Peak performance

We beat the crowds and head for an early morning drive on Austria’s spectacular Grossglockner Pass in the all-new Audi RS 5

Birds eye view of the Grossglockner high alpine road

You could leave it late, but I’d get up early. When the alarm chimes, lift your head off the pillow, drag your weary limbs from beneath the duvet and, above all, don’t hit the snooze button. The Grossglockner Pass really is worth it.

Admittedly, it’s less of a hardship to disrupt your dreams if you know there’s an all-new Audi RS 5 Coupé waiting outside. Step inside, press the red-ringed starter button and a deep, bassy rumble erupts from the car’s twin oval exhausts. What, you might be asking, is the Grossglockner? We’ll deal with the ‘what’ first. It’s the highest mountain in Austria, extending to a decent, if not ear-popping, 3798m. More pertinent to the RS 5 Coupé, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road (to give it its full name) is the twisting stretch of tarmac that forms one of Europe’s great driving destinations.

Drivers view of the RS5 Coupé cockpit and scenic road ahead

Up to 10,000 people a day are known to visit, which is wonderful if you are the beneficiary of the money collected at the tollgate (€35.50 for a car), but not so swell if you’re searching for alpine solitude. Luckily, in the height of summer, the road opens at 5am, giving early risers a more rarefied experience of this most incredible collection of hairpins.

Besides driving pleasure, there is another good reason for our visit. In 1935, ’38 and ’39, several of the RS 5’s Auto Union ancestors competed in a series of hillclimb events held on the road, and this new RS 5 has something of its forebear’s imposing demeanour. Certainly, performance is not an issue and, in full cry, the RS 5 will reach 62mph from a standstill in just 3.9 seconds and hit 155mph flat out. This performance comes courtesy of a new, super-smooth 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 delivering 450PS. This power is put to the road via quattro all-wheel drive and a slick eight-speed tiptronic gearbox.

Rear view of the RS 5 Coupé driving in the Austrian mountains

So often, alpine passes are ravaged by their extreme exposure, but Austria has managed to keep its tarmac tidy. There is one section that’s bumpy, however – the road up the Edelweiss-Spitze, which rises like a crumbly Flake atop the smooth 99 of the main byway. It’s worth savouring the view from the summit – at 2577m, it claims to be Europe’s highest parking lot on a mountain peak – and the RS 5’s RS Sport suspension is more than capable of dealing with the rougher road.

Still climbing, we disturb the mastications of marmots, pass waterfalls and marvel at yet more picturesque peaks until, bursting from the flickering light of an avalanche tunnel, we reach Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. The Emperor hiked up here in 1856 to see the glacier and, although the ice has receded considerably in the past 160 years, it is still plain to see why he made the effort. You should, too, if you get the opportunity. Just try to get up early.


Written by Henry Catchpole. Photographs by Greg Pajo


Find out more about the Audi RS 5 Coupé

The Grossglockner, Austria's highest mountain