Speed is rarely this unruffled, the Sportback will be spectacularly easy to live with
Nothing for people who like driving to enjoy here
What is it?
Well, there are good and bad fast Audis. And the RS5 is the latter. Audi's RS division is fascinatingly inconsistent: one minute they're on fire and the R8 and RS6 can do no wrong, the next we get a lacklustre RS5 and boorish RSQ8.
Thoroughbred drivers’ cars have been frustratingly irregular in the decades that followed the first car to be emblazoned with Quattro badges, back in the Eighties, but the bright spots pockmarking the way have shone almost blindingly.
There's the wonderful manual-transmission RS4 of the mid 2000s, or a series of outrageously fast and temptingly family-friendly RS6s, or one of the many exquisitely balanced R8s. Perhaps it's those which serve up impossible-to-reach expectations each time a new RS-badged car arrives. Or maybe it’s the outstanding talent exhibited by the BMW M3 and Mercedes-AMG C63 that leave us hoping a rip-snorting RS will try and take them down.
What's the problem with the current RS5?
Either way, the latest generation of RS5 disappointed us enormously on arrival. Its naturally aspirated V8 forebear with six turbocharged cylinders arguably put it on the back foot right away, but that never hindered the outgoing M3 (or M4) too much. What let us down was the lack of excitement, Audi’s contentment with a car that gripped like hell and went like stink but with no nuance, feel or feedback decorating the edges of its sledgehammer performance.
Or perhaps that should be Audi buyers’ contentment. Ex-Audi Sport boss Oliver Hoffman once told us he’ll never be tempted by the immature drift modes currently fitted to the 4WD systems of M Division and AMG. “This kind of play mode is not needed for our customers,” he said, with anything resembling rear-wheel drive deemed unnecessary to sell anything but limited-run R8 specials.
And yet now, there's a new regime at Audi RS, a new boss, and guess what? The superb latest RS3 has a drift mode. Funny old world, eh? Sadly, the RS5 hails from the old world, where Audis are as fun as wet playtime.
Is it fast?
We suspect a lot of people will look at the 444bhp bi-turbo V6 RS5’s performance figures – a Quattro-aided 3.9-second 0-62mph sprint beating the 70bhp-healthier, rear-driven AMG C63 S – and immediately choose it over rivals for the bragging rights. And for just how joyously easy that speed can be deployed, regardless of the weather underfoot.
After a hiatus from sale the RS5 returned with a Sportback body style which (to ours eyes) is more handsome than the two-door coupe, and for European markets there's an RS5 Competition run-out special model... which isn't going on sale in the UK at the time of writing. Normally this would make us cross. But trust us: you ain't missing much.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
We’re unashamed car enthusiasts and the RS5 can’t help but dampen our spirits. The cars it rivals so closely on paper – the BMW M3s and Mercedes C63s of this world – manage to offer similar space and practicality with a whole heap more noise and fun. They thrill at all speeds.
But it would appear Audi’s deliberately swerved such boisterous demeanour to make a car that’s quieter, calmer and easier to live with. Something the five-door Sportback version makes particular sense of.
Badge-lovers will adore this car, and whether or not it deserves the RS insignia will be a total moot point to them. But not to us. Audi Sport’s inconsistency rolls on.