Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.
In 1980 Audi revealed the Ur-Quattro, the subsequent addition of the German prefix for ‘original’ or ‘proto’ underlining quite how influential this car was. Before this point four-wheel-drive was for off-road vehicles like Jeeps, Land Cruisers and Land Rovers but with this square-edged, turbocharged coupe Audi wanted to prove its advantages for regular road cars too. It did that by taking it rallying, winning two WRC titles in the early '80s and arguably changing the sport for good. These days nearly half of all Audis sold carry the Quattro badge but the symbolic embodiment of the Ur-Quattro’s legacy is this, the RS5 Coupe.
With a 450PS (444bhp) turbocharged engine driving a four-wheel drive chassis and those characteristic wheelarch extensions the RS5 honours Ur-Quattro tradition, be that as a technical trailblazer, motorsport hero or cultural icon and inspiration for a memorable TV catchphrase. For Vorsprung Durch Technik fanboys the RS5 boasts standard Audi Drive Select modes, Quattro Sport Differential and the option of Dynamic Ride Control suspension. Standard LED headlights can be upgraded to Audi’s clever Matrix LED units while inside it gets the Audi Virtual Cockpit display as standard. Also included is the Audi Smartphone Interface with Apple Carplay/Android Auto integration and MMI Navigation Plus. Full connected support comes via an Audi Connect SIM with a free Europe-wide, flat rate data package valid for three years.
Where the previous RS5 used a free-revving, naturally-aspirated V8 the new one adopts an RS-specific evolution of Audi’s latest downsized, turbocharged V6. This 2.9-litre engine has two turbos, the massive 599Nm (442lb ft) of torque answering a major criticism of the characterful but breathless V8. Also new is the eight-speed automatic gearbox, its response and that of the steering, suspension and other systems configurable via Audi Drive Select. The engine delivers huge punch, the Quattro system putting it to the road whatever the weather. And this is a seriously, seriously rapid car. But compared with rivals from Mercedes-AMG and BMW M it’s a little soulless and aloof, the light steering and one-dimensional power delivery making it more point-and-squirt projectile than truly inspirational drive.
In its looks, posing power and its celebration of Audi’s Quattro heritage the RS5 does an awful lot right. It’s a great place to be too, the high-quality cabin visually, technically and ergonomically bang on the money. Like many fast Audis it struggles on the emotional engagement side though, the engine trading charisma for firepower but for all that still failing to put sufficient ground between the RS5 and its junior S5 sibling. With its massive turbocharged power and sophisticated chassis the RS5 should really drive like a Nissan GT-R in more socially acceptable clothes. But Audi’s deep-seated conservatism means it’s failed to unleash the wild side it really needs and a Mercedes-AMG C63 Coupe would remain the more engaging choice.