What are you driving?
With coupe-like looks and the practicality of five doors, the Audi RS 5 Sportback hits something of a sweet spot between everyday functionality and sports car performance. Unlike the RS 5 Coupe, the Sportback features rear seats that can actually be used by real people, while its tailgate allows easy access to the generous 465-litre boot.
But aside from the practical nature that some may use to justify the €114,050 starting price, its real talent is in how it exercises the 2.9-litre engine lurking beneath its creased clamshell bonnet. It is the same twin-turbocharged V6 that resides in the similarly sized (and arguably more appealing) Audi RS 4 Avant and, truth be told, there is little noticeable difference in performance between them. It sees off 100km/h in just 3.9 seconds from a standing start and, if you find yourself in the right location, the speed limiter won't cut in until 250km/h (or you can choose to have it increased to 280km/h if you feel the need). Being a fast Audi means the presence of the company's quattro all-wheel-drive transmission too, dispatching the engine's 450hp to all four wheels in the most efficient fashion.
The gearbox has eight ratios and, when not attempting to set your personal best time on the way to work, it will comfortably cruise along the motorway in top gear with the engine barely seeming to rise far beyond idle speed. It can, if you show enough restraint, be reasonably economical, but if that's high on your list of priorities, then you're looking at the wrong car.
Name its best bits
You probably won't be surprised to read that the engine is one of the standout features of the RS 5 Sportback. The blown V6 starts to come alive once you get it higher up into the rev range, so you do have to work it hard. When the turbos spool up there is a massive swell of torque that's nicely spread across the rev range. It has that kind of deep shove that'll keep your head and back firmly against the quilted leather sports seats as the speedometer rapidly approaches speeds that are typically accompanied by a set of bracelets.
It can be a deceptively fast car such is the degree of sound insulation and refinement. Even the 20-inch tyres feature an inner layer to absorb road noise. But all of that high-speed point-to-point sprint ability is there only if and when you go looking for it. In the day-to-day driving it's almost a little too docile is how it operates. Don't get us wrong, it's a fast car, but there isn't quite as much theatre and noise from the engine in such scenarios. Drive it in everyday traffic and you'd be forgiven for questioning whether it's a car that's had the RS treatment at all. Unless you leave it in its Dynamic drive mode that is and, better still, switch the transmission into manual mode; that way you get to hear more of that wailing V6 through the sports exhaust.
Regardless of how you have the transmission served up to you, one thing is constant: traction. Despite having 600Nm of torque within 35 degrees of right ankle articulation, the quattro system never seems to suggest a lack of traction. On even the greasiest of dirty wet winter days the RS 5 Sportback never seems phased by what you ask of it and only when you carry far too excessive a level of speed into a bend will it predictably understeer. In some ways it's almost a victim of its own success. It could be a more exciting ride if it could be made to deliver a more rearward bias. Yes, the RS 5 Sportback is (as far as most people are concerned) blisteringly fast, yet it's equally manageable for those with less experience of such performance. Frustratingly though, there are scant few places in this country where you can legally exploit the area where the RS 5 Sportback comes alive.
Anything that bugs you?
Don't let the three seatbelts in the rear of the RS 5 Sportback fool you; this is only a two-seater in the back in reality. That third middle passenger sits much taller due to the sculpted outer seats and, along with the bulky transmission tunnel in the middle of the floor, that means that all but the smallest of occupants will be happy sitting here. There's also the cost. At €138,451 for our test car, which includes €24,401 in optional extras, the RS 5 Sportback is perilously close to RS 6 Avant territory, which brings an even more potent 600hp and 800Nm. Just what do you get for spending close to the price of a new Audi A1 only on optional extras? Well, there's the carbon fibre styling pack that includes a slim lip spoiler on the tailgate, inserts along the sills and through the front and rear bumpers, a snip at €7,946. That doesn't include the carbon door mirrors though; they're an additional €2,095, as is the RS sports exhaust system. Having the brake callipers treated to a red paint finish adds €698 to the total price, while treating your rear passengers to a pair of USB ports costs €89. Possibly the most useful addition is the Matrix LED headlights at €1,503, which in some nearby markets are standard on the highest-spec version of the regular A5 Sportback model...
And why have you given it this rating?
What helps to set the Audi RS 5 Sportback apart from others is the ease at which its power is accessible, but in many ways it's a case of the right car in the wrong country. The quattro all-wheel-drive system imbues confidence in the driver and it can exhibit sufficient levels of refinement to comfortably perform as a daily driver. Added to that are some practical features including that liftback we mentioned earlier, and, of course, the cold start cacophony that you'll get to enjoy each morning.
What do the rest of the team think?
The Audi RS 5 Sportback is an effective cross-country tool, enabling drivers of all skill levels to safely maintain a high average speed in seemingly all conditions. There's no arguing with its tremendous pace and, as Dave intimated, you can't really use all of its performance on the road in Ireland anyway. BMW doesn't have a direct rival, as there's no M4 Gran Coupe, but I'd have the BMW M3 saloon over the Audi for how it thrills the driver even at road-legal speeds. Saying that, if you did without some of the trinkets of our RS 5 test car and instead spent the money on the Sport differential, that might liven up the Audi's chassis a tad. Regardless, there's no escaping the fact that the RS 5 is a fast and impressive car.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor