|September 10, 2008
Feature Article: Audi S5 Rhythm
RHYTHM : A regular or harmonious pattern created by lines, forms and colors
Audi calls it the Rhythm of Lines, Walter de'Silva the most beautiful car I've designed in my career. Most of us know it simply as the S5, a tightly sculpted piece of machinery with a 4.2L, 354 bhp torque laden engine.
The presence of the car on the street is immense, and that's not just from its LED lights or the now common Nuvolari grille. Like all well designed cars, its size is deceptive due to the balance and proportion of the design. Park it next to a BMW 6-series and you'll see that it is close in size, despite your brain telling you that the logical competitor is the 3-series. The car is relatively large, as wide as an A6.
Judging from reactions to the car, de'Silva's mostly right, with perhaps only Aston Martin, Alfa and Maserati having more sensuous front-engined coupes currently in mass production. The only small area of detail that is lacking is around the C-pillar just above the rear wheel, not particularly aided by the slight introvertness of the back rim. Wider rims definitely improve things.
The Bauhaus influence is clearly waning, with more angular, muscular lines and edges replacing the curves and slopes of the Nuvolari, and the Avus concept which began it all back in 1991. As explained by de'Silva, he wanted to bring more emotion to the brand.
Even at standstill, there is a purposeful flow at the roof and waist-lines, and this rhythm is really brought out in the early mornings and late evenings when the rays of the sun hit the body at shallower angles.
The engine, seen in the RS4 and the R8, was de-tuned for less peak horsepower, but with more torque down low. There's a clear thought process going on within Audi, focusing this model more at grand tourers than racetrack specials.
This becomes much more evident when the tech in the car is reviewed as a whole - Audi Drive Select (ADS), Dynamic Steering, new-generation Tiptronic.
They could have fitted the car with the R-tronic from the R8 (which is related to Lamborghini's sequential e-gear), or waited for the development of a high torque dual clutch box (DSG). But having driven the car on the road for all of the review, I didn't miss those more respected transmissions much. No automatic, computer controlled clutch comes close to matching the smoothness of a torque converter, especially at low speeds. Worst in this respect must be the R-tronic, with the S-tronic (Audi speak for DSG) and the Multitronic CVT competing for joint second.
What the Tiptronic does is work - no jerkiness, throttle automatically blipping on downshifts, and best of all, close to class-leading shift times. ZF, the manufacturer of the Tiptronic, claims that its latest 6 speed box shifts twice as fast as its predecessors. In fact, the German Rheinische Post newspaper states that the ZF transmission shifts at 100 milliseconds* - that's Ferrari 599 territory. This could quite possibly be the same box in the 997 Porsche 911 turbo tip, whose 0-60 mph times are quicker than the manual, a first for the 911. The automatic can be even more frugal on fuel than the manual (if you let it, that is).
When coupled with ADS set at Dynamic, the S5's shift times reduce, throttle response sharpens, and it's great flinging the car down long, winding roads. No tiredness intervenes as it all comes together seamlessly.
To put ADS in context, I would say that Comfort equates to a conventional Audi stock suspension in a B7 A4, but with softer damping and more control. Dynamic would be the equal of the s-line, but with a better ride. It's worth the money in my view as I took this car quite a few times over a broken road under construction at the same speed in different modes, and Comfort made a real difference. In fact, the gap between the 2 ADS modes in the S5 was greater than that of the magnetic ride option in the R8.
Purists may take exception, but Audi Dynamic Steering is seamless to a fault, and doesn't detract from feel (albeit at Audi and not BMW levels of feedback). In fact, I had to call up Audi PR to confirm if this particular car had the variable ratio rack. The only time where I felt it was intrusive occurred when I drove the S5 down the same road five minutes immediately after travelling in a car that didn't. A couple of garbage cans and dog walkers had close shaves that day while I adapted over the first half a mile. No such risk on Mars where the steering system was developed for the Mars Rover vehicle.
Meandering the car quickly down long winding roads is effortless, the steering, ride and transmission working together with the rigid MLP chassis to let the car flow down the asphalt ribbon. Again, great rhythm and balance, and 3 hours in the car didn't seem that long. The excellent Bang & Olufsen stereo may have helped to pass the time, except that I had it off mostly while listening to the engine. (Needs a bit more bass, B&O, though the highs and mids were first class.)
The best cars are usually defined by one great thing, such as handling, or looks, or the engine. It may do the rest very well, or do them terribly, with the great element more than compensating for the rest. The S5 is more like an Olympic decathlete gold medal winner. It may not be the fastest (though it runs the current M3 close in shorter race circuits), nor the best looking like the Aston DB4GT Zagato, but it does everything extremely well.
The soul of the car, the V8 engine, really shines too. It may not have outright bhp, but its torque curve surpasses the RS4 and M3's, which is really useful on the road.
Some have suggested that the engine revs fairly lazily, not having the alacrity of the RS4 version. That character may be relative in comparison to a high rpm engine, but the S5 does accelerates really effectively in Dynamic mode with the sharpened throttle response. 0-60 mph in 5.1 secs (some magazines have brought the manual version down to 4.7 secs) is rather good.
The misconception about slower acceleration could be due to the engine's soundtrack. Not a screamer like Freddie Mercury in I Want to Break Free - that's more Porsche GT3. Neither does it have the slightly anonymous but crushingly effective techno-V6 beat like the new Nissan GT-R.
This one has a classic, can't be hurried rhythm like Andy Summers' guitar riff in Every Breath You Take. Or the more appropriate but less famous Cose Della Vita by Eros Ramazotti. Tina Turner sings about emotional transitions, with great soul. She could be referring to the S5.
Unfortunately, Audi asked for the car back despite my expressing the need to screen the car further for performance enhancing modifications, given its gold medal status.
All that's left to be said is S5 drivers have the rhythm, and I got the blues.
*Riding the roller-coaster" - The "Rheinische Post" newspaper, issue: December 08, 2007, reports on the ZF automatic 8-speed transmission: "However, modern automatic transmissions are not only more comfortable and safer than manual ones but, at the same time, also more economical and sporty. In future, the new automatic 8-speed transmission by the transmission expert ZF Friedrichshafen is to achieve consumption values which can probably scarcely be attained with a manual transmission... The prejudice that the response times of automatic transmissions are much longer than with manual transmissions, has not held true for a long time now: The new 6-speed automatic transmission by ZF already reacts twice as fast as its predecessors - within 100 milliseconds, which the driver no longer perceives as "waiting time"."