THIS IS A CAR THAT has to cover a broad range of uses, explains Stephan Winkelmann, Audi Sport’s cool-as-a-cucumber CEO and the man ultimately responsible for the success of the all-new, second-generation RS5. ‘Our owners drive these cars every day, and so want com fort as well as high performance. The RS5 is the gran turismo of RS models.’ You don’t need to do much reading between the lines to see that Audi is trying to distance its fast coupe from hardcore rivals such as the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C 63. And yet a quick glance at the car’s mechanical make-up tells a slightly different story; one that appears to have the pursuit of performance at its heart.
For starters, the latest RS5 is much lighter than before, while the old car’s naturally aspirated V8 has been ditched in favour of a turbocharged V6 that’s smaller yet far more muscular. Then there’s the heavily redeveloped four-wheel drive system, which is claimed to be faster-acting and to deliver more engaging handling. Plus there’s a new eight-speed auto gearbox. Oh, and there’s the way the Audi looks, too. Taking the fearsome 90 quattro IMSA GTO racer as inspiration, the RS5 is no shrinking violet. There are the bulging wheel arch blisters that have been an Audi trademark since the Ur-Quattro, a larger front grille and deeper bumpers crammed with intakes and sharply defined creases. Then there are the neatly Integrated (but fake) air vents nestling beside the headlamps and tail lights.
Scratch the surface and there’s more evidence the RS5 might not be as soft as Stephan is letting on. It’s the weight saving that catches your eye first, with a headline reduction of 60kg over the old model. Crucially, over half of this figure (31kg to be precise) can be accounted for by the new twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 – that’s a lot of mass removed from the nose, which means sharper handling should be on the menu. Elsewhere, the use of aluminium with high-strength steel means the body is 15kg lighter, while the front and rear axle assemblies are 6kg and 5kg lighter respectively. New electro-mechanical steering gear shaves a further 3.5kg. And if you want to subject your RS5 to an even stricter diet, there’s the option of a carbon roof (saving 3kg), while forged 20in alloy wheels save 8kg of unsprung mass, as do carbon-ceramic brakes for the front axle.
Propelling this less cumbersome coupe, that new V6 engine matches the old 42-litre V8’s 444bhp but packs much greater punch low down thanks to an Increase in torque from 430 to 600Nm, which is now delivered from a lazy 1900rpm. Audi claims the launch control- and 4WD-assisted 0-100kmph sprint is seen off in3.9sec. On the road this R5S feels every bit as fast as the numbers suggest, a sensation that’s enhanced by the new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which delivers even quicker shifts than the old twin-clutch S-tronic transmission yet is smoother and more relaxed if you want to cruise.
However, there’s very little drama, as the linear power delivery means the car is fast but rather characterless; there’s not the high-end frenzy you get in an M4 or the instant, sledge hammer hit of a C63. This engine doesn’t quite sound the part, either. There’s a muted growl when you really work it, but it lacks the spine-tingling, 8000rpm excitement of the old V8. Flick the car into Dynamic mode (there’s also Auto, Comfort and Individual, where you can pick ‘n’ mix your favourite engine, steering, suspension and transmission settings) and the RS5 Instantly feels more focused. The adaptive dampers take on a harder edge, weight is added to the steering and throttle response is sharpened. It’s all very promising. Yet it’s the weight-saving in the nose that really pays dividends, allowing the RS5 to turn in more keenly, change direction with greater agility and flow down roads that the old car would take in scrappy chunks. The more sporty quattro four-wheel drive plays its part here, letting you power hard out of a tight corner with the rear axle helping to rotate the tall a little. Be more aggressive and the car will start to slide before the system sends torque to the front wheels to counter it.
And yet you never really feel fully engaged in the process; simply turn the weighty but lifeless wheel, bury the throttle and let the transmission and terrific grip do the rest. It’s a fantastically fast and effective way to cover ground, but there’s little dialogue between car and driver. Take it a little easier, engage Auto mode and the RS5 impresses with its surprisingly supple ride and excellent refinement. It also boasts a cabin that delivers unrivalled quality and the sort of slick design that justifies the price tag. In the real world, the RS5’s blend of performance, poise and pampering refinement makes it a hugely desirable choice – and one that more than lives up to Winkelmann’s claims. Yet, as a dedicated driver’s machine it still lacks that spark that separates the very good from the great.