Audi is about to get serious with its high performance RS models, starting with the RS5 that's just gone on sale.
Based on the A5 Coupe, the RS5 is the latest addition to the hot-shot RS range, which is set to explode with new models over the next few years.
It's all about capitalising on stratospheric demand for high performance machines.
Despite stricter speed enforcement than ever, it seems Aussies love the temptation of a fast ride.
Turbo thrust replaces V8
The RS5 has traditionally shared its major mechanicals with the RS4, a car that previously used a high revving V8 engine.
This time around, though, the RS5 has switched to a 2.9-litre V6 turbo.
The RS5 is also the first of the new generation cars to arrive, with the wagon version of the RS4 (called Avant) arriving in 2018.
It's the same basic engine used in the Porsche Panamera, but has been tuned specifically for the RS5: power matches that of the old V8, at 331kW but torque has jumped from 430Nm to 600Nm.
So, the latest RS5 has more thrust, especially low in its rev range. That means it feels quick – very quick – from the second you punch the accelerator.
It's a noticeably quicker machine and one that's easier to tap into its substantial reserves.
The RS5 also ditches its twin-clutch transmission in favour of a traditional automatic with a torque converter for smoother, more progressive take-offs. Something that sets the scene for the RS5's user-friendly nature.
High performance machines can often be temperamental when not driven hard, something that detracts from their everyday liveability.
That's true with the M4 and C63 to some extent.
Combined with relatively supple suspension – at least in its softest Comfort mode – the RS5 is an easy everyday machine.
However, that focus on usability detracts from the RS5's main game – being sports car special.
The V6 has nothing like the snarl and ferocity of the V8 it replaces.
Sure, it's quicker – a full 0.6 seconds faster to 100km/h, completing the benchmark sprint in 3.9 seconds – but that pace comes without the brutality of AMG's V8, for example.
And the ease with which its Quattro system transmits power to the ground makes it quick, but without some of the poise and tail-wagging character competitors do so well.
It's almost too clinical, too good at what it does to the point where some of the character has been diluted.
Nose to the road
Then again, that point-and-shoot approach might be just what you're chasing, in which case the RS5 is a winner.
On the right road it'll deliver a blood nose to BMW and Mercedes-Benz, if only for the efficiency of its all-wheel drive system.
Grip from the 20-inch tyres (ours were Hankooks, a brand that's made massive strides in recent years) is superb and it's backed up by nicely weighted steering, albeit lacking some tactility.
It settles beautifully when sweeping from a left- to right-hander, too.
On all fours
The RS5 competes with two of the kings of the performance stables, the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and BMW M3/M4.
Those cars both outpunch it on power.
But the RS5 fights back with all-wheel drive, which Audi calls Quattro.
The Quattro system means you can floor the throttle out of tight corners or away from a set of lights in the knowledge it will stick and grip; its prime rivals often wheelspin in the same situation.
The RS5 opens a new era for Audi Sport's RS models.
As well as its more aggressive styling – something you'd expect to continue through to future models – there will be more choice.
The Audi RS range currently consists of the RS3, RS5, RS6, RSQ3, TT RS and R8.
Audi is also reportedly working on an RSQ2 baby SUV, while an RS5 Sportback is all but guaranteed.
Audi is also rumoured to be working on an RSQ8, based on the upcoming Range Rover-rivalling Q8.
Other nameplates Audi has registered include RSQ5 (it's an obvious choice, given the rivals), RSQ7 (a version based on the next updated model would be more likely) and RS8 (opening the prospect of a hot-shot limousine based on the A8).
Whatever arrives, expect Australians to snap them up in record numbers.
Mercedes-AMG currently leads the way on mainstream high performance cars in Australia – and Audi wants a bigger slice of the pie.
At times, the real AMG models (not the new AMG-lite models) have accounted for more than 10 percent of Benz sales in Australia.
Currently, Audi's mix of RS models is about 4 per cent, something the company sees more potential in.
But marketing director Anna Burgdorf says outright sales are not the main driver.
"Our goal is to have sustainable, profitable sales," says Burgdorf, adding that some of the rumoured additions to the RS range would make a nice fit Down Under.
"If those cars become available to us for a market like ours we'd snap them up."
She says buyers of RS models often make an emotional, rather than rational, decision.
"Australians are passionate about their cars and they're more than willing to invest in a car that makes them feel good," says Burgdorf. "In many occasions when you're buying a car it's about the possibility and it's about what it offers you, what you may want to do with it."
Had a chance to get behind the wheel? Share your experience in the comments section below.