You don’t need to be a trainspotter to twig straight away that the Audi RS5 is worlds away from the A5 Coupe that seeds it.
You could skip right over the small RS (race sport) badging, but the mesh grille, extra bodykit and sport exhausts betray the car’s performance focus. With our test car adding the optional 20” wheels and harness-ready seats, it may as well stake out its claim on track-day territory with fluoro surveyors tape and flashing neon signage.
For transparency, I have to disclose that the soon-returning Audi RS4 in Avant form is an all-time favourite for its brilliant welding of performance and practicality. It’s a compact station wagon that reasonably justifies the need for a lap timer, and when it comes to being multi-faceted, few cars shine brighter.
So its A5-based cousin was welcomed with respect for what Audi adds when it builds an RS model. But it was waved goodbye with the realisation that more is sometimes less.
Although Audi dropped the price by more than $13,000 over the previous model, at $161,400, the RS5 isn’t cheap, and ours was optioned about $25,000 beyond that with dynamic steering, sports package with tweaked suspension, dynamic ride control and 20” wheels, aluminium trim and red-accented racing seats. Add in on-roads and you’re nearly eye-level with the $200,000 notch.
So what other performances coupes is it up against for that kind of money? Audi has compared it to the BMW M5, but most people will shop it against the smaller M3 at $162,300 for the auto.
Likewise, Mercedes-Benz’s closest contender is the $154,800 C63 AMG, which wins the on the bang:buck ratio with a larger engine and higher outputs. The Beemer’s capacity and outputs are slightly below the Audi’s, but all three sit within a whisker of each other in the mid 4-sec range for 0-100km/h acceleration.
But the monkey in the room is a cheeky Japanese macaque: the lively Toyota 86 that -- twinned with the Subaru BRZ -- won the 2012 Carsguide Car of the Year. It can’t touch the Audi for technology, quality fit-out and style, but in manual form the Toyota is priced from $29,990. That's nearly one for each day of the week against the price of our test RS5.
The RS treatment adds purpose to the potential of the A5 Coupe design. The nose seems to snort wider and lower with the massive single-frame honeycombe grille, larger wheels complement the bolder swell of arches, and a front splitter and rear diffuser -- along with sizeable twin elliptical exhausts -- signal it's ready to do business.
Audi interiors are faultless, and the RS5 touches and options raise them to sublime. A flat-bottomed wheel, one of the best-judged integrations of aluminium and carbon-fibre accents, and the huggy love of the powered sports-seat side bolsters all reinforce the message that you're sitting in something special.
The cabin seats four, and access to the rear row isn't easy but those who make it will find well-shaped buckets. Tall passengers will feel the pinch for realistic legroom, and head space under the sloping roofline can be tight.
A tickled revision of the high-revving 4.2-litre V8 gives you 331kW and 430Nm, a smooth seven-speed dual-clutch auto delivering torque to all four wheels, with the rear-biased quattro system able to feed up to 85 per cent to the back and a sport diff varying what each of those wheels gets.
Throttle, steering and suspension settings can be adjusted in pre-set modes or individually starting from Audi's stoic notion of 'Comfort' and slightly hardening and tightening everything up to swifter response, gloriously stubborn refusal to budge from a selected gear, and bedrock ride quality.
Just the figures? Hit 100km/h in 4.5 seconds and the speedo wall at 250km/h -- although you can have the limiter wall moved another 30km/h up the dial. And if doing that, don't expect to see the other official figure: fuel economy of 10.5L/100km.
We managed that number in highway cruising, but around town it shot up to a wallet-wracking 19L. The final figure was in the high 13s, but that took in a far higher ratio of time outside the city limits than most cars would do.
Full five-star crash rating, with six airbags, switchable stability control, anti-skid brakes with assist technology for panic stops and force distribution to counter uneven loads. There’s a reversing camera and parking sensors, and a spare tyre – albeit a space saver.
This is what the RS5 is about, and the test car was kitted out to post the goods. The optional dynamic steering delivers the feedback absent from Audi's signature cloaked steering feel, and the slick seven-speed dual-clutch auto gives hair-trigger changes.
Power pours from the engine in an immediate and smooth stream, and few would find there's not enough on tap to suit their tastes or tasks.
This chimes in with brilliant handling to see the car come alive once you can get it on the right road to give it its head, with the quattro all-wheel drive making it an incredibly sure-hoofed beast and the massive brakes giving a deft progression to calm or halt over-excitement.
You'd have to do something supremely moronic to make it misbehave -- and even then, it would probably be able to counter most stupidity.
But the ideal roads on which it shows at its best are far from the ones most of us drive everyday, and this is where all the RS5's morishness becomes less.
Even on the most forgiving setting, the ride is too harsh for everyday city driving -- and sentencing the RS5 to that job is akin to yoking Black Caviar to a tourist carriage.
This one to fill the second spot in the garage, with an eye to days spent lashing the track. It's an aggresssive and beautifully appointed performance toy, but as an everyday drive it doesn’t match up to the BMW and Merc. And even the cavernous boot isn't enough to round it out with the practical potential that added extra lustre to the RS4 Avant’s halo.
Audi RS5 Coupe
Price: from $161,400
Warranty: 3yr/unlimited km
Resale: 56 per cent
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety features: six airbags, ABS, BA, EBD, TC
Crash rating: 5 stars
Engine: 4.2-litre V8, 331kW/430Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto; AWD
Thirst: 10.5L/100km, 270g/km CO2
Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Coupe
Price: from $154,800
Engine: 6.3-litre V8, 336kW/600Nm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto, RWD
Mercedes Benz C63 AMG - see other C63 verdicts
Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ
Price: from $29,990
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, 147kW/205Nm
Transmission: 6-speed man or auto; RWD
Price: from $162,300
Engine: 4.0-litre 8-cly, 309kW/400Nm
Transmission: 7-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 11.2L/100km, CO2 263g/km