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2008 Audi A5, S5 - First Drive

May 29, 2007 SHARE

First Drive2008 Audi A5, S5Wienerschnitzel Alfredo*Audi claims the new A5 and S5 are the 'most Italian' cars it has ever built. This may seem like an odd claim for a company known for its pursuit of German engineering perfection, but Audi's new head of design is none other than Walter de'Silva, a born and bred Italian and the man responsible for these cars. So it's no surprise that Audi would pick the northern Italian city of Verona (the setting for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) to debut its newest GT. What is odd is that Audi has decided to launch two versions of a car-one 'normal', the other 'sporty'-at the same time.

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Both cars' interiors show typical Audi brilliance and efficiency. Anyone familiar with the marque will quickly feel at home, but will also notice a sportier edge. The instrument cluster and MMI display have been combined into one long flowing piece to form a single point of information for the driver. The center console's layout is logical and simple to use-even while driving. The European-spec S5 is equipped with grippy sport seats which hold you in place on hard cornering, but are also highly comfortable over long periods of time. I'm hoping we'll see something similar in North America.

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The A5's seats, while nice, do not offer the support I would like. If the A5 S-line option gets you the S5 seats, it would be well worth the money if you can't quite swing an S5.

As it turns out, the roads around Verona are exactly what these cars were built for: twisted mountain paths and wide-open motorways. In the mountains, the S5 really comes alive. Audi has developed a new drivetrain that places the gearbox behind the front differential. The new layout contributes to an extremely well balanced chassis. The car doesn't feel nose-heavy and changes direction quickly and easily. The S5's turn-in is sharp, and the stiff structure makes it predictable all the way through the corner. Understeer is present, but not as prevalent as in previous Audis. The suspension is firm, but nowhere near harsh. It rides like you'd expect of a GT car with sporting intentions.

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The A5 has a much more elegant feel. It behaves well at speed, a little more comfortable on rough pavement, but it's not as urgent through the switchbacks. Quattro all-wheel drive puts every single horse to good use, but the front-wheel-drive A5, however, sometimes has problems dealing with all the torque summoned by its 3.2-liter V6. The ESP is constantly working to keep the tires planted, but its doing so frustrates the driver. For the average person, a front-drive Audi may make sense, but for those who really want to explore what the car can do, Quattro is a must.

So once again, romance has bloomed in Verona.

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Expect the S5 to be available around November, and word is the A5 will arrive in the first quarter of 2008. Prices haven't been set, but the S5 should be somewhere just north of the current S4.

At this time, pricing is hard to predict because standard trim levels have not yet been determined.

It's Audi's Turn
The New A5 And S5 Put Ingolstadt In Pole Position
nIt's been more than a decade since the first Audi A4 1.8T lived in european car's garage. We distinctly remember the car, a gorgeous silver job with 16-inch alloys, a sport suspension and a Quattro driveline. Gawd, it was good. We also remember wondering if Audi could keep it up, continue producing products on a level with the car that single-handedly put the company back on the automotive map.

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A bit later, we were blown away by the TT-without question the most striking design in the last 30 years. And then the S4 came along with its twin turbo engine and we swooned all over again. Even its disappointments were fabulous. Although the Allroad never set any sales records, Audi set the stage for a whole slew of like-designed cars based on its original concept. But Audi wasn't finished, not by a long shot. The A8 and its wondrous aluminum spaceframe chassis redefined what a luxury touring vehicle should be. The S8 cast that concept in stone. The A6 and S6, well, they were in a league of their own. More recently, Audi's R8 has been called everything from a Porsche-killer to a German Lamborghini. The RS4 made such an impression on a few of our editors they have been barred from mentioning it ever again. And then there's the Q7, a new breed of activity vehicle that has left editor Bidrawn so smitten, he refuses to relinquish its keys.

A normal company would relax and savor its hard-earned success. Audi isn't a normal company. Driven by design, powered by leading-edge technology, Audi is the car company to watch in the new millennium. We've been thinking this for the last three years; the new A5 has made us come right out and say it aloud.

It's Audi's turn.

Did You Know...
* Audi is one of the oldest automotive brands still on the market today, with a car-making history dating back to 1899?
* Audi actually is the Latin translation of founder August Horch's surname, which means 'listen' in German?
* Auto Union AG, later to become today's Audi AG, was formed in 1932 out of the then existing brands Audi, Horch, DKW and Wanderer?
* That these brands are still represented today by Audi's four rings?
*The Audi Neckarsulm plant was once the home of German motorcycle and car manufacturer NSU before NSU became part of the Audi group in 1969?
* Since the beginning of modern car production in 1949, Audi has produced more than 18.5 million vehicles?
* Audi is again going for a record sales year with more than 463,500 cars already sold in the first half of 2006?
* Audi's revolutionary Quattro all-wheel-drive was banned from several touring car championships because it was too dominating?
* 85 percent of all Audis sold in the US are equipped with Quattro?
* Audi started the diesel boom in 1989 when presenting the first successful implementation of a direct-injection diesel engine into a passenger car with the Audi 100 TDI?
* Since then, Audi has sold more than three million TDI-powered cars?

