Audi reck­ons this car is a lux­ury cruiser, but the spec-sheet begs to dif­fer

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TTHIS IS A CAR THAT has to cover a broad range of uses,’ ex­plains Stephan Winkel­mann, Audi Sport’s coolas-a-cu­cum­ber CEO and the man ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the suc­cess of the all-new, sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion RS5. ‘Our own­ers drive these cars ev­ery day, and so want com­fort 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 MercedesAM­G 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 whee­larch 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 electro­mechan­i­cal 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 4.2-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 in 3.9sec.

On the road this RS5 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 high­end frenzy you get in an M4 or the instant, sledge­ham­mer 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

It’s the weight­sav­ing in the nose that re­ally pays div­i­dends

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 tail 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. ⌧ James Dis­dale

Above: Ex­haust valve beefs up the sound of the turbo’d V6 when the car is in its sportier modes. Left: Cabin qual­ity is ahead of that of the RS5’s ri­vals

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