I’m going to get this out of the way now, as there’s no easy way to say it: Audi’s 4.2-litre V8 is dead. Yep, that glorious, naturally-aspirated eight-banger with its 8000rpm red line and howling soundtrack has been consigned to the history books, with the previous generation RS5 being the last car in the line-up to have it fitted.
It seems appropriate, then, that the new RS5 comes with the replacement for that paragon of eight-pot excellence fitted in its handsome snout. The only trouble is, on paper, it’s not exactly something that got our pulses racing initially. It’s a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6, co-developed by Porsche. It’s already been doing service in the Panamera 4S since its launch, and in Stuttgart’s sportified limo, it’s a bit muted, and just a bit meh.
Much as I tried to keep an open mind before taking the keys to a new RS5 for the week, I was worried I’d be left similarly underwhelmed. But in the lighter RS5 with a considerably shoutier exhaust system and what seems to be a much more aggressive throttle map, it’s an absolute weapon.
Put your foot down, and so long as you’re anything over 2000rpm, you’ll feel as though The Hulk just kicked you up the arse. Incidentally, ‘our’ test car was finished in Sonoma Green, which is reminiscent of the big green guy. If he had a sun tan.
The thrust shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: power is identical to the previous model at 444bhp, but torque is up 40 per cent to a healthy 443lb ft. 0-62mph is ruthlessly dispatched in 3.9 seconds.
That’s only a tenth quicker on paper than the BMW M4 Competition Pack and bang on the benchmark time for the Mercedes C63 S coupe. But it feels much quicker and more dramatic than both - partly because of the hugely potent V6, and partly because the all-wheel drive system means the performance figures are achievable consistently.
The thing is, amazing though that old V8 was, no Audi fitted with it ever felt that fast. Some might argue chopping an 8000rpm redline for one at 6600rpm takes away a lot of the drama, but if you don’t find the sheer force of the acceleration offered up by the new car anything but exciting, I fear there’s something wrong with you. The V8 RS5 sounded fast, but the new one is fast. Massively so.
It doesn’t sound anything like as good as an N/A V8, because it was never going to. But it’s not bad, and was a pleasant surprise: it’s a sound that’ll see you nodding in appreciation, rather than weeping with joy. It’s an angry, throaty sound, accompanied by the usual array of artificial (but pleasant) pops and bangs.
Throttle response is decent for a turbocharged car, too, if not spectacular. The two turbochargers (nestling between the cylinder banks to make a neat and efficient ‘hot V’ layout) are relatively small, meaning quicker spool-up times.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has disappeared, because Audi says it can’t reliably handle the torque, and also because conventional torque converter automatics are apparently getting so good that the difference in upshift speed is negligible. We can’t really argue with that: there’s a brutal efficiency to the way it swaps cogs. It’s less on the ball for downshifts, though.
Even with all the related turbo gubbins, the new engine is 30kg lighter than the older one, and since it’s shorter, the centre point of its mass has been pulled back. All told 60kg has been cut from the new car, most of which is on the front end. This shows: it really is an eager thing on the turn-in, egging you on to throw it around.
Outrageous grip - in the dry or the wet - means the RS5 is keen to indulge your childish side as you demand more and more of the all-wheel drive system with ever ambitious entry speeds and bouts of greedy throttle usage on corner exits.
The steering is good rather than exceptional: it’s fast an accurate and you even get something vaguely akin to feedback through the wheel at times, but it’s maybe a little on the light side.
Judging from what we discovered of car on the road, we suspect it’d be jolly keen to wash wide if you put it out on the track. The torque split from the Torsen centre differential varies, generally settling on a 60/40 split in favour of the rear axle, but it’s a neutral thing on the whole, with the rear tyres rarely getting excited.
This I can cope with: although a little more rear-end movement would be rather nice, there’s something to be said for a nimble, grippy car that doesn’t require a whole lot of effort or thought to drive fast. If you want something more physically and mentally taxing, there are other options out there.
What I can’t cope with is the optional adaptive dampers. On paper they sound great: they’re hydraulically linked, allowing fluid to pass between them as necessary to reduce body roll and stop the car diving under heavy braking. Two things they do quite well. The problem? That’d be the ride.
Unless you’re completely masochistic or have bones made entirely out of jelly, you’ll find the Dynamic setting unacceptably firm. There’s barely any give in the dampers in this firmest setting, smashing every last imperfection through the cabin, which makes the car nervous and horribly uncomfortable.
Switch the car into Comfort mode on the other hand, and body control almost vanishes as the dampers take on the rigidity of an undercooked Victoria sponge cake. This makes it fabulously comfortable on a long cruise or pottering around town (the RS5 really is a great cruiser), but rubbish pretty much everywhere else.
My solution was to use an Individual set-up with everything turned up to full angry bastard mode and the suspension in ‘auto’. Do that, and the dampers seem to have a handle on how to behave, although they still seem to stray into needlessly firm territory from time to time.
We’re yet to try an RS5 with the standard suspension, but right now I can’t help but think you’d be better off saving £2000 and not ticking the option box. Nor the £1350 option to raise the electronic speed limiter by all of 19mph to 174mph. Unless you think £71.05 per MPH is good value.
The RS5 may have lost two cylinders and a scintillating sound track, but it’s gained so much more. It’s a likeable, entertaining car with depth, if one with a few flaws. While a little voice in the back of my head wants to vent its frustration at Audi still not being capable of going toe-to-toe dynamically with the likes of the BMW M4 and Mercedes C63 coupe, as an all-round package that’s good at pretty much everything, the RS5 is awfully appealing.