Audi RS5 Coupe

Brings the heat to a segment that’s red hot...

ASH WESTERMAN

IT’S THE power figure that first grabs your attention.

Not because the RS5’s number is huge; more because it brings a curious sense of deja vu.

Let me explain. The previousgen 4.2-litre atmo V8 that powered the original RS5 (introduced in 2010) delivered a soaring, supersonorous 331kW. In the interests of reducing consumption, Audi binned that engine, co-developed (with Porsche) this new 2.9-litre V6 with a pair of turbochargers nestling between its banks, and tuned it specifically for the RS5 application, and managed to extract – yes – exactly 331kW.

What are the odds? According to Audi Sport’s head of technical development, Stephan Reil, ‘coincidence’ is not a concept his department deals with. “Our target was to match the outgoing engine,” he explained to me at the RS5’s launch in the French Pyrenees mountains.

“It’s important that customers know they are getting vastly more torque, much better consumption, with no reduction in power.”

But why not more than 331kW?

I had to ask: is Audi Sport FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE declaring an official withdrawal from the power war that rages in every high-performance segment?

That 331kW figure is well short of the 375kW that Alfa extracts from a similarly sized turbo V6 in the Giulia QV, and is likewise 44kW down on rival Mercedes-AMG’s twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 C63 S.

Reil just shrugs. “We believe 331kW is ample for this car.

Besides; customers buy power, but they drive torque.”

We leave it there, feeling fairly certain Reil and his team have a little up their sleeve for the inevitable Plus version.

Anyway, does it matter? Does an on-paper power deficit really influence enjoyment, when there’s 600Nm on tap from just 1900rpm, and a quattro system to get it all cleanly to the ground? We hit some spectacular mountain roads to find out.

First impressions are of just how polished and cultured this car is; not just the powertrain, but the ride refinement and pretty much everything. Boot it and there’s an urgent, insistent snarl to the engine, but it’s never truly visceral or manic even with the (standard for Australia) sports

For sprinting ability, the RS5 will almost certainly have the jump – literally – on its rear-drive rivals

exhaust in the open position.

Likewise, on overrun there are some distant percussive thuds and pops, but it remains very much a backing track, not a duck-for-cover artillery attack. This engine feels like a more muscular version of the S5’s V6, rather than a really spine-tingling bespoke RS offering, which purists may lament. There’s no questioning the midrange shove, but it doesn’t build to quite the same frenzied crescendo as those rivals mentioned earlier.

That vast wodge of torque arrives early and largely lag-free, and doesn’t taper until 5000rpm, so obviously the RS5 feels properly rapid. It’s also extremely quick on the draw from a standing start.

The claim of 3.9sec for 0-100km/h feels entirely credible, thanks in no small part to all-paw traction. For sheer sprinting ability, this car will almost certainly have the jump – literally – on its rear-drive rivals.

The eight-speed torque converter auto plays a key role here too, giving shorter initial ratios and a taller top than the old seven-speed dual-clutch unit. Reil tells me that the shift speeds almost match those of the outgoing gearbox, while lowspeed manoeuvring and an uphill reverse-park test demonstrated that it can do that basic stuff without having a fit.

The shifts are beautifully crisp and quick, but best exploited via the paddles. There’s a feeling that in Dynamic, the auto is not quite as telepathically gifted as the best calibrated dual-clutchers from more expensive brands like Porsche and Ferrari.

The quattro system is set up to provide its best approximation of a rear-drive feel (torque split is normally 60 rear:40 front, but the system is capable of sending around 80 percent rearward) and it largely succeeds. Floor the throttle out of tight turns and there’s a seat-of-the-pants sense of imminent oversteer, but then the all-wheel drive’s massive tractive qualities just slingshot you out of the corner. With ESC off on a track you’ll prompt a degree of tail-out action, but it’s difficult on the road.

That said, the ESC Sport setting does provide the leniency for a wag here or there.

The massive rubber is integral to this feeling of otherwise utter plantedness. Aussie cars will roll on 275/30R20s on all four corners, so front-end bite is huge, and only the weight (down 60kg, but still hefty at 1665kg) tempers your entry-speed ambitions.

The cars we drove were fitted with the dynamic steering option which quickens the ratio as lock is wound on; a system that has had its detractors. I can’t side with them in this application.

I found it progressive and incisive, with ideal weight in the Comfort setting. Dynamic makes it heavier, but also brings a slight off-centre stickiness. Keep it in Comfort and I’d argue this is the best steering Audi in the company’s line-up, bar the R8. Even with that huge front footprint, there’s no tramlining or corruption, at least not on the smooth surfaces we drove on.

There were plenty of corners, not surprisingly for a mountain region, and these put a bit of a strain on the brakes. They withstood the punishment pretty admirably, but eventually began to wilt a little with a softening pedal. Carbon ceramics are on the options list, as is a carbon roof (see right). Otherwise Aussie cars will be well loaded: dynamic ride control is standard, as is the sports rear differential, virtual cockpit, and LED lights. All for a tag that should be just under $160K.

So the RS5 sits as a less hardcore alternative to its manic German rivals, and is surely a more liveable coupe as a result.

According to Stephan Reil, this is exactly the way existing customers want it.

PLUS & MINUS

Tenacious traction; liveable ride; polish; usability; equipment Slightly austere engine character; is it thrilling enough at the limit?

01 OTHER END OF ITS RS

Flatter grille and enlarged front intakes are key design elements of RS-specific front fascia.

LED lights will be standard on Australian cars.

02 BEAUTY IN THE BEAST

RS-specific interior appointments include Alcantara door trims, perforated leather or Alcantara wheel, plus brilliant seats with the familiar hexagonal quilted stitching.

03 HIPS ARE GETTIN’ BIGGER

The pumped arches (15mm wider) are intended to hark back to the Audi 90 quattro IMSA GTO of the late ’80s, which produced around 530kW.

You may need to squint.

Weave your hat on

Oh how we fawned when BMW’s E92 M3 arrived in 2007 with a carbonfibre roof. The glossy weave!

The weight saving!

Actually, that bit is quite small, but being up high it counts for more. Anyway, now Audi is in on the action, adding a carbon roof to the RS5 options list in your choice of body colour (Nooo!) or gloss finish (yes please) for a price yet to be announced, but tipped to be around $6000. You’ll save three kilos, or what most of us could lose around the waistline in a fortnight by cutting out booze and carbs. Bugger that; we’ll take the roof thanks.

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