Es­tab­lish­ing a new or­der in Ger­man su­per-coupes


UDI can’t build a sports car. Ev­ery­body knows that. Every­one apart from the engi­neers who built the revo­lu­tion­ary ur-qu­at­tro, the bor­der­line ge­nius B7 RS4, the dis­rup­tive R8 coupe and the as­ton­ish­ing R10 TDI racer – a diesel that dom­i­nated at Le Mans even when In­gol­stadt vol­un­tar­ily used the same en­gines in the 24-hour race as it used in prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing. So it ought to be ob­vi­ous that there’s a pool of hugely tal­ented chas­sis and powertrain peo­ple at Audi. What’s truly frus­trat­ing is that this rich vein of dy­namic know-how has all too of­ten been neutered by the might of mar­ket­ing and de­sign, the power of the brand go­ing rogue and of­ten bring­ing us some strangely com­pro­mised road cars.

The premise of this test, there­fore, is to dis­cover whether the lat­est RS5 comes from the ‘good Audi’ that brought us those afore­men­tioned gems or the other bunch, the crew who gave us the 2010 RS5 V8, a true col­lec­tor’s piece for the con­nois­seur of ploughon un­der­steer. Even if it’s from the former camp, it’ll have its work cut out against the BMW M4 Pure and the Mercedes-amg C63 S Coupe. The M4 doesn’t brook too many sur­prises, the M3 Coupe/m4 blood­line rep­re­sent­ing a durable class bench­mark. The Pure trim is an Aus­tralia-only model that strips out big-ticket items like adap­tive LED lights, leather and premium au­dio sys­tem. Me­chan­i­cally, it only dif­fers from the M4 Com­pe­ti­tion by switch­ing from 20- to 19-inch al­loys. The Pure shares the Com­pe­ti­tion’s 331kw/550nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo six and has an iden­ti­cal sus­pen­sion tune, though our test car fea­tured the 20s op­tioned back in (for $2500 more). With a $139,000 base price, the M4 Pure is com­fort­ably the most af­ford­able car here.

The AMG has clearly been on the juice, now sport­ing mus­cu­lar whee­larch bulges, fat rub­ber and an ag­gres­sion that’s en­tirely ab­sent from its com­par­a­tively snake-hipped C43 sib­ling. The pug­na­cious stance works well, this re­me­dial work fix­ing the stan­dard coupe’s rather apolo­getic rear end. The only V8 of the trio, the 375kw/700nm 4.0-litre Merc fronts up with the most grunt and the hefti­est sticker price of $163,612. Add $9900 to that to get the car as tested here, com­plete with AMG ce­ramic front stop­pers.

Slot­ting neatly be­tween these two book­ends comes the 331kw/600nm 2.9-litre V6 Audi RS5 which has been sen­si­bly pitched at $156,600. The eye-catch­ing Sonoma green paint­work, an ex­tended car­bon pack­age (in­clud­ing the roof and en­gine cover) and a Tech­nik pack­age, which in­cludes colour head-up dis­play, Ma­trix LED lights and a Qi wire­less charger, bumps that up to $179,346 as-tested.

On a gnarly cross-coun­try route, the oth­ers wouldn’t see which way the RS5 had gone

FIR­ING UP more than 1000kw of ag­gro at 6am is go­ing to make you un­pop­u­lar, even in a town as oc­tane-ad­dled as Bathurst. The Merc’s bent-eight emits ex­actly the cor­rect fre­quency to turn mo­tel win­dows into gi­ant drum skins, bleary-eyed cur­tain twitch­ers un­able to fig­ure out at which mis­cre­ant to di­rect their stink eye. It’s a fat, meaty wub-wub with an old-school ap­peal that sounds any­thing but turbo-neutered. The M4 is the midrange, with the RS5 adding some tin­ni­tus tre­ble to re­ally round out the sonic bar­rage.

