CLARK­SON ON CARS

BACK in the Eight­ies, BMW came up with the idea of mak­ing an in­nocu­ous­look­ing sa­loon that was very fast and ut­terly beau­ti­ful to drive. It was called the M5 and it earned a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing one of the world’s great cars.

Driven - - Contents - CLARK­SON ON CARS

Audi RS5 Coupé

ALL THE OTHER MAN­U­FAC­TUR­ERS COULD SEE STRAIGHT AWAY THAT BMW HAD CRE­ATED SOME­THING OF A MAS­TER­PIECE, SO THEY DE­CIDED TO NOT RE­SPOND IN ANY WAY AT ALL. AND THAT’S WEIRD. IT’S LIKE ALL THE COUN­TRY’S FOOT­BALL TEAMS LOOK­ING AT WHAT CHELSEA DID LAST YEAR AND THINK­ING: “WE CAN’T POSSIBLY MATCH THAT, SO LET’S NOT BOTHER TRY­ING.”

Even­tu­ally, af­ter BMW had had the mar­ket all to it­self for years and years, Mercedes joined forces with the tun­ing com­pany AMG to cre­ate a high­per­for­mance range of cars, but th­ese weren’t re­ally di­rect ri­vals for the fast Beemers. They were big and smoky and loud and quite soft. They were mus­cle cars, re­ally, in Hugo Boss suits.

And Audi? Well, it started to fit quite pow­er­ful engines to its four-wheel-drive mod­els to cre­ate the RS line-up, but, again, they didn’t have the magic of BMW’s M cars – the del­i­cacy.

If you re­ally knew your mo­tor­ing onions – if you re­ally knew how to trail-brake and feel the limit of ad­he­sion – you were never go­ing to be sat­is­fied with a nose-heavy Audi or a way­ward Mercedes. If you were a proper driver, you’d al­ways go for the BMW.

How­ever, in re­cent months the BMW band­wagon has sort of fallen over. There is no M5 on sale at the mo­ment, and while the M2 is a joy, its big­ger and bet­ter-

known brother the M3 is a bit of a dog. The steer­ing is ac­tu­ally fairly ter­ri­ble. And an M car with ter­ri­ble steer­ing? That’s like an omelette made with ran­cid eggs.

And to make life even more dif­fi­cult for BMW, other ri­vals have fi­nally wo­ken up. Alfa Romeo can sell you the Gi­u­lia Quadri­foglio, which has three-quar­ters of a Fer­rari en­gine and an ex­haust note to stir the soul. It would be my choice.

Then you have Mercedes, which has just pro­duced some­thing called the E 63 S. Its styling is a bit in-your-face for my taste – and for yours, too, un­less you live in Dubai – but it’s not like any AMG we’ve seen be­fore. It has the power, but it’s har­nessed into a proper pack­age. That’s a se­ri­ous car for se­ri­ous peo­ple, make no mis­take.

And then there’s Audi, which has just launched the car you see in the pho­to­graphs this morn­ing. It’s called the RS 5 coupe, it costs pounds 62,900 and it’s bor­der­line sen­sa­tional.

I was hop­ing Audi would have fit­ted it with the 294 kilo­watt five-cylin­der en­gine from the TT RS, be­cause when his­to­ri­ans look back at what they’ll call the “petrol age”, they will de­scribe that as one of the all-time greats.

But Audi has gone for a twin­tur­bocharged 2.9-litre V6. Which gives 331 kilo­watts. And 600 Euro­torques. That’s a lot in a car of this type.

But the bald fig­ures of 0-100 km/h in 3.9 sec­onds and a top speed of 250 km/h – or 280 km/h with the op­tional Dy­namic

pack­age – tell only half the story. To get the other half, you have to go be­hind the wheel and open it up. And, ooh, you’ll be grin­ning. Ac­tu­ally, to start with, you won’t be grin­ning. You’ll be look­ing as though a lion has just come into your kitchen, be­cause, God, it’s alarm­ingly quick off the line. I once saw some­one put a mus­tard-cov­ered hot dog up a po­lice horse’s bot­tom. Well, the Audi sets off like that.

