At the risk of inducing a mild state of déjà vu, we again find ourselves with the RS5 saying that we’re not quite sure what kind of car we’re going to get from an RS Audi: a smooth-riding, agile M3 beater such as the RS4, or something altogether less appealingly sophisticated, such as the early RS6.

This is the second RS model to rival the BMW M3 since the demise of the RS4, which, although short-lived, shone brightly during its all-too-brief time in production and is still universally revered by enthusiasts.

Like the RS4, the RS5 has a 4.2-litre V8 engine and permanent quattro four-wheel drive. Unlike the RS4 saloon and estate, the RS5 comes only as an exceptionally handsome two-door coupé, which places it in the crosshairs of the M3 more than ever.

What we know about this car already is that it posted a very respectable performance at our recent Britain’s Best Driver’s Car contest, impressing our testers to the extent that many thought it the best front-engined Audi since the RS4.

Whether it’s better than that model, though – or indeed better than the M3, which has been subtly yet convincingly revised since it and an Audi last locked horns – is the subject of this test.

Top 5 Sport coupes

  • The stated criteria for the GT86 read like a purist's manifesto: rear-drive, no turbo, ordinary tyres

    Toyota GT86

    1
  • BMW M235i
    The BMW M235i is a rear-wheel-drive turbocharged coupé which rivals the likes of the Porsche Cayman

    BMW M235i

    2
  • Peugeot RCZ R
    The front-drive RCZ R packs a 266bhp turbocharged engine

    Peugeot RCZ R

    3
  • The hot Scirocco that blurs the line between coupé and hot hatch

    Volkswagen Scirocco R

    4
  • Latest TT dares to shake the dust from the memory of the mighty five-cylinder Quattro

    Audi TT RS

    5

First drives

Videos

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Car review
    27 February 2015
    The second pure Mercedes-AMG model is a triumph of engineering and design, and should have rivals from Porsche and Audi worried
  • First Drive
    27 February 2015
    Dual motors and a power hike give Tesla's electric family car supercar acceleration - and the rest of the package is as strong as ever
  • Car review
    26 February 2015
    Flagship performance C-Class is more than ever a true rival for BMW's M3, and impresses with both its breadth of ability and its practicality
  • First Drive
    26 February 2015
    The new Renault Megane GT 220 is essentially a toned-down version of the hallowed Renaultsport 275, but does it have the required DNA?
  • First Drive
    20 February 2015
    Remember Mercedes' 6x6 monster off-roader? Well, this is the 4x4 version, and we've driven it.