Re­ceived wis­dom has it that the C63 S is go­ing to be cast as the hooli­gan here, the point-and-squirt hot rod that’s long on drama but light on sub­tlety. It plays up to that cast­ing, ini­tially at any rate, with a wil­ful de­ter­mi­na­tion to bend the cod­ing of its trac­tion con­trol soft­ware to break­ing point and in­flict­ing a ride qual­ity around town that’s marginally bet­ter than set­ting off down the Dip­per af­ter zip­ping your­self into a hard-shell Sam­sonite roller. Race mode has your foot bounc­ing on the throt­tle pedal like a Tul­la­ma­rine taxi driver with St Vi­tus’s dance.

By con­trast, the M4 feels as if Mu­nich has com­mis­sioned Tem­pur for the damper tune. By most nor­mal mea­sures it’s still firm, but there is a de­gree of sup­ple­ness that’s miss­ing from the Benz. The band­width be­tween the M4’s Com­fort and Sport+ set­tings isn’t huge, cer­tainly less than the C63’s arc be­tween ac­cept­able and ver­te­bra-clack­ing, while the Audi ef­fec­tively has two damper set­tings. Com­fort is where you’ll stay al­most all the time, giv­ing the RS5 a gen­uinely plush GT car ride, with Sport be­ing re­served for smoothly sur­faced twisties. On typ­i­cally scabby coun­try roads the lat­ter will have your head com­ing into con­tact with the roof lin­ing a lit­tle too of­ten for com­fort. Kiss good­bye to your sun­nies if you oc­ca­sion­ally prop them atop your nog­gin.

Snap­per Wielecki has iden­ti­fied a suit­ably scenic cor­ner for us to play on (33°33’18.22”S, 150° 8’36.31”E, if you’re in­ter­ested), which re­quires a fair de­gree of com­mit­ment to make the cars look lively for his Canon. It’s here that the Mercedes shines, with just enough re­as­sur­ing body­roll and a beau­ti­ful, but­tery tran­si­tion into power over­steer. Even with the ESC switched on, you can feel the elec­tronic lim­ited-slip diff smear­ing in and out, al­low­ing just a spritz of rear end move­ment. In ESP Sport, it’s a whole lot more le­nient, re­spond­ing well to a gen­tle roll of the wrists. The weight of the en­gine makes it­self felt if you’re lazy with your brak­ing or am­bi­tious with cor­ner en­try speeds but greater neg­a­tive cam­ber, stiffer bush­ings and a model-spe­cific rear-axle car­rier com­bine to give the C63 S a sweetly tex­tu­ral, be­nign feel at the lim­its of grip, be­ly­ing its some­what one-di­men­sional image.

Rolling from throt­tle to brake re­veals a slightly clunky pedal po­si­tion­ing, Mercedes – like many man­u­fac­tur­ers – re­tain­ing a higher brake pedal than ac­cel­er­a­tor; a legacy of man­ual car heel-and-toe re­quire­ments. Out of the cor­ner, the Mercedes feels the strongest, with a com­i­cal slab of torque ar­riv­ing at 3000rpm and per­sist­ing with no let up to 5000rpm. The Amg-speed­shift 7 lets you hold a gear if the req­ui­site but­ton is en­gaged, but de­spite its sur­feit of cu­bic cen­time­tres, the AMG en­gine op­er­ates best in that 2000rpm band and the gear­box soft­ware has a bet­ter feel for this than you or I. The op­tional ce­ramic front stop­pers help shrug off the car’s 1725kg heft and, un­usu­ally for car­bon picks, are easy to mod­u­late, rep­re­sent­ing a key point of dif­fer­ence be­tween Af­fal­ter­bach and Mu­nich.

The M4’s four-pis­ton front brakes are the weak­est as­pect of its dy­namic pal­ette. It’s a peren­nial M-car com­plaint but BMW doesn’t seem to be lis­ten­ing, deem­ing them suf­fi­cient for fast road driv­ing. That’s also open to ques­tion, the pedal go­ing long af­ter a

There’s real bite and char­ac­ter to the M4. It’s the only one you could grow to love

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