Of course, there have pre­vi­ously been Audis that were fast in a straight line. But that’s all they could do: go in a straight line. You would be sit­ting there, saw­ing away at the wheel and shout­ing, “Turn, you bas­tard, turn”, but they rarely did. A nose-heavy lay­out and four-wheel drive saw to that.

The RS 5 is dif­fer­ent. It has a bitey front and a waggly tail that is just what the en­thu­si­as­tic driver wants. Oh, and while the ride is def­i­nitely firm, it doesn’t pit­ter pat­ter like Audis of old. This, rest as­sured, is a prop­erly sorted, well-en­gi­neered and re­ally quite well-priced car.

It’s also good-look­ing. The wheels are wor­thy of a spot in Tate Mod­ern, the rear side win­dows are a nod to the Nis­san GT-R – a com­pa­ra­ble car, in fact – and the space isn’t bad ei­ther for a two-door coupe.

So there we are. Another kick in the teeth for BMW’s M di­vi­sion. A car you can drive, safe in the knowl­edge that the cognoscenti will give you a dis­creet nod at the lights– a recog­ni­tion that you’ve made a wise choice.

And there’s more. I was in Knights­bridge the other night, hav­ing din­ner on the pave­ment (not like a home­less per­son – I was at the En­ter­prise, which is a pub, not a space­ship. Well, it was a pub. It’s a bar and restau­rant now.) Any­way, ev­ery third word I tried to say was drowned out by the bangs from wealthy young gen­tle­men’s anti-lag sys­tems echo­ing off the walls like a fire­fight for the cen­tre of Homs.

They went round and round the area in their hot­ted-up su­per­cars un­til even I was pissed off. So you can imag­ine how my fel­low diners felt. Which is why they will vote for any­one who makes petrol il­le­gal.

I sense this ev­ery­where th­ese days. Peo­ple are fed up with own­ing cars. They use Ubers and trains. And those who main­tain their in­ter­est in all things au­to­mo­tive are treated with the sort of scorn and dis­dain that I re­serve for golfers and freema­sons.

So if you’re go­ing to buy a re­ally quick car that you can en­joy when no one is look­ing, it needs to be dis­creet. And the Audi is.

There is, how­ever, a prob­lem. If you’re the sort of keen driver who might be in­ter­ested in this car, the chances are that the ve­hi­cle you cur­rently drive doesn’t have four rings on the grille.

Which means you will have no idea how the Audi’s sat­nav-mul­ti­me­di­a­con­nec­tiv­ity sys­tem works. You will stab away at var­i­ous but­tons and then mut­ter some­thing un­der your breath and push a few more, and even­tu­ally you’ll get out of your test ve­hi­cle, slam the door and buy the new ver­sion of the car you drive now.

This is be­com­ing a se­ri­ous prob­lem. I write on a PC and can­not change to a Mac be­cause I can’t be both­ered to waste my life learn­ing my way around its sys­tems. I use an iPhone be­cause it’s fa­mil­iar, so when some­one says Google’s lat­est ef­fort is bet­ter, I don’t care, be­cause I don’t know how it works.

It’s in­creas­ingly the same story with cars. I un­der­stand how to si­lence the sat­nav woman in my Volk­swa­gen Golf and how to make Ap­ple CarPlay work. I know how to re­set the trip com­puter and to en­gage the self-park­ing sys­tem. But when I get into a BMW, or a Mercedes, I do not know straight away how to do any of that.

The days when a car was three ped­als and a steer­ing wheel are over. They’re elec­tronic now, and much of their ap­peal is their abil­ity to steer round jams and stop be­fore an ac­ci­dent hap­pens and play the mu­sic from our phone.

And in the Audi all this stuff is bloody dif­fi­cult. So you won’t buy one. And that’s a shame.

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