Power without poise

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Good looks, but this Audi RS5 fails to deliver where it matters

Here are some of my thoughts about the Audi RS5, produced here in quotes for reasons that will shortly become clear:

“It seems Audi may at last have twigged that its front-engined sports cars need to do more than look good and go like hell. The new RS5 is not cheap, but it appears to herald a much anticipated, long-awaited change of heart from Audi’s engineers.

“It’s the chassis I want to focus on, because at last here we have an Audi that really handles. So now and at last Audi has a sporting coupé that is finally as good as it looks, that is as fun to drive as it is easy to live with. And that’s the first time I’ve been able to say that about a front-engined Audi in far too long.”

All of which would be fine but for one thing: I wrote all that about the last RS5, seven years ago. And now at least some of that good work has been undone.

The new RS5 does all that stuff RS Audis always did. It’s beautiful, beautifully built and hellishly fast. To this the new car adds decent ride quality and a dashboard capable of conjuring more information than I could find in a week of fiddling.

Most notable among its losses are its 4.2-litre V8 engine, replaced by the same 2.9-litre turbo V6 already found in the Porsche Panamera 4S. It develops 444bhp and in a car of quite modest weight provides brutal performance. But there’s no joy to it, no sound to savour, no whipcrack throttle response in which to revel. It’s just a device, now harnessed to a conventional auto box rather than the double-clutch unit of old.

But most disappointing is the handling, which seems to have reverted at least halfway back to the bad old days of fast Audis. There’s all the grip in the world, but no feel from the steering, little balance from the chassis and insufficient fun for the driver, whichever drive mode you select. The RS5 has turned from a well honed user-friendly sports car into an incredibly fast, good looking yet rather dull GT.

I don’t understand it. A few weeks ago I drove a new TT S, so not a special ‘RS’ model built by Audi’s in-house Quattro GmbH tuning division, but a stock, off-the-peg, sporting coupé. I was on a track so not expecting much. But it was brilliant, its four-cylinder engine doing a remarkable impression of an old Audi five, its handling lucid, engaging and even quite nicely balanced. Its power and grip levels felt nicely matched, the car always easy to drive, yet still rewarding if you really pressed on.

At the same money I’d prefer the TT, but the RS5 costs half as much again. It’s too much for a car that, for all its presence, prettiness and on-paper potential, fails to deliver the anticipated driving experience.

FACTFILE

Audi RS5

Price £62,900 Engine 2.9 litres, 6 cylinders Power[email protected] Torque 442lb [email protected] 1900rpm Weight 1665kg Power to weight 267bhp per tonne Transmission eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive 0-62mph 3.9sec Top speed 155mph Economy 32.5mpg CO2 197g/km