When you’re up against cars as formidable as the M4 and C63, you really need to be on your game. Fortunately, the new RS5 is fighting fit
Last time Audi took this road, it immediately understeered into the undergrowth. The previous RS5 might have been blessed with one of the finest naturally aspirated V8s in the business – essentially the same gem that powered the first R8 supercar – but its stodgy steering, leaden ride and uninspiring chassis earned it three out of five stars and a last place against BMW M3, Mercedes C63 AMG and Lexus IS-F in a 2010 CAR group test.
The second-generation RS5, created by the newly christened Audi Sport division, offers the chance of redemption. Despite being 74mm longer at 4723mm, the RS5 sheds around 60kg at a still hefty 1665kg, thanks to the new MLB Evo platform and its high- strength steel/lightweight aluminium mix, as already seen on the A4 saloon. The sport rear differential is standard in the UK, and while quattro typically splits at 40/60 front-to-rear, there’s an Audi picture of the RS5 oversteering on track with smoke photoshopped all over the rear tyres. Blimey. Definitely have a crack at that.
Climb aboard, fire up the twin-turbo V6 and murmur out onto the road and the improvements to the ride and steering are instantly apparent. There’s a long-legged pliancy to suspension movements in the Comfort setting, and while it’s not perfect – some corrugated stretches do create patter – mostly it’s very supple. The electrically assisted steering also has a lighter, more easy-going feel. Again it’s not perfect – it’s too sluggish immediately off-centre – but its light, progressive weighting helps to shrug off all those kilos and make the RS5 feel alert, friendly and happy to be chucked about.
But there’s also an elephantin the room: the V8 woofle has gone, so too the twin-clutch gearbox. Instead, there’s a new 2.9-litre V6 with twin turbochargers nestled between the banks, and a more conventional eight-speed Tiptronic auto gearbox. At 444bhp the V6 is no more powerful than the previous eight, but monsters the old car’s torque with 443lb ft, a whopping 125lb ft extra. And of course the downsizing makes it perform better in the lab, with 32.5mpg and i97g/km comparing with the old car’s 26.9mpg and 246g/km.
Worst-case scenario? That everything Audi Sport has tried to give us with the chassis it’s taken away with the engine. But you forget all about such nonsense within a few miles.
The new V6 sounds seriously good, with a deep, sophisticated burble, a warbly crooning on harder throttle openings and a delivery so smooth it’d make George Clooney sound like a miner on a picket line.
It’s never intrusive during a motorway cruise – overall refinement is very impressive, including the muted wind- and tyre noise – and yet that sound signature is always there, always reminding you why you didn’t just buy a TDI.
Select Dynamic and the noise through the optional sports exhaust ramps up.
The new engine doesn’t just sound good. Power floods in from below 20oorpm, and from 350orpm seamlessly raises its game, kicking on with another burst of speed to leave even enthusiastic Golf Rs panting and incredulous.
The V6 gives the RS5 a genuinely ferocious turn of speed that lets you pick off a line of traffic like you’re passing a convoy of tractors. I’d be astonished if the old V 8 got close.
Peak power at 570orpm (the engine revs to 720orpm) might sound underwhelming but it doesn’t feel that way because the V6 hauls so hard during the final 3000rpm or so, and you’ll only hit the limiter if you’ve made a mistake, rather than because you anticipated faster crank rotations. The throttle isn’t quite as crisp as the V8’s, and there is a small amount of turbo lag, but these are things you look for rather than bugbears that stand out. The over-riding sensation is of response and speed without trigger-happiness, refinement without laziness.
The gearbox, too, impresses, doing all the smooth and wafty stuff you expect, but punching in shifts with real conviction should you be in a hurry. The ratios are beautifully spaced too, so that with each shift you plop straight back into the powerband – gear, gear, gear, speed, speeeed.
So, this new RS5… it’s good. Yours for a whisker under £63k, it costs about the same as the entry-level Mercedes- AMG C63, £5k more than the basic BMW M4, but our test car is optioned by the price of a mid-spec VW Polo to £78k. Key treats include 20-inch alloys (19s are standard) for £2k, adaptive sports suspension (£2k), panoramic sunroof (£1250), that all-important sports exhaust (£1200) and a near-essential top speed increase to 174mph (£1450) from i55mph – you might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. That’s the stuff that makes a difference to the driving experience. We also have some extra driving assistance kit and a Bang & Olufsen hi-fi but we don’t have the Dynamic steering, carbon roof or carbon-ceramic brakes.