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Car reviews - Audi - A5 - RS5 Coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Sumptuous 331kW V8 performance with restrained fuel economy, quattro handling and grip, exhaust burble, S-tronic dual-clutch shift, typical Audi style and quality, restrained sporty styling
Room for improvement
Price premium over rivals, rear seat access

Audi logo29 Sep 2010

PERHAPS we should have driven the Audi RS5 Coupe first, instead of immediately after climbing out of the V10 R8 Spyder after a blat around the flowing Phillip Island grand prix circuit.

Certainly, Audi’s R8 supercar is one of the few bad-ass vehicles that could give the 331kW 4.2-litre V8 RS5 quattro coupe an inferiority complex.

But we just have to keep reminding ourselves that we could buy two $175,300 Audi RS5s for the price of one R8 Spyder, with enough change for one of the new Audi A1 hatchbacks that arrive in Australia in a few months.

Problem is that Audi Australia launched both of these performance supercars on the same day at the Victorian race track, so it was a bit like choosing between a holiday in the Bahamas on the private yacht or a vacation in Monaco as a palace guest of Princess Caroline on grand prix weekend.

Although the RS5 was launched in the rather sterile racetrack environment, we are not complaining. We certainly learned that the RS5 is quick, capable and sensually sensational.

But is it better than its highly-ranked German rivals, the BMW M3 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG? That’s a big call without sampling the RS5 in a more real-world environment, and especially as Audi has had the audacity to price its coupe de force above its esteemed rivals.

Going back a step: Audi’s previous mid-sizer to wear the RS tag, the 4.2-litre V8 RS4 quattro sedan, was arguably the first Audi to steer as competently as a BMW. Which is to say, right up there with the best on the road.

The new RS5 Coupe – the flagship and final model in the current A5 range – has been designed to build on the RS4’s strengths while giving the M3 and co even more to think about.

Deep down, the RS5’s normally aspirated V8 is a carryover from the RS4, but with a major renovation that not only pimps the power but fuel economy too.

And like the RS4, the RS5 drives through Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system which likewise has been given a technological makeover to make it even more corner friendly.

Essentially, the driving force is split more intelligently between the wheels via a torque vectoring system, not just between front and rear axles but to the outside wheels, which of course travel further around a corner.

Without doubt, this is a welcome advance, sending the fiery coupe scurrying out of bends, flat and unflustered, with all the hustle it can muster via four chunky tyres.

The only question mark is over steering turn-in, with some mid-corner understeer evident in tighter corners in our circuit test. Of course, this is relative, and most cars would not see which way the RS5 went, but the M3 might, at least into corners.

However, once the foot is planted on the straight and narrow – oh boy – the RS5 boogies with the best, streaking up through the gears, leaving a sumptuous 8500rpm V8 bellow in its wake.

On the track, it was a bit more difficult make a judgement on the RS5’s ride, which is undoubtedly firmly tied down, as you would expect. For those potential owners who find it a bit kidney rattling, Audi will offer a variable damper system called Dynamic Ride Control from next year.

Audi’s Drive Select system is already standard fare on the RS5, allowing the driver to vary the sportiness of the steering, dual-clutch transmission, throttle and bi-modal exhaust between three modes – comfort, auto and dynamic.

Or the driver can mix and match settings for the various functions, say setting the steering to auto and the transmission to sporty. Let’s face it – everyone will turn the exhaust to ‘dynamic’ so they can bathe their eardrums constantly in that delicious V8 burble.

Naturally, we had the entire system turned all the way up to ‘dynamic’ for our track test. If the settings for the other modes are similar to those on the RS5’s close sibling, the S5, which we have sampled on real roads, then they will be a welcome advance.

However, we suspect many owners will simply turn the knob to ‘auto’ for most functions for the duration of their ownership, and let the car do the decision making according to driving inputs.

Our track test gave the brakes a fearful work-out, and they came up trumps. Ceramic front discs are a $15,000 option for those who, say, drive Brenner Pass every day or simply want the best.

Interestingly, Audi has dispensed with the manual transmission for the RS5, placing its faith in the same seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch automatic that also resides in the S5.

And why not. This ‘box closely mimics manual changes, changing crisply and blipping the throttle on down changes with a deeply satisfying V8 bark from the big two exhausts as the driver works the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The days of manual gearboxes are surely numbered.

Inside, the RS5 is pure Audi, with all the style, quality and comfort that this company can muster, with soft surfaces, chrome-rimmed instruments, carbon fibre door trims, luscious leather and finely dimpled sports steering wheel. Actually there is something else – race-style bucket seats are a $6500 option for those wanting to go the whole hog.

As for the two rear seats, they are cosy and useable, although accessing them is an act of gymnastics.

Unlike the Audi R8 Spyder that also captured our imagination at this track test, the RS5 has by comparison a modest, almost discreet persona, with just a few hints such as the wider ‘blister’ mudguards and bespoke front and rear fascias, the latter with tell-tale big bore twin exhaust tips.

Even the rear spoiler spends most of its time hidden in a boot-lid recess.

But beware – the RS5 carries a big stick, and it is prepared to use it.

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