the next M3 to really get their dollars’ worth from their BMW purchase, get behind the wheel of the current M4 and all those misgivings will melt away. The 3.0L turbocharged inline-6 in the M4 also crests 400hp at a respectable 425hp and 406lb.-ft. of torque. You get your choice of the enthusiast’s favorite 6-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic transmission. The manual will sap your 0-60 time just slightly to 4.1 seconds versus 3.8 seconds if you let the M4 shift for you. The M4 comes, rightly, in rear-wheel drive. Fuel efficiency is 18 city and 25 highway mpg.

These numbers add up to a pretty substantial sports car on their own, but there’s the Competition package for those as yet unsated. The Competition package bumps up the horsepower to match the RS 5 at 444hp and raises the top speed from 156mph to 170mph. You also get 20-inch wheels, active dampers, a sportier steering ratio, and adjustments to the stability control system and rear differential. Fuel efficiency with the Competition package is 17 city and 23 highway mpg.

Driving – Composure vs Competition

Audi RS 5

2020 Audi RS 5 - audiusa.com

2020 Audi RS 5 – audiusa.com  |  Shop Audi RS 5 on Carsforsale.com

It’s the drive that you buy a German sports car for, and the Audi RS 5 delivers all the trills you’ve come to expect. There is effectively zero body roll and the RS 5 feels controlled and confident in spite of the monster of an engine caged on the other side of that throttle pedal. In fact, if there is one criticism of the RS 5 is that it feels more contained than other comparable sport cars, including the BMW M4. It’s easy to have fun without getting into too much trouble on the road. But then again, some people buy these cars search of that line between excitement and legitimate danger.

2020 Audi RS 5 - audiusa.com
2020 Audi RS 5 - audiusa.com

Drive modes usually offer drastic changes in driving dynamics that don’t end up translating to a felt experience for the driver. That’s not the case with the RS 5’s drive modes, where the gulf between Comfort and Dynamic is wide. In Comfort mode, the ride is blissfully floaty, with potholes and rough surfaces a distant memory from other, lesser cars. Dynamic brings you jolting back to reality, but also plugs you into the road with a properly stiff and communicative ride. You can mix and match these to road conditions and speeds in Individual mode.

BMW M4

2020 BMW M4 - bmwusa.com

2020 BMW M4 – bmwusa.com  |  Shop BMW M4 on Carsforsale.com

In keeping with its enthusiast ethos, the M4 offers a 6-speed manual gearbox for added connection to that thundering heart of a turbo-6. But the ornery beast of an engine can prove rather unruly and the 7-speed automatic does have the perk of allowing drivers the extra attention they may need in keeping the M4 composed. The M4 isn’t just powerful off the line either, even at mid-range rpm it still has plenty of pull left. This makes the M4 a load of fun off the line and out on the highway.

2020 BMW M4 - bmwusa.com
2020 BMW M4 - bmwusa.com

The Competition package’s upgraded dampers and springs do make things a bit on the stiff side but make for some very sharp cornering capabilities when paired with the M4’s powerful, uber-confident brakes. The only real complaint to be had with the M4 is the steering, which felt oddly vague and disconnected for such an otherwise communicative car.

Interior & Comfort – You Get Carbon Fiber, And You Get …

Audi RS 5

The first things you notice when you get into the RS 5 are the copious amounts of carbon fiber and Alcantara leather abounding in the cabin. These are both nice touches, and yet they make it feel like Audi is trying a little too hard to remind you this is a luxury car. And really, they needn’t since the interior design is as slick and modern as anything on the market. In addition to the carbon fiber and Alcantara, high-quality materials cover every conceivable surface. Audi has found a great balance with their interiors, posh but not overly so, unlike those try-hard Mercedes cabins.

2020 Audi RS 5 interior - audiusa.com
2020 Audi RS 5 interior - audiusa.com

The seats in the RS 5 are also top-notch, decently bolstered for spirited driving and well-cushioned for long drives in the country (or getting stuck in commuter gridlock).

