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Audi RS5
8/10

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Road Test

Audi A5 RS5

Driven May 2010

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Don't think too hard, that's the key with the Audi RS5. Just get in and drive.

Drop easily into the sculpted sports seats, press the start button (no need to take the key out of your pocket), drag the gearlever back into ‘D' and gently press the accelerator. It's a remarkably laid-back process.

And then all hell breaks loose. The RS5 bangs up to 62mph in just 4.6 seconds. 444bhp. 317lb ft of torque. Four-wheel drive. No wheelspin. Sheer torque, a constant, addictive slug. No peaks or troughs in the power delivery, no waiting for 6,000rpm and variable valve timing. Just brilliant, easy pace.

See our pics of the Audi RS5

None of this is scary. It's impress-your-mates-easily time in the RS5. It flatters you and driving quickly becomes as relaxing as starting the car up for the first time. I can't think of many other cars on sale that are as quick as the RS5 over as many varieties of routes and weather conditions.

Rainy today? Motorway miles today? Back-road blast today? No problems – just wake up, shower, drive somewhere quickly. Whereas in the BMW M3 or Merc C63 AMG you need to plan ahead more, get yourself psyched up to think about the approach to a particular journey; in the RS5 it just happens. The thinking process is taken care of.

Audi is turning into the manufacturer of effortless speed. Pace that can be dialled up no matter what the road conditions, or the skill of the driver. The Audi R8 has been praised because it's the everyman supercar - or as everyman as £81,000 can be, at any rate. The RS5 is no different.

This is the third RS model now on sale from Audi, despite saying once it would only ever offer one RS at a time. But, as Audi quite rightly points out, customers want them, so why not build them? So now there's a TT RS, as well as the RS6 saloon and Avant, and this RS5. Interestingly, Audi isn't ruling out an RS4 in the not-too distant future, but I'm told that will only be available as an Avant so as not to pinch sales from the RS5.

All of these RS models are a lesson in understatement, so no M3-bonnet bulges on the RS5. The flared wheelarches that are needed to fit the widened front and rear track are subtle, like a boxer wearing a loose-fitting shirt. You're vaguely aware that it looks more menacing than a normal A5, but it's not until you stare at it that the extra shoulders over the wheels become apparent. These look great, and cancel out the slight sag you get in the middle of the crease which runs down the side of every normal A5.

Our car has got the standard silver highlights around the grille and wing mirrors, but for added Q car status, delete these and get them body-coloured. A word of caution, though - on grey cars this deletion looks mega, on other pantones not so much.

See our pics of the Audi RS5

Equally, you can delete the RS badges. About 40 per cent of RS6 owners do this, which must mean that all the cocks now buying Audis rather than BMWs aren't purchasing anything RS. S-lines probably.

Fortunately, there's nothing subtle about the engine. The instantly brilliant news is that you can actually see it nestled in the engine bay. Again, effortlessly impress your pals - just lift the bonnet. 4.2 litres of high-revving V8 for all the world to see. There's no plastic shroud, there are visible wires, the odd bit of carbon fibre and the red cylinder head covers. Red - it's like an old Alfa engine bay. From the Germans. Praise be.

You can spec a sports exhaust (about £900), which makes it a lot noisier and is worth choosing, but the normal pipes don't sound weedy. There are four settings on the Audi drive select and even in the most sane of these the exhaust still sounds incredible. Both on the way up and down the cogs, there's a rumbly parp from the engine when you change gear. It's lovely, basey and burbles like a monster from the deep - there's a connection to your soul going on here. It doesn't sound forced and there's no trickery of feeding noise into the cabin through clever acoustics. It's simple and honest, as every V8 should be.

And it delivers effortless, relaxed pace. ‘Relaxed' is the key word. The RS5 isn't about the ultimate in driving finesse. Look at the brakes. Ceramics aren't standard (no great surprise there), but when you do tick the £6,250 box for them, the car only comes with them on the front. The rear brakes are still steel. This isn't necessarily a problem, but if out-and-out sports car is what Audi is after, it'd be ceramics all round.

The flip-side of this is that in the UK, the RS5 gets Audi's Dynamic Ride Control as standard. This system wasn't fitted to any of the cars on the launch, but it acts like a variable anti-roll bar. In theory, it should come in handy to eliminate some of the weight transfer you get in left-right flicks so the car could become more nimble.

The RS5 doesn't deliver that last ounce of fun which you'd get from a really focused uber-coupe. To most people, on most roads, most of the time, this isn't a problem. But the RS5 is more of a blunt instrument to the C63/M3 scalpel. The steering is the main culprit.

A bit of background first, so bear with me. The Audi Drive select allows you to alter the engine/gearbox settings, the transmission and the steering. ‘Comfort' has everything backed right off, ‘Dynamic' puts everything in maximum attack, while ‘Auto' constantly changes it according to how you're driving and in ‘Individual' you tune it to how you want it.

Truth be told, you don't need Dynamic or Auto. If you're pottering, it's Comfort with the dual clutch gearbox in automatic; if you're trying to set fire to the tarmac it's Individual with the gearbox selector in manual for the flappy paddles.

Be wary, though - if you don't go for the £1,495 satnav, the RS5 doesn't come with the Individual button. And you need it. Because, crucially for tarmac fires, the steering setting within Individual needs to be in comfort because otherwise the helm is too heavy - that's why Dynamic and Auto are redundant.

All these modes do is make the car feel very nose heavy. At 1,725kg, and 125kg more than the M3, extra weight is the last thing the RS5 needs. It's too much effort to turn the wheel in Dynamic and Auto, and in a tightening bend it starts to feel like the car's got understeer.

Nothing could be further from the truth, because the clever diffs mean that the RS5 has got bags of grip most of the time. In a sweeping bend, you can apply the power really early and all those diffs scrunch right up, pull the nose in and squirt you out the far side. It's impressive and a very, very fast way to travel, but not as adjustable as the C63.

Not that the RS5 doesn't have some movement at the back - on a track, there's even a bit of oversteer. Audi has gone to great efforts to make sure the car is more rear-drive focused, despite being four-wheel drive, so the torque split front to rear is 40:60. At higher speeds on the circuit, this is the only time when the RS5 doesn't flatter you. Because the chassis and steering are lacking that last little bit of feel, you don't get much warning that things are about to step out of line.

But that's such a rare scenario to not matter. On normal roads, a C63 driver wouldn't see which way an RS5 went. Cross-country, this thing is a weapon. As it should be for £57,480 - go crazy with the options ticking pen and the RS5 easily turns into a £68,000 car.

See our pics of the Audi RS5

Still, even though it's hugely expensive, the RS5 doesn't feel like a rip-off. The usual Audi build quality helps, but it's more the fact that Audi has somehow managed to differentiate the A5 from the A4 in my mind. It's made the A5 feel more premium, in contrast to the way that a 3-Series Coupe still feels like a 3-Series. A £50k-plus 3-Series or C-Class seems like a lot of money, a £50k-plus A5 doesn't feel like such a bad deal.

Overall, then, the Audi RS5 will be exactly what most people want most of the time. It goes faster than anyone will ever need, it pootles around town brilliantly, it's comfortable, well made, exclusive, looks good, grips well. But I still wouldn't buy one. I'd have a BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG, simply because of the delicacy of the feedback in those cars. I prefer to be in constant touch with what the car is doing, not feeling isolated from it. Effortless is great, but there's no challenge, and that's where true satisfaction lies.

Piers Ward

Performance: 4.6 seconds, 155mph, 26.2mpg
Tech: 4163cc, 444bhp, 317lb ft, 4-wheel drive, 1725kg, 252g/km

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