WHAT a way to celebrate. This year is the 30th anniversary of one of the most incredible cars of all time – the Audi Quattro. And to mark the occasion, the German firm is unleashing an even mightier machine.
Packing a 444bhp 4.2-litre V8, sophisticated four-wheel drive system and adaptive suspension, the RS5 is certainly an impressive piece of kit on paper. And as a flagship BMW M3-rivalling model, it ticks all the right boxes. But has Audi finally launched the spiritual successor to the original Quattro that we’ve all been waiting for?
Like a toned athlete, the RS5 shouts performance potential even when parked at the side of the road. Muscular, widened wheelarches are filled with 19-inch alloys and backed up by huge brakes, while the whole car sits 20mm lower than any other A5 too.
Inside, the superb cabin gets sports seats clad in Silk Nappa leather upholstery and with extra thick side bolsters and integrated headrests, they wrap around you like a tailored suit. What’s more, if you were in any doubt about the RS5’s abilities, there are additional oil temperature gauges, carbon fibre trim plus even a lap timer to remind you.
Fire up the V8 and it settles to a bass-laden idle. The first surprise is that there’s no manual transmission on offer. The RS5 comes with a specially reinforced version of the firm’s seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, so all you have to do to get going is pull the lever into D and accelerate.
It’s very easy to drive around town as a result – and surprisingly comfortable too. Even with our test car’s optional 20-inch wheels, the RS5 rode remarkably well, and much of the credit for that must go to the Dynamic Ride Control system, which constantly juggles the adaptive dampers’ sensitivity.
Out on the open road, the RS5 can switch characters in an instant. With steering-mounted paddles, you can take control of gear-shifting yourself, and thanks to the Drive Select system, you can play around with the throttle, steering and exhaust settings among others.
Flick the left-hand paddle a couple of times and the transmission drops two gears with a thunderous bark from the exhausts to match each ratio. Flatten the throttle and the V8’s note changes from a deep rumble to a high-rev roar, and it keeps on going, producing its 444bhp peak at a crazy 8,250rpm.
It’s capable of rocketing the RS5 from 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds – and thanks to launch control as standard, it can do just that with ease – but it’s not the standing start acceleration that impresses the most but the sheer accessibility of the performance. Thanks to 430Nm of torque the V8 will pull like a Boeing Dreamliner from low revs. Add a gorgeous soundtrack, and you’re really flying high.
But is this an RS-badged Audi that carries itself just as well in corners? Well, not only does it boast the rear sport differential from the S4 and S5, but also a new centre differential that can vary torque between the front and rear axles. In standard mode, the four-wheel drive system is biased 40:60 in favour of the rear wheels, but the centre differential can send up to 85 per cent of torque to the back.
We found that the RS5 behaved best with the steering set to Comfort mode (like the A8, Dynamic mode only adds more weight, not more feedback through the wheel) while the engine, gearbox and sport differential were all set to Dynamic. In this set-up, the RS5 darts into corners, allows you to accelerate hard and early, and offers incredible grip.
What’s really enjoyable is the fact that the RS5 has the agility and change of direction of a rear-wheel drive car, with the on-limit stability and security of a four-wheel drive machine. And what’s even better is that when you're not in the mood, you can switch all the settings to Auto or Comfort and cruise serenely, but quickly, with hardly any effort.
Negatives? Well, there are a few. The RS5 isn’t quite as raw as a BMW M3 and by not even offering a manual gearbox as an option – fantastic though the twin-clutch transmission is – we feel that Audi is missing a trick. Lastly, our test car came with optional ceramic brakes, and while they offer enormous fade-free stopping power, the pedal is numb at the top of its travel, and the brakes are hard to modulate as a result.
All that said, the RS5 is a deeply impressive car. It won’t change the automotive landscape like the original Quattro did, but it’s certainly a worthy successor to that car. In keeping with its forefather, it possesses astonishing performance, but crucially that performance can be accessed by all drivers in all weathers. The fact that it's hugely entertaining and full of character too is further cause to celebrate.
* Price: £57,480
* Engine: 4.2-litre V8
* Power: 444bhp at 8,250rpm
* Torque: 430Nm between 4,000rpm and 6,000rpm
* Top speed: 155mph
* 0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
* Econ: 26.2mpg
* CO2: 252g/km
* Equipment: Sport differential plus Drive Select system, Dynamic Ride Control, sorts seats, 19-inch alloys
* On sale: May