Is this the modern-day Audi Ur-Quattro?

03 April 2017

AS FAR as false dawns go, Audi is a world leader.

Certainly when it comes to recreating the excitement and sheer sense of occasion in the follow up to what was arguably the greatest car of the 1980s, the Quattro.

Will we ever see its likes again? Can the upcoming RS5 Coupe be more than just a crackingly quick coup de grace?

Some perspective first. That seminal five-seater five-cylinder turbo four-wheel-drive coupe from 37 years ago grew out of the humble B2 80 series, the rebodied follow-up to the B1 series that was actually built in Australia during the mid-1970s as the Audi Fox alongside its original Volkswagen Passat fraternal twin. Not-so-quick fact that.

Back in 1980 there was nothing in the world remotely like the Audi Quattro, which changed motorsport and sports car forever with its turbo all-wheel drive performance. Swoon…

So think posh German Camry sedan, but turned into a fastback two-door coupe (that only looked like a hatchback yet wasn’t), re-engineered inside out with a four-wheel-drive system inspired by an ex-army Volkswagen 4x4 vehicle known as the Iltis, stuffed with a 2.1-litre inline five-pot turbo and a five-speed manual transmission combo slung over the front axle, and then muscled-up with sexy squared-off wheelarch blisters to give the resulting Quattro a stance like no other car. Before or since.

Anyway, of course it went on to change the way sports cars were configured, completely turned motorsport in general and rallying in particular on its ear, and basically has become the most loved Audi of all time.

Derided at the time as being too refined and not involving enough, the S2 Coupe now finally has the respect it deserves – though of course only if you’re not comparing it to a Quattro…

However, every follow-up since, from the aero B3 S2 of 1990 and its related P1/B4 80 RS2 Avant part-assembled by Porsche in the mid-90s, to the brilliantly on-form 2006 B7 RS4, delivered towering performance and capability, yet never quite captured that elusive essence of Quattro.

Frankly, we’re not expecting the same with the B9 RS5 Coupe you see here, but it’s worth remembering that one of the Ur-Quattro’s most memorable feats was the fact that nobody expected the coupe version of the contemporary 80 to have such superpowers. Seriously, it was like watching Diana Prince spin into Wonder Woman!

The 2018 Audi RS5 Coupe has its own bumper nose cone and turbine alloys to set it apart from the more proletarian S5

So what’s this latest Lynda Carter of the German coupe world all about then?

One of the recent Geneva motor show highlights, the RS5 Coupe’s headline feature is its 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6, hammering an outstanding 331kW of power and 600Nm of torque. Such outputs, folks, matches the preceding version’s creamy 4.2-litre V8 in the kilowatt count but blows the Newton metres rating by a whopping 170Nm. And the latter maxes out between just 1900 and 5000 revs thanks to the turbos sitting between the cylinder banks. Audi reckons the move all but eliminates lag.

Purists, on the other hand, might scoff, since part of the Quattro’s appeal was its nothing-then-POW! turbo shove from that good ol’ blown five.

There’s 331kW of power and 600Nm of torque twisting through those wheels – enough to push the RS5 Coupe from zero to 100km/h in 3.9s

There’s 331kW of power and 600Nm of torque twisting through those wheels – enough to push the RS5 Coupe from zero to 100km/h in 3.9s

Another thing AWOL is a manual transmission. Today’s bureaucrats demand the lowest-possible carbon dioxide emissions from their EU hearts, so the RS5 Coupe’s quattro all-wheel-drive system with a rear-biased 40:60 front/rear torque split is fed exclusively through an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

The rear diffuser is unique to the RS5 Coupe, as are those massive twin exhaust outlets that whisper ‘whoosh!’ 

At least you won’t hear the old timers moaning for long. The upshot is a 3.9 second sprint time to 100km/h from zero – that’s a 0.6s slash over the previous V8 version, while being on a par with the 375kW/700Nm Mercedes-AMG C63 S and 0.1s better than the 331kW/550Nm BMW M4 Performance – while a V-max of 280km/h is possible if you are silly enough to throw a few extra thousand dollars Audi’s way for the optional Dynamic Package. Otherwise you’re electronically limited to a glacial 250km/h…

Still, that’s no bad thing for a 1655kg four-seater coupe with actual real rear-seat space for adults (like the Quattro). And if you’re just pottering around town, the RS5 Coupe is capable of averaging 8.7 litres per 100km on the official European combined cycle.

Sadly, it’s basically wheels and grilles that separate this hi-po flagship from the base A5 2.0 TFSI S tronic front-driver. So much for blistered wheelarches and cool quad headlights.

Blistered wheelarches anyone? At least those wheels fill them out beautifully, though the shape is a gentle evolution of the gorgeous B8 A5 of a decade ago

Except… that’s what Audi’s designers have tried to do with all of the B9 coupes, from the entry-level up the RS5. The latter does actually wear its own body kit and wider front and rear wheelarches, but the changes are subtle when loud might have been preferable. At least owners can point to a unique ‘RS’ grille, bolder front splitter and standard 19-inch (is that all!) alloys. A redesigned diffuser, oval exhaust outlets and a boot-mounted spoiler also offer some visual titivation.

Similar RS-branded alterations have happened inside the RS5 Coupe – but no 80s Houndstooth or tartan patterns, unfortunately – with uber sports seats (our description, not Ingolstadt’s), the latest whiz bang infotainment/connectivity, three selectable drive modes for the driver to finger and prod, plus a flat-bottomed wheel, head-up display and Audi’s all-digital virtual cockpit instrumentation.

Sports seats, carbon fibre inlays… it’s the usual drill in an otherwise exquisitely designed and painstakingly detailed Audi cabin

Options? How deep are your pockets? A myriad selection of 20-inch alloy wheels, carbon-fibre roof, rear-axle limited-slip diff, ceramic brakes, special leather upholstery with unique stitching… the list goes on.

Pricing? The outgoing RS5 kicked off from $157,226, but Audi’s recent value-added price realignment with the S4 means that the price might even drop. Here’s hoping.

The quattro all-wheel-drive system is what connects the B9 to the B2 Quattro original, though it’s a completely different system designed for hi-po driving

The promising newcomer lands in Australia by the end of this year. That’s when we’ll find out whether the B9 has managed what no previous B since the B2 has – to capture some of that Quattro magic.

Will the 2018 RS5 Coupe shine as bright?

Byron Mathioudakis