What is it?
Not only is the RS5 is the latest Audi to wear the RS badge, but it looks every bit the modern-day version of the original Ur-Quattro. And thirty years on, the concept of a fast four-seat, two-door Audi has matured into something very serious indeed.
Powering the RS5 is a new naturally aspirated 4.2-litre producing 444bhp mated to a seven speed dual-clutch gearbox, the first time a RS product has used such a system. The RS5 also has a revised version of the Audi’s four-wheel drive system, with a new centre differential and a new torque vectoring system (which brakes individual wheels), plus the option of a sport rear differential.
Naturally our test car has this fitted, along with the optional ceramic front brake discs, sports exhaust and crucially, Audi’s Dynamic Ride Control. In Germany this is an option, but in the UK it will be standard.
What’s it like?
At this point I could tell you how welcoming and downright easy to drive the RS5 is in mundane everyday traffic. But let’s skip all that and get straight to the point where you’re sat in an RS5 looking at a deserted, arrow-straight piece of road. Because one thing Audi’s dual-clutch ’box will do that a conventional automatic won’t is full-on launch control.
Select dynamic mode on the Drive Select system, switch the ESP off, stand on the brakes, floor the throttle, release the brakes. Cue a perfect standing start, with hardly any transmission shunt or wheelspin, just forward motion. Rest to 62mph takes 4.6sec, and after not much longer the RS5 will hit its limiter at 155mph (or 174mph, if you tick yet another option box).
Okay, you could argue that it’s irrelevant, but this one exercise does illustrate the RS5’s approach to performance: accessible, repeatable, controlled and brutally effective. But also, in its own way, emotional. There are other 400bhp-plus coupés and saloons that are more involving, chiefly because they demand more of their driver to extract maximum performance. But the RS5 is in no way short on entertainment.
How could it be with a V8 engine, one that mixes low-end warble with an 8500rpm redline? Left to its own devices, the gearbox uses both extremes of the engine’s range, but move the lever over to manual mode and the choice is yours. Apply full throttle from low revs in a high gear and there is no kickdown, only V8 bass.
The advantage of Audi’s Drive Select system is that it gives the option to ‘mix and match’ the car’s settings rather sticking to the preset groupings. Deciding on the perfect combination could take a lifetime, but I settled on dynamic for engine and ’box (for the faster gearshifts and downchange blips), comfort for the steering (dynamic doesn’t offer any more feel, just weight) and dynamic for the sport differential (through faster corners it feels more like a rear-driver).
And the suspension? Actually, left in automatic it does a pretty good job of balancing compliance with control, because – and here’s the surprise – the RS5 is a fast Audi that rides well. I’m going to throw in the old caveat that this is based on a German test, where the roads are super-smooth, but I did put the RS5 through a few potholes and it coped pretty well, even on optional 20in wheels. But perhaps this shouldn’t be such a surprise because the previous RS4, which used an earlier version of the hydraulically controlled Dynamic Ride Control, also rode well.
In the RS5 the comfort setting offers the best bump absorption, but the trade-off is a fraction too much body roll if you really throw it at a corner. Switching to dynamic solves this but robs the RS5 of the suppleness it will need in the UK. However, automatic shuffles between the settings, subtly enough that you’ll hardly notice, for the best of both worlds.
Is the RS5 a car you would drive with no destination in mind? Like almost every other Audi, it feels like a piece of heavy machinery, one with deep reserves of engineering capability, but it is also one of the rare Audis that also has a fluidity and delicacy to it. I’d stop short of saying it would be a car I would choose to take on a track day, but for a non-stop return trip from London to the top of Scotland, there are few cars I would be happier to be in.
Partly that’s because of the beautifully finished cabin, and partly it’s because the RS5’s gearbox is so well rounded. But the real reason why the RS5 is so compelling is that when the roads offer entertainment, the RS5 entertains in spades.
Should I buy one?
If you want a super-coupe with outstanding all-round abilities then yes absolutely. For the RS5 is a car with an exceptional breadth of abilities and the type of car that gets better and better with every journey.