Tested: Audi's RS5 Sportback practical semi-supercar
Effectiveness overwhelms exhilaration in the Audi RS5 Sportback. The level of grip afforded by the sticky Continental rubber and all-wheel drive is spectacular and the shove from the twin-turbo V6 is always just a throttle-prod away yet you feel somewhat removed from the experience.
A relative lack of responsiveness from the steering wheel adds to the effect. It's a like a surgeon using a robot for a remote operation: clinical and consummately professional, but not hands-on.
That's probably a compliment to the Audi engineers who are increasingly managing to make their vehicles super quick - in this case it takes just 3.9 seconds to see triple figures in the head-up display - without creating a car that feels like it constantly needs to be contained lest it spear you into the scenery.
As a practical semi-supercar the RS5 Sportback has a huge edge on its coupe sibling thanks to the extra pair of doors and ability to wedge three people in the back should the need arise (the coupe has no centre rear seat). An extra 59mm of space between the front and rear axles also liberates more rear seating space and boosts the boot volume up to 480 litres, or 15 more than the two-door.
Equipment levels are as high as you'd hope for in a $157,700 car and run from matrix LED headlamps to an alcantara and leather interior and digital driver's display. The build quality and overall presentation is equally impressive.
Options include $11,900 for carbon ceramic brakes and $10,900 for an exterior bling pack featuring carbon mirror caps and a lip spoiler with either alloy or black contrasts.
On the road
The run from Bathurst to Canberra is graced with some challenging corners. The RS5 Sportback didn't encounter enough of them, but a later run down through Oberon shows how accomplished this car is when it comes to corner carving.
The engine is shared with Porsche and it always feels ready to add another layer of acceleration. It doesn't stir the soul while doing so and Porsche clearly has the edge on extracting a more emotive note from the exhaust.
A limited slip differential helps transmit the torque to whichever wheel needs it while a very, very good adaptive suspension set-up provides enough variation in comfort and cornering ability in the various modes to be felt from the driver or passenger seats. Set the suspension to comfort and everything else to sport and the RS5 rides roughshod over some of our most pockmarked road surfaces.
The steering doesn't have quite enough feel. It is accurate and well weighted but ultimately isn't giving enough feedback to match the ferocity of the rest of the package.
The RS5 Sportback is a serious piece of equipment. In many ways it is akin to a high-end watch: you don't have to understand what's happening underneath the sculptured surfaces to be impressed by its precision.
Audi Australia sold 1252 Audi Sport (RS and R8) vehicles last year to rank us sixth in the world in terms of our appetite for go-fast models. Product planner Esther Choi expects the Sportback to account for the bulk of RS5 sales simply because of its increased practicality of four doors and the fact it costs just $1500 more than the coupe.
"The Sportback is about 60 per cent of sales In the regular A5 range and we'd expect the RS5 to probably do a little more than that," Choi states
Audi RS5 Sportback
Price: $157,700 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited km, no capped pricing
Engine: 2.9-litre V6 petrol twin-turbo, 331kW/600Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, blind-spot, lane-departure alert
Spare: Repair kit