05 AUDI RS5 SPORTBACK

More seats and sense, but less sparkle

BY LOUIS CORDONY

SITTING SMACK bang between the RS5 Coupe and RS4 Avant is this, the new Audi RS5 Sportback.

Taking on a new, slightly pregnant looking form, it squeezes in a pair of extra doors, its wheelbase and length are 59mm longer, mimicking the RS4 on both accounts. Strangely, though, weíre told it hasnít gained any kegs - and sadly you canít have a carbon-fibre roof, as itís now too large.

Some would call it the B7 RS4 sedanís spiritual successor, as it now seats five, others would instead say itís model proliferation. Either way, Audiís mighty twin-turbo V6 still powers all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. It accelerates to 100km/h in an identical 3.9 seconds to the coupe.

Yes, it falls short of the previous generation RS4ís 4.2-litre V8 for emotion (a popular criticism of the new RS4/5), but it delivers surging performance. Thereís little turbo lag and is only laboured in top gear uphill. Everywhere else, itís got enough sizzle to make mincemeat of most other performance cars on the road.

Its grip levels are so massive in a straight line, itís hard to imagine it ever letting go. But throw this thing into a corner and itíll wriggle into oversteer.

It happens with a slight delay, so that thereís time to sense its sizeable mass coming around, but this also means it needs a bit of time to recompose.

Yet, although friendly, itís not scalpel sharp, and especially so in the Sportback. It feels the least athletic of the trio. Smooth inputs make its chassis, riding on hydraulically linked dampers, feel slightly inert and reluctant to follow initial input.

While weíd never thought weíd want the (optional) Dynamic steering, its infamous system that effectively quickens the ratio at certain speeds, in the new RS the Dynamic drive mode locks the ratio at 13.5:1. Compared to the standard 15.9:1 ratio, it could increase its cornering enthusiasm.

Really, though, this is a car designed to travel long distances in comfort and it does that superbly well. It stands apart from a frenetic M3 or brash C63 sedan as a grand tourer on steroids. lovely to get into after a long day.

Philosophically, even though the new turbocharged era of engine performance helps take full advantage of its grip, it feels like it should be called an S5 Sportback Performance rather than an RS in a literal sense.

If you value style, more than you do a sensuous driving experience, then perhaps this is the car for you. But what makes the RS5 Sportback good can already be found in the RS4 Avant. Something thatís cheaper, roomier and handles better.