I never really got on with the old Audi RS5. I remember taking one home once; I hadn’t even made it through the front door when I noticed passers-by stopping, gawping, taking pictures. It seemed to be that sort of car – one that people enjoying ogling more than I enjoyed driving.
Remarkable, no? It had a wild-revving 4.2-litre engine, so how could I not like it? For many reasons, actually. The leaden chassis. The lack of steering feel. The awful ride. The fact that the engine may well have made a nice noise, but you had to wring its neck to release it: dare be caught at anything shy of redline revs and you’d wonder if something had broken. And let’s not even mention the fuel economy.
To fix all this, Audi has redeveloped its entire fast car division. Now called Audi Sport, it aims to out-M BMW and out-AMG Mercedes. It has its own badge – a bright red parallelogram – and its own superstar boss: Stephan Winkelmann moved from leading Lamborghini to heading Audi Sport last year.
He was there at the Goodwood Festival of Speed to help hand over the brand-new Audi RS5 I was to drive away for an extended test. Suave, impeccably dressed and genial, Winkelmann launched into detail about how the new model solves the old car’s flaws before I even had a chance to bring them up. He talked for hours: if he’s anything like this back at base, great things from Audi Sport are surely in the works.
Even so, I approached his first Audi Sport car, the new RS5, with apprehension. I really wanted to like it and, damn it, adored the look of it even more than the old one as I walked towards it. Bulging wheelarches, slammed ride height, an abundance of aero addenda and a glorious set of ultra-lightweight forged alloy wheels. Even I was stopping, gawping and taking pictures – and I was the one holding the keys.
It has a million dollar interior, too. It makes a contemporary BMW M4 look archaic and feel like a budget wannabe. But I was distracted. Would it be the letdown the old one was? So I thumbed the starter button, the twin-turbo V6 engine rumbled alive, I turned off God’s own Bose stereo and drove away.
Half an hour later, I was in raptures. The new RS5 is magnificent. It doesn’t lose from controversially swapping a V8 for a V6, only gains: it may not howl as much, but performance, manners, flexibility, all are in a different league. It’s now quick all the time – intelligent speed, too, not thuggish. And it won’t drain a tankful before you’re even half way through the filling station Haribo.
How it rides and handles is the real clincher, though. Instead of concrete, its suspension is filled with motorsport magic and talent.
It has controlled stance and breeding on straights, agile incisiveness and balance in bends. It flows, involves you just enough and, if you’re feeling properly racy, the sensations its quattro four-wheel drive delivers are, if you get it all perfect, absolutely incredible.
This is a magnificent Audi. I didn’t want to give it back; I couldn’t wait to give the old one back. Quick, clever and talented, it has the ability to match its marvellous looks and magnificent interior.
And you can carry four people and a bootful of luggage. Chalk this one up as a win, Winkelmann – although the true test, making an already-great Audi Sport even better, is still to come...