Now that's gone for this generation, 4.2-litres replaced by 2.9, with eight cylinders substituted for six and a pair of turbos. Furthermore, while both BMW M and Mercedes-AMG have been forced down the same path, their respective products present Audi Sport with a formidable challenge. Don't forget about that Alfa too, more than relevant here with the same capacity and layout. Is the new RS5 good enough?
Being a contemporary Audi product, first impressions are unsurprisingly upbeat. Sonoma Green proves extremely popular during our time with the car, the comments and response almost universally positive. On optional 20s and with the black pack, the RS5 is low, menacing and striking - albeit in an occasionally fussy way. The interior - excluding a seat that could go a fraction lower and a pointless flat-bottomed wheel - is beyond reproach.
Trouble is, seemingly another part of being a contemporary Audi product is that the initial dynamic impressions aren't all that great. The first minor imperfection will have you convinced that the drive select has been left in one of its more aggressive settings, only to discover it's set to Comfort. The ride really is brutal, punishing at points and with little need to use the Dynamic mode beyond confirming just how uncomfortable it is. Weirdly there's an element of float to the ride too, the body not regaining control as quickly as you would hope given the resolute stiffness. It's worth noting that our car was fitted with the optional (and latest generation) Dynamic Ride Control, plus 20-inch wheels (19s are standard), so there would appear to be room for improvement. The smaller wheels and ceramic brakes would reduce unsprung mass, while you would have to hope the standard RS Sport set up is a little more forgiving. Certainly, on this experience, those expensive suspension and wheel options are best left unticked.
Moreover, while improved from some previous installations, the RS5's steering is over assisted and lifeless. Quelle surprise, or whatever the German equivalent is. That being said, neither the M4 nor the C63 steer as well as they should, so perhaps that's a moot point.
Fortunately, there is some good news for the RS5 as well. Like the large Audi V8s, the turbos for this V6 are inside the cylinder vee, improving response time. And, with the caveat of not having driven either for a little while, the RS5 could be the most eager from low revs of all three German super coupes. It picks up from way below 2,000rpm with real vigour and possesses a much more aggressive, willing character than the related S4 and S5 3.0-litre engine. The V6 sounds good (with an optional sports exhaust), pulls well throughout the rev range and is pretty eager to reach its 7,200rpm redline.
The eight-speed auto deserves credit here too, delivering both flawless cruising ability and really rapid shifts when required. The lower gears are pleasingly short, the mapping in the automatic modes good and the manual mode exactly that - right up to hitting the rev limiter. Bravo.
The problem? The problem is that the C63 and M4 just do things that little bit better. The RS5 may respond sooner but the others punch harder - or so it feels - the M4 thanks to its c. 100kg weight advantage and the AMG through its additional V8 wallop. The BMW revs out harder, the Mercedes sounds better and both have gearboxes that can stand comparison with the Audi. It's a 'just about' in the Mercedes' case, but still.
Small details let down your interaction with the RS5's powertrain too. The shift paddles are the same plasticky items as you'll find in a Golf, and the chunky gear selector is never something you would choose to shift gears with. Its manual mode is the 'wrong' way around too, pulling the lever towards you for down and pushing away for up. Small details, but irksome if you care.
The new engine brings a dynamic advantage though, saving 30kg of the 60kg total lost from the old car. This means that contrary surely to some expectations, the RS5 has a real tenacity on turn in and reluctance to understeer. The standard sport differential means the car is neutral under power too, with just a hint of oversteer on occasion. It feels balanced, poised and capable down a twisty road, with a sufficient level of dynamism to keep things interesting. More fun than an M4 or a C63? No. More fun than you were probably expecting? Yes.
But then the RS5 is pitched by Audi as the 'gran turismo' of the RS range, presumably making cars like the TT RS - if you can get one - the sportier option. And on a wider, faster, better surfaced road, the RS5 is a dream: quiet, refined, and able to return more than 35mpg. Lovely.
Though if that's your concern, wouldn't you be better served by an S5? Or a diesel perhaps? Talented though the RS5 most certainly is, on this experience, it seems to lack the edge required to mark out an RS product. Partly that will be due to the engine, though of course a 440i and an M4 both have 3.0-litre straight sixes - there's no danger of getting those cars muddled up. More broadly it feels at the moment like an enhancement of the S4 and S5's abilities, rather than a transformative overhaul to create a fantastic and rewarding driver's car. This has been done before - think of how different the B7 RS4 and S4 were, both with V8 engines - so it seems a shame that this RS5 isn't quite so captivating despite some commonalities with cars lower down the range. Let's hope the upcoming RS4 can deliver a tad more Audi Sport magic, to truly realise the potential latent in this car.
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)
Weight: 1,730kg (including 75kg driver)
MPG: 32.5 (NEDC combined)
Price: £80,740 (Base price £61,015 plus £645 for Sonoma green paint, £3,500 for front Super Sport seats in exclusive black fine Nappa leather honeycomb quilted design with contrast Sonoma green stitching, £900 for head-up display, £550 for black styling package, £250 for pre sense rear, £1,250 for Driver Assitance pack, £2,000 for 20" x 9.0J '5-arm trapezoid' design forged alloy wheels in Anthracite black diamond cut finish, £200 for Electrically adjustable front seats with memory function for the driver's side, £850 for RS Matrix LED headlights with LED rear lights and dynamic front and rear indicators, £175 for storage pack, £100 for extended LED interior package, £375 for privacy glass on rear and side windows, £1,200 for RS sport exhaust, £2,000 for RS sport suspension with Dynamic Ride Control, £350 for Aluminium race, anthracite inlays, £125 for Door mirrors (folding with auto-dimming and memory function), £1,450 for speed restriction increased to 174mph, £250 for tyre pressure monitoring display, £50 for smoking pack, £325 for Audi phone box with wireless charging, £1,295 for Comfort and Sound Package and £1,885 for delivery, registration and road fund license fees)