It's been a long wait, but Audi finally has a true competitor to BMW's much-celebrated M3 on this side of the pond. This lust-worthy piece of hardware is more than simply an aggressive-looking A5 with a souped-up V-8 stuck in the engine bay. This machine has been massaged by Audi's in-house performance arm – Quattro GmbH, the equivalent of BMW's M division or Mercedes-Benz's AMG – in every way; only the roof and doors remain from the donor A5. Yet, the visual effect is quite subtle, giving the car a more civilized air than, say, the M3, Cadillac CTS-V, or Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG coupes. Thus, it can be used as an everyday driver.

Under the hood, you'll find a normally aspirate 4.2-liter direct-injected V-8 that is essentially the V-10 found in Audi's celebrated R8 Supercar with two cylinders cut off. The 450-hp mill comes adorned with red cam covers and a carbon-fiber-encrusted intake manifold. It delivers exceptionally linear power free from any peaks or valleys.

On the road, the all-wheel-drive system is calm, cool, and collected. Everything from the steering to the response of the accelerator feels taut, and ready to rock and roll. A new electric power-steering (EPS) setup replaces the engine-driven hydraulic assist. The new EPS system has consistent and natural feedback, which is somewhat uncommon in such a setup. It's an excellent implementation.

And despite being race-track-ready, the RS5 is rather efficient – enough to avoid a gas-guzzler penalty, anyway – compared to its competitors; the EPA fuel-economy figures are quoted as 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. [from $69,795; audiusa.com]