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Audi's S5, RS4 Cabriolet and R8 - Three Aces

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Audi's S5, RS4 Cabriolet and R8 - Three Aces

Post by LhYnxz on Thu May 22, 2008 4:58 pm

Driving Audi's Fall Performance Collection

I'm on a lucky streak--were I a gamblin' man I'd be betting heavy right
now. Despite releasing the new S5, RS4 Cabriolet and R8 in most major
media outlets, an invitation to drive Audi's `Fall Performance
Collection'--the aforementioned cars--arrived recently. A chance to
drive fast--truly exceptionally fast--in extraordinary, low production
cars with no concrete deadline or story/lead photo pressure.When I
stepped out of Audi's hospitality suite near Dulles, I held the keys to
an RS4 Cabriolet. Although rain was forecast over the next couple of
days, the weather was picture-perfect as my partner and I put the top
down and headed out into the Virginia countryside. With a closed-course
performance venue scheduled for the next day, there was no need for any
more shenanigans than would normally be expected from a car-loving fool
with a high-revving, 420-hp V8 under his right foot. The next couple of
hours were really quite enjoyable.The crab cakes at the driver change
were exceptionally good, though the service suffered slightly as the
caf staff stepped outside repeatedly to debate which of the exotic
machines pulling up outside was most desirable. On a crisp, sunny fall
day, the RS4 has to be the obvious choice. Though a little soft in the
lower rev range, head for the 8250-rpm redline and the all-aluminum
4.2-liter FSI V8 sings a heady song and puts down some serious power,
leaving both the chassis and driver begging for more. Oddly, while
rock-solid over distressed pavement that would have sent visible
shivers through most other vehicles (and some off the road entirely),
hit just the right bit of roughness at just the right speed and some
cowl shake will manifest. It only happened once in our three-hour loop,
at 30 mph no less, and was impossible to duplicate, despite
purposefully seeking out some truly poor pavement. Things like this
must be maddening for engineers and one reason why they're always
talking about torsional rigidity, harmonics and resonance frequencies.By
far the most visually appealing car was the S5, favorite of the caf's
also quite attractive sous-chef. With classic coupe design cues--a long
hood leading into a low roof whose long line fades into a short
trunk--the S5 oozes confidence and class (0ur lovely chef was also a
class act, manners and discretion require we pass on a description of
her curves. Sorry). And with its 4.2-liter V8, this time tuned to only
(!) 354 hp, but with a fat 325 lb-ft of torque peaking at just 3500 rpm
(versus 317 lb-ft at 6000 rpm for the 420-hp FSI engine), the S5 has
the easy driveability expected of a grand touring machine and
4.9-second zero-to-60 mph performance to back up the good looks.
Whatever performance is given up at the extreme top- end is more that
made up for at anything below 150 mph.

Which of course brings us to
the R8, probably the biggest disappointment of the lot. But
disappointing only in that I never had the opportunity to reach for the
car's reported 187-mph top speed. Until I see it for myself, it's just
a rumor--though entirely plausible.After an overnight stay at
the excellent Palomar Hotel, our group caravanned out to the broad
expanse of parking lots surrounding Fed Ex Field. Though the cars were
available for more excursions through the surrounding countryside, I
left only briefly to sample the S5 on normal roads. In their infinite
wisdom, the Audi staff had not one but two autocross courses set up for
less constrained driving experiences.The short handling course was
entertaining in a Euro-spec RS4 or S5 and, despite repeated attempts by
a professional driver on a mission, the sequence of the yellow car is
the most dramatic looking we could produce. The RS4's Dynamic Ride
Control, which couples diagonal pairs of hydraulic shocks mechanically,
does a remarkable job of keeping the car level, poised and planted. But
the real attraction was the long, undulating course next door, perfect
for the R8's long second gear (though a bit too long and fast for the
S5's brakes) and where the R8's remarkable Magnetic Ride adaptive
damping system could be put to the test thoroughly.The R8's shock
absorbers are filled with a magneto-rheological fluid that changes
viscosity almost instantly with the application of an electrical field.
Add stability and traction control programs that react in milliseconds
and the result is spectacular. Try as I might, no matter how
ham-fistedly I drove, the R8 never lost its composure, though our
professional driver chaperones paled when I suggested turning off the
stability program. "Um, that would probably be more exciting for us
than for you," was the only comment.Once the stupid moves were
out of my system, I spent the next couple of hours trying to improve. I
never tired of the course Audi's hire guns had laid before us. And lest
you think a parking lot cone course boring, this one had a full gamut
of challenges, with the exception maybe of Eau Rouge.

Hard out of the starting
gate, I accelerated into second through a long, uphill, right sweeper,
just touching the rev limiter before jumping hard on the brakes,
trusting the ABS, as we turned into a left-hand 90. Then still
climbing, it was across a long, off-camber left-right-left ess that
could be taken flat but felt better when you breathed the throttle in
the middle. The left-hand 90 cresting the hill was tricky to get right,
but nothing compared to the off-camber, downhill, decreasing-radius
hairpin that came after a right-hander and a short chute. The computer
worked overtime keeping me on the road, and it was interesting to feel
the individual wheels start to put power down as the steering wheel
unwound, though a little frustrating that the computer wouldn't allow
much throttle-induced oversteer to help rotate the car and match output
to available traction. Pushing the pedal harder didn't help; I tried
(is it childish to take your kind host's expensive car and use all 420
hp to do an oops-sorry-about-that, light-em-all-up, smoky burnout donut
or two, then pass it off as a clumsy but honest mistake?). Another
short chute led to a right-hander and a downhill run through a tricky
lane-change chicane and into a double left-hander--the one place I
killed a couple of cones demonstrating that, even with ABS, you can't
cheat physics--before heading uphill to a pair of right-hand turns, the
first difficult to carry speed through, the second a devilish 120
degrees or so when you expect 90 and back to a cool-down area and the
start gate.I had planned my trip back to Dulles in the S5,
figuring a bit of luxury would strike the right note on DC's infamous
495 ring road. The potential for traffic would make an Angeleno blanch
and I was a bit dismayed to be handed the key to an R8. But the staff
was excited, so I tried not to let my disappointment show. My fears
turned out to be unfounded, as Audi's little racecar was docile in
traffic with decent sight lines and, despite the intimate quarters,
never felt crowded. The trip was a pleasure, with lots of admiring
looks, waving kids and other drivers maneuvering for a better view,
plus the occasional second- or third-gear blast when the mercifully
light traffic opened up. The lady manning the tollbooth at the Dulles
airport exit has now seen more R8s than anyone outside the factory is
ever likely to see, given Audi's anticipated production numbers. Both
the RS4 and S5 are great machines, but it was the R8 that left me
wishing our time together hadn't been so brief.

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