Yes, this definitely is the new Audi RS5 Sportback - let's cover that one off straightaway. While the changes are mild, compared side by side with the preceding model it becomes a lot clearer where this 2020 car has been tweaked. Whether it's an improvement or not is harder to ascertain, though once the new bonnet vents, reprofiled grille and R8-eque light design have been clocked, they don't go unnoticed again. From where we're standing, it feels like a facelift for the sake of a facelift, without much discernible benefit. But there's also a reason why we make our money buried behind a PC screen and not designing automobiles.
Inside the 2020 RS5 gives off a similar impression: it's mostly as before, but seemingly altered just because it could be. Most notable is the new 10.1-inch MMI centre touchscreen, which has removed the MMI dial that used to exist ahead of the gear lever. At first, all is well, because the screen is beautifully crisp and super responsive, and MMI remains as logical and pleasing as it almost always has been. But then you have to drive. And pay attention to the road. And sometimes switch between those tiny little CarPlay icons along the M4. And there's absolutely no way that a touchscreen in place of a dial there is advantageous, because there's always a second glance to ensure you're hovering in the right place. Of course it would improve with familiarity, but so did the old system, and that was always less of a distraction. However lovely the display will appear to be in a showroom the innate problems with a touchscreen interface remain. So there's one alteration we could have done without.
Also new for this update are 'RS1' and 'RS2' individual buttons, as also seen in the RS6; with the optional equipment on this car (including the sports exhaust and RS sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control) that presents a veritable minefield of options. The engine sound can be 'Subdued', 'Automatic' or 'Pronounced', the Sport Differential behaviour is offered in 'Comfortable', 'Balanced' or 'Dynamic' variations and the suspension options mirror the diff. With a few more choices besides. As well as the 'Comfort', 'Auto' and 'Dynamic' pre-sets.
Now Audi is hardly alone in offering owners a bewildering array of dynamic options, because everybody is at it; the trouble with the RS5, on this experience at least, is that no chosen cocktail of chopping and changing seems to result in a wholly satisfying driving experience. Which, really, isn't an unreasonable request when parting with £67,000 for an Audi RS coupe - or £85k as tested. So Comfort feels a little too languid and lazy, and without even a hint at the potential that lies beneath. Dynamic, on the other hand, is too harsh, the throttle pedal acting like a switch (exacerbating the over aggressive kickdown) and the ride overly agitated.
Which, of course, is where the configurability comes in - right? Well, kind of. The RS5 does feel at its best with the suspension slightly less abrupt and the twin-turbo V6 wound up to its snarling, rasping best (and manual control over the gearbox with the nice new aluminium paddles) but it never quite pulls at the heartstrings with anything like the vigour at which it relentlessly pulls the horizon towards the windscreen. Which will matter to some more than most, granted.
Be in no doubt: the RS5 is a searingly rapid car, which is most likely why the twin-turbo V6 has remained in its 450hp/442lb ft state of tune. Even a few years after launch it picks up from very few revs, lunges for the redline with abandon and provides all the performance that could ever reasonably be asked for. The gearbox is maybe a little hesitant on the way down the ratios but snaps up through all eight on the way up, meaning the torrent of acceleration never really seems to subside.
Combine that with unimpeachable traction, fearsome grip and the stopping power of a dam and the RS5 is a formidable way of covering ground in any conditions - as it always was. However, its aloof and slightly synthetic take on a sports coupe remains frustrating from an enthusiast's perspective - because being a memorable driver's car as well as usable everyday one are not mutually exclusive traits.
Predictable, right? In the same way that a Costa coffee it too milky and a Domino's pizza too greasy, the binary fast Audi approach plumbed into the RS5 won't appeal to the purists. But, crucially, that won't stop it being popular. Anyone keen to immerse themselves in the of driving will still be better served by the thunderous Mercedes-AMG C63 or fast, slightly furious BMW M4. The wider buying public, though, especially those who've worked their way up through the Audi range hierarchy and have coveted an RS5 for a decade, will find plenty to like about this latest version.
Because for every person disappointed that it feels like an A5 with 450hp squeezed through its wider, flatter singleframe grille (as opposed to a totally reengineered performance coupe), there must be many more for whom that will sound ideal. For now, the velocity-at-all-costs approach sits a little more comfortably on the less ostensibly dynamic RS4 body; the RS5 - with four doors or two - isn't quite at the races when it comes to the cream of the sports coupe crop.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI RS5 SPORTBACK
Engine: 2,894cc, V6 biturbo
Transmission: eight-speed tiptronic, Quattro permanent all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 450@5,700-6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@1,900-5,000rpm
Top speed: 155mph (optional 174mph)
MPG: 31.4 (NEDC combined)
Price: £67,505 (price as tested £85,360 comprised of Alloy wheels 9J x 20 for £2,375, Carbon Black styling package in high gloss for £770, Advanced key with electric hands free boot opening system for £1,100, Matrix LED headlights with Audi laser lights for 870, Storage package for £195, Extended LED interior Lighting package, multi coloured for £195, Electric front seats with memory for £210, RS Sport exhaust system for £1,250, RS sport suspension plus with Dynamic Ride Control for £2,000.00, Panoramic glass sunroof for £1,400, Heated front and outer rear seats for £390.00, Carbon inlays for £995.00, Black exterior mirror housings for £110.00, Speed restriction increase to 174mph for 1,500, Park Assist for £280.00, Bang & Olufsen 3D Sound System for £850, Full leather package for £670, On The Road costs (Delivery charge, half a tank of fuel, and number plates (inc. VAT) is £660 and Road fund licence is £1,305.)
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