2020 Audi RS 5 interior - audiusa.com
2020 Audi RS 5 interior - audiusa.com

We also appreciated the fact that the current RS 5 lacks Audi’s latest touchscreen infotainment system. The simple rotary dial and tactile dash buttons are logical, ergonomically placed, and perfectly functional, no learning curve required. The RS 5 gets a 7-inch infotainment screen, ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

BMW M4

Like the RS 5, the BMW M4 makes sure you remember what you paid for the car by slapping Alcantara and carbon fiber wherever your eyes might land (this is only a mild exaggeration). But, in keeping with its drivers’ car first ethos, the M4 isn’t as refined when it comes to layout and design. Taking the door panels as just one example, the materials are indeed nicer than down market offerings, but the design fails to distinguish itself and is on par with vehicles tens of thousands of dollars cheaper.

2020 BMW M4 interior - bmwusa.com
2020 BMW M4 interior - bmwusa.com

With that said, the M4 has a comfortable and roomy cabin, and there are notes a genuine refinement to be found, including the M tri-color stitching throughout. Here too, the seats are decently bolstered and yet forgiving over the long haul. The steering wheel is also a nice, not too big or weighed down with buttons.

2020 BMW M4 dash - bmwusa.com
2020 BMW M4 dash - bmwusa.com

The 8.8-inch infotainment screen can be commanded by touch, dial, or voice command and comes with navigation, a WiFi hotspot, and wireless phone charging. While it is Apple CarPlay friendly, the same cannot be said for Android Auto.

Trims, Features, & Prices – Base Ain’t Bad

Audi RS 5 Coupe – $75,000

Unlike its corporate cousin Porsche, Audi equips the RS 5 with most of the choice bits as standard, including all that interior Alcantara and carbon fiber accenting.

2020 Audi RS 5 - audiusa.com
2020 Audi RS 5 - audiusa.com

Features include 19-inch wheels, upgradable to 20-inch high-gloss black or titanium wheels, RS exhaust system. Upgrades include Nappa leather, a carbon fiber exterior package, ceramic brakes, a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo system, heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, dynamic steering upgrade, and massaging front seats.

BMW M4 – Coupe $70,145, Convertible $78,645

Options for the M4 coupe include that interior carbon fiber accenting and Alcantara leather, an aero body kit with fender flares and “power dome” hood, an M-tuned suspension, M-performance brakes, active M torque vectoring, keyless entry and push button start, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, 16-speaker Harmon Kardon stereo, and forward collision and lane departure warnings.

2020 BMW M4 Coupe and Convertible - bmwusa.com
2020 BMW M4 Coupe and Convertible - bmwusa.com

The Executive package adds LED adaptive headlights and automatic high beams and a self-parking system. The Competition package mentioned above gets you not only the increase to 444hp and other performance tweaks but also grants you blind spot detection, a heated steering wheel, and wireless phone charging.

Conclusions – Better By Degrees

As you’ve seen, the Audi RS 5 and BMW M4 are a closely matched pair of overachieving luxury sports cars. First, we’ll cover what has them so neck-and-neck, what sets them apart, and which we liked best.

2020 Audi RS 5 - netcarshow.com

2020 Audi RS 5 – netcarshow.com  |  Shop Audi RS 5 on Carsforsale.com

Alcantara and carbon fiber are in abundance in both. They both have roomy cabins, including back seats that can fit (albeit snugly) actual adults and very comfortable seats. Both cars offer a surplus of raw power and agility.

2020 BMW M4 - bmwusa.com

2020 BMW M4 – bmwusa.com  |  Shop BMW M4 on Carsforsale.com

The points of difference are two. One, the interior of the RS 5 is nicer, by degrees, but clearly so. Two, and this is divisive, the Audi feels more composed on the road. If you’re looking for a car to quicken your pulse, the M4 will serve you well. But the RS 5 refuses to get squirrely when pushed, and we preferred that level of composure.

With that said, both the BMW M4 and Audi RS 5 are both excellent driver’s cars that pamper and excite in equal measure. Neither disappoint.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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