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Walter de'Silva
We chat with the VW Group's new head of corporate design
*Born in Milan, de'Silva's family includes an architect father and a graphic designer brother. He worked for Fiat and Alfa Romeo before being hired by VW. The VW Group includes Audi, Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti.

ec: Your career in automotive design spans 35 years, working for various manufacturers in many roles and now as chief of design for the powerful Volkswagen Group. What drives you to be inspired each morning?

Wd'S: My motivation and enthusiasm first and foremost comes from my love for cars. It's my passion, my life. I enjoy what I do. I am also motivated with each new project. It doesn't matter what-big car, small car, sport, luxury, this brand, that brand-none of that really matters. That's not what's important to me. It's the challenge of a new mission, a new commitment. This is the reason I accepted the position at Volkswagen. It's exciting for me.

ec: What is your first order of business as head of design?

Wd'S: For Volkswagen, we have to define the criteria for the future, to create something that will fit the brand, something with emotion and great personality. It will be something you will like, I assure you.

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ec: Volkswagen has a long history with Italian designers, including Giorgetto Giugiaro who created the original Golf and Scirocco. This relationship between Italian design and German engineering has worked well at Volkswagen and for you at Audi. How do you intend to rekindle some of the early Volkswagen magic?

Wd'S: Trust me, there's no magic formula. For me, it's about creating something you believe in. Something you can be proud of. That's the magic.

ec: California is a mecca for developing styles and trends that may eventually inspire what we see on the road. Do you see the California design studio playing a larger role in VW's evolving design?

Wd'S: Yes, they will be very instrumental. The United States is a very important market for us and what we learn from our California design team is always a key consideration. It is important we define the product to make the right connection with a new generation of customers.

ec: Is there such thing as a perfectly designed car?

Wd'S: In conceptual form, perhaps. But it's not as simple for production. Because the design initiative is very complicated, you have to design the product, technology, production, cost. Perfection is very difficult when it comes to production. Concept cars generally look most like the original sketch. In production, there is usually a compromise in that design. The R8 is very close to perfection, however. The design, the engineering, the complete architecture of the car. Everything fits very well.

ec: We hear you are also quite proud of the A5.

Wd'S: This is true. For me, the A5 is very close to perfect. I love everything about this car. Its general shape, its details; it's so balanced in its proportions. It's sensual and at the same time dynamic. There's nothing about it I dislike. It's the most beautiful design of my career.

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ec: Is there one particular A5 feature you are pleased with most?

Wd'S: No, not really. Everything from the front, the rear, the shoulder, the silhouette, pleases me-even the smallest details.

ec: The A5 is more angular with a stronger shoulder line than we've seen in past Audi models. Is this a glimpse of what we can expect in future models?

Wd'S: We have sharp and precise lines, but nothing on the surface is flat. The surface is very round and muscular. It's true we have a car with lots of strong character lines, but in the end it's a very simple design overall. Everything is clean. The rest of the model line will develop as it should.

ec: What is the Marilyn Monroe effect?

Wd'S: When we started on the redesign process for the TT, they showed me a few proportion models. I said: "Sorry, you say to me that is a TT, but I don't recognize it as such. The proportions are wrong." In preparation for a follow-up meeting, I requested a full-scale print of Marilyn Monroe. I showed the picture to my team and asked if they knew how tall miss Monroe was. Their answers were much taller estimates than she really was. I said she was only 1.6 meters (5ft. 3in.), but her proportions were perfect. Then I told them to go redraw the TT.

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ec: Audi's Bauhaus styling has been a design staple for decades, yet you figured on a change.

Wd'S: I can still hear them now: "Ah, this guy, he wants to destroy the Bauhaus design." I say why not? I'm not afraid to take risks with new and creative design language. It is better to lead than to follow and you cannot lead without taking risks.

ec: What was your motivation behind the recreation of Audi's corporate face?

Wd'S: I believe it is important to lead with character and emotion, in this case a bold and easily recognizable face. Most iconic cars have at least one clearly identifiable feature. For the Porsche 911 it's not necessarily the front, but its unmistakable silhouette. It is something you can identify at a mere glance. You don't mistake the distinctive grille of a BMW or Alfa Romeo for any other car, and now it's the same for Audi. The single-frame grille is an iconic style element. It provides the personality for the car and for the brand.

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ec: We're told that the idea of the single-frame grille came to you while on vacation.

Wd'S:: Yes, I was on holiday and I started drawing. I made a few sketches incorporating the grille, inspired by the original Auto Union cars, and I knew in an instant that this would be the new face of Audi. Not everyone agreed we should make such a drastic change. Comments from the press were not so positive, but now everything is so and Audi now has a very visual and identifiable face. It too will continue to change and evolve.

ec: Which automotive designer do you admire most?

Wd'S: Flaminio Bertone, an Italian. His cars were beautifully sculpted, especially the Citron DS. The car is really quite simple in design, yet it is very elegant.

ec: If you could choose any car to design or redesign, which one would it be?

Wd'S: The Golf. Can you imagine a more important car? The success of the Golf in the past 25 years, the five generations of platform design. It is truly an icon like the Beetle or TT, but even more important in terms of the history and the impact its has made and the millions it has sold.

This will be a challenge, the biggest and most important of my career. And you ask me how I stay motivated?-Robert Hallstrom

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