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Audi RS 5 Coupe

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With a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, a faster zero to 62mph time yet lower fuel consumption, and reduced CO2, the Audi RS 5 Coupe is not only more potent but also cleaner by some margin.

Sixty thousand pounds - it's a lot of money, and if you've got it to spend on a car you're going to be spoiled for choice. If high performance is your thing the options open to you are wide. If, however, you want a combination of power, four-seat practicality and all-weather capability suddenly you're left with only a handful to choose from.

You can pretty much rule out any BMW or Mercedes, while anything from Porsche will be too expensive so that's bye-bye 911. The all-weather stipulation really narrows down the field, leaving Nissan's highly acclaimed GT-R to duke it out with Audi's box-fresh RS 5 Coupe.

Both pack four-wheel drive and a serious amount of horsepower, but that's where the similarities end - the GT-R's PlayStation-generation character puts it firmly in the camp marked 'hardcore'.

It's not every day a new RS Audi variant appears, as the firm makes it a tradition that only one model is produced at any one time. We've just waved goodbye to the critically acclaimed RS 4, and the pressure is on the RS 5 to deliver an even stronger performance - especially given its sub-£60k price tag.

For some the RS 4 was the turning point; after years of less than outstanding models, the car delivered in spades. Ride, handling, traction and engine all impressed. No pressure, then.

Audi's RS signature attributes remain with the RS 5: V8 petrol power, quattro all-wheel drive and affordability. With more power from its 4.2-litre engine (450 against the RS 4's 420) a faster zero to 62mph time (cut by .2 seconds) yet lower fuel consumption (26.2mpg against 20.9mpg) and reduced CO2 (252g/km against 324g/km), the RS 5 is not only more potent but also cleaner by some margin.

The muscular-looking RS5 also packs more technology than its predecessor. Standard fit is now a seven-speed dual clutch S-tronic gearbox, complete with paddle shifters. A specially tuned version of Audi's 'drive select' system is included, which allows the driver to switch between a comfort and dynamic mode plus an auto position.

Transmission, engine, suspension and gearbox characteristics are changed accordingly, plus there's a custom setting for good measure when the optional navigation system is chosen. And that's not including the RS-specific suspension changes over the current S5 model.

Factor in two large tailpipes, a suitably appropriate body-kit, speed activated boot lid spoiler, big wheels, chunky-looking yet supportive sports seats and a smattering of carbon trim and you've got all the ingredients to make a stunning performance coupe.

At this point the cynics will be waiting for the bad news. Sorry guys but this car really does hit the jackpot. Looking the part is an obvious plus, and the RS 5 follows this up with a polished performance.

Key to the car's ability to impress is they way it adapts to changing roads and surfaces. The drive select feature is no gimmick, and when left in the auto position the car is talented enough to demonstrate a balanced power delivery, intelligent gearshifts and a composed ride. For most of the time this proves to be the ideal setting. Comfort softens everything up a touch and tames the car's otherwise vocal exhaust, making it great for discrete city driving.

Kicking it up a notch is the dynamic setting which, as you'd expect, sharpens responses and turns the volume up on that beefy V8 motor. The result is a more direct and focused driving experience; from sleeping giant when in comfort mode, the V8 barks and bellows its way up through the gears while the steering delivers a weightier feel. The car feels more agile, too.

Learning from the S4 and its advanced transmission, Audi has endowed the RS 5 with a rear-biased all-wheel drive system in a bid to inject more fun. The 60-40 split certainly makes the car feel more playful, and just for good measure the 'sport' rear differential and a self-locking centre unit do a good job of fine tuning responses and sending more power to the front or rear when needed respectively.

You soon forget all about the technical gubbins when sat in the RS 5's supportive sports seat, though. It only takes a few miles for you to realise that you don't have to grapple with the car's steering or tire of its constant goading to get you to go faster. The sign of a well-sorted performance car is its ability to behave in a relaxed manner at slow speeds, yet respond in kind when you want to go faster and harder away from the city limits.

The RS 5 will do all these things, plus you can also get two people in the back and a fair amount of clobber in its spacious boot. As far as affordable, high performance all-rounders go, the RS5 has raised the bar to new heights.

Facts at a glance

Model: Audi RS 5 Coupe, from £57,480 on the road. Available from October
2010.

Engine: 4.2-litre V8 petrol unit developing 450bhp.

Transmission: 7-speed S-tronic dual clutch transmission as standard,
driving all four wheels.

Performance: Maximum speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph 4.6 seconds.

Economy: 26.2mpg.

CO2 Rating: 252g/km.