In life there is a hierarchy. The minnow is eaten by the trout which is eaten by the eagle. The cubicle dweller answers to a manager who answers to executive VP. Friendster yields to Myspace which bows to Facebook. And in Audi's mid-size premium coupe lineup the hierarchy goes A5 then S5 and finally RS 5. We just finished driving the new 2013 Audi RS 5 at Sonoma (formerly Infineon) Raceway, and having done so we can confirm that the RS 5 absolutely deserves its alpha position.

Breathe Normally

First a bit of clarification. The order of dominance we've laid out is dictated by performance. So, while the A5 makes due with an inline 4-cylinder engine and the S5 a V6, the range-topping RS 5 asserts its power position with a 450-horsepower naturally aspirated V8. The engine's torque rating of 317 lb-ft might seem underwhelming, but the V8 compensates for its middling grunt with an overabundance of revs. Redlining at 8,500 rpm, the V8 comes alive when driven in anger. Along with thrilling top-end rush, the RS 5 expels an inspirational exhaust note. Use the vehicle's launch control system and you'll be treated to a glorious V8 growl as well as 0-60 acceleration in the 4.5-second time frame.

Excitement, Not Drama

Putting big power in the hands of marginally talented journalists isn't always a good idea, but like Neil DeGrasse Tyson does for astrophysics, the RS 5 coupe excels at making stellar performance remarkably accessible.

Key to that accessibility is the RS 5's Quattro all-wheel drive system, which splits power front or rear as traction demands. Supplementing the front to rear power split is a torque-vectoring differential that enhances agility by overdriving the outside rear wheel. From the driver's seat the constant redirection of power manifests as utterly predictable, drama-free acceleration out of the corners. Add in abundant lateral grip, capable brakes and precise if surprisingly light steering, and you have a compelling dynamic package that welcomes drivers rather than intimidating them. The RS 5's docile dynamics made it a comforting partner as we blasted through the high-speed bends, blind crests and off-camber turns that define Sonoma Raceway.

Talking the Talk

Superior performance is the RS 5's raison d'etre, but Audi's top-performing 5 has other charms. The exterior has been radically restyled versus its A5/S5 siblings with only the hood, roof and doors carrying over to the RS 5. With flared fenders, enlarged front air inlets, the addition of a retractable rear spoiler, a lowered stance and striking, sharply drawn headlights, the Audi RS 5 commands attention.

Inside, sport seats, carbon fiber trim and a racy steering wheel help remind occupants that they are sitting in a serious performance car -- if the g-forces and exhaust note fail to do so first.

Money Matters

For a hair under $70,000 you can claim your own 2013 Audi RS 5, but before you do we should mention that the Mercedes-Benz C63 and BMW M3 both cost about $10,000 less, and they're both damn capable performers. Then again, the heart wants what the heart wants. Audi's V8 coupe has design excellence, exhilarating yet approachable performance and an iconoclastic spirit on its side. If those qualities top the hierarchy of your heart, odds are you'll find much to love in the 2013 Audi RS 5.

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