This isn’t just a reason for me to drive a childhood idol, even though I’ll freely admit to that being part of my plan. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, its list price was within £1000 of what a new RS5 costs in today’s money, and it filled a similar brief. Both are rapid ways to cross country whatever the weather, are packed full of technology and are even reasonably sensible.
A power output of 217bhp and 0-62mph time in the low six seconds may be hot hatch territory these days, but they were seriously impressive back in 1990. Even now, the Quattro gathers pace with ease while emitting an unmistakable five-cylinder growl from its 2.2-litre motor. It’s just a shame this fantastic noise is surprisingly muted, even if you push the engine to the top of its rev range. Not that you’ll need to that much, because it pulls strongly from just over 2000rpm yet is happy to rev higher than many modern turbo lumps.
The RS5’s V6 has an extra turbocharger, cylinder and 700cc. Add 27 years of engine development and it’s no great surprise that it’s more than twice as powerful, at 444bhp. It’s louder too; especially when our test car’s sports exhaust is switched to Dynamic mode. Even so, the contrived parps and slightly soulless six-cylinder note are less characterful than the old five-pot.
Naturally, the newer car’s far wider tyres and bigger brakes pay dividends when the road takes on a serpentine shape. The limits are far higher and body roll is far less pronounced, meaning you can cover ground rapidly without making your passenger feel carsick. You're also less aware of the engine being slung out ahead of the front axle line than in the Quattro, helping the RS5 to feel more agile.
The trouble is that it all seems a little too easy. You can jump in an RS5 and start nudging the limits of grip without too many miles passing beneath you, something that can’t be said of the Quattro. Your initial impressions in the older car are that the gearchange is agricultural, the steering is slow and weights up quickly once the front tyres are loaded up, and the brakes are virtually non-existent.
With a nose that feels slow to turn in, you initially wonder what all the hype is about. Persevere, though, and you’ll start to change your mind; the steering is fairly feelsome once you’ve got some lock on and the brakes are strong enough once you’ve recalibrated your leg muscles.