These two titans use similar technical layouts to offer very different characters; but can the new RS5 topple Godzilla?
This might look like a slightly left-field comparison but there are, in fact, several very good reasons for squaring the new Audi RS5 up against the latest Nissan GT-R. For one thing, they’re both fourwheel-drive performance coupés. For another, they each use twinturbocharged V6 engines and paddleshift gearboxes. And although their basic list prices are more than £20,000 apart – £61,015 for the Audi versus £83,875 for the Nissan – the prices as-tested are actually similar.
Perhaps the best reason to compare the RS5 with the GT-R, though, is that the two cars are actually converging in terms of their reasons for being . Audi argues that its effort is the most dynamic RS5 yet, while the heavily revised Nissan, with its much-improved cabin, is – according to its maker – the most useable and best-appointed GT-R to date.
And if any one of you believes a single word of that, I’ll be amazed. To tell the truth, we’re only testing the RS5 alongside the GT-R because we want to know exactly how good the Audi is. You can drive a new car thousands of miles on all sorts of roads, in all weathers, and ponder until your hair turns white, but if you really want to know how good a performance car is, you simply have to drive it back-to-back with a rival on a really good road.
Our really good road is the B4391 that joins Bala and Ffestiniog in north Wales. Cutting through the spectacular Snowdonia National Park, it’s one of the best stretches of tarmac for testing a quick car that I’ve ever come across.
Although our benchmark for the Audi is approaching its tenth year in production, if the RS5 comes away from this bout with anything other than a red face, we can be pretty sure it’s a very capable performance coupé indeed. A few years ago, I’d have laughed at this comparison, writing off the Audi before a wheel had even turned. But Audi Sport, as Ingolstadt’s go-faster division is now known, has been on good form of late: the R8 is as mighty as it’s ever been, while the new TT RS and RS3 are both far superior to the models they replaced. Audi Sport’s latest might just give the GT-R a fright.
With the two parked side-by-side for the first time in the hotel car park, it’s advantage Nissan. The Audi is more classically handsome and looks more mature but, alongside the snarling, winged-andvented brute, it just looks a tad anonymous. A bit of a soap bar, isn’t it? The flared box arches could be so appealing if they were just a bit more prominent.
The scores are levelled once you open the door, though. The RS5’s slick, high-quality cabin makes the GT-R’s interior look like something you’d store your firewood in –and that’s after the 2017 model year refresh, which introduced a muchimproved dashboard design with more premium switchgear for the minor controls (a special mention for the metal heater controls, which are some of the nicest I’ve ever used).
So the GT-R has more presence and the RS5 the better cabin. Their specs sheets tell very different stories, for while the Nissan is faster and more powerful, the Audi is just so much more modern. Its twin-turbo V6 is an efficient, downsized 2.9-litre unit compared with the GT-R’s raucous, fuel-hungry 3.8. In fact, the RS5 is so much a super-coupé for the modern age that it even does without a dualclutch gearbox. Manufacturers are starting to move away from dualclutch technology because they’re increasingly able to extract ultraquick shift times from smoother, lighter and cheaper torque converter automatics, which is exactly the sort of transmission the RS5 employs.
The Nissan, meanwhile, was among the first to embrace what was a very modern dual-clutch technology a decade ago. Tellingly, as we’ll find out, the two gearboxes feel spookily similar out on the road.
The GT-R is rated at 562bhp, which gives it an advantage of 118bhp over the RS5. The Audi counters with a 1655kg kerb weight, which makes it almost 100kg lighter than the Nissan. Chubbier or not, the GT-R is the faster car, though; it fires from a standstill to 62mph in 2.8sec, more than one second quicker than the RS5.
Even after all these years, the experience of driving the GT-R is as thrilling and distinctive as it’s ever been. After a quick drive along a flowing, well-sighted road such as the B4391, when you get out of the Nissan you feel completely wired and buzzing with energy, as though you’ve just taken a triple hit of some super-strength narcotic.
Given the sheer size and weight of it, you half expect the GT-R to feel dull and cumbersome but, within the first hundred yards behind the wheel, you’re reminded how sharp and agile it really is. It feels brutally fast in a straight line, pulling with a force that seems to build and build the longer you keep your right foot in, gear after gear. The engine doesn’t have the most immediate low-down response, but the mid range is very strong and the final 2000rpm are just insane. The car feels so much fitter than its official 562bhp power figure.
In corners, too, the GT-R feels so much lighter than it really is, thanks partly to steering that’s quick and surprisingly delicate. Also, the GT-R’s Dunlop tyres claw masses of grip out of a dry surface (if you ever you get the thing understeering on the road, you had better hope your affairs are in order), while the natural chassis balance is actually neutral, which means cornering speeds can be absurdly high. There’s real adjustability in the chassis too, ∆ so you can tweak your line and play with the car’s balance at will.
In outright terms, the GT-R is quicker …read more