2013 Audi A5 and S5
Though industrial design pervades our surroundings, automobile styling may be its most hotly debated aspect. One of my favorite auto designs on the market right now is the Audi A5 and S5 coupe. Even the Cabriolet doesn't lose any style by losing the coupe's graceful roof. Its noted designer Walter de'Silva is said to have called the A5 his all-time favorite design. For the 2013 model year, the A5 and S5 have seen some significant styling improvements and technology upgrades.
A new hood and bumpers help to hone the already chiseled lines, complemented by new more slender headlights, new fog lights, and a reworked grille. New LED taillights on S5 are optional on A5. Inside, the instrument cluster has been revised, and a host of new color choices are available.
The Rocky Mountains were the perfect setting with lots of curvy roads to test the legendary grip of Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system. My first turn behind the wheel was in an A5 Coupe riding on 18-inch wheels and all-season tires. Returning to the A5 is Audi's excellent 2.0T turbocharged four-cylinder engine with an impressive 211 horsepower and 258 lb. ft. of torque. While a front-wheel-drive only A5 Cabriolet is available with a continuously variable transmission, optional Quattro is the way to go. All the coupes have Quattro standard. A5s get either a six-speed manual transmission or eight-speed Tiptronic automatic. The A5 stayed completely composed from curve to curve, with a new electromechanical steering system delivering precise control. Quattro would not relinquish any grip, even on the base tires. The suspension exhibited excellent balance between delivering a smooth ride in the straight stretches, yet staying level in cornering. Uphill segments were no problem thanks to the 2.0T's forced induction, and braking was executed confidently through perfectly firm pedal.
Next we stepped up to an S5 Cabriolet to try its new supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 with 333 horsepower and 325 lb. ft. of torque. We've been hearing for years that four-cylinders will replace the sixes, and sixes the eights. That day has come. The V-6 in the S5 clocks zero to sixty miles per hour in 4.9 seconds, which is the same as the V-8 it replaces, and gets better fuel mileage while doing it. The test car had the automatic option for the S5, a seven-speed dual-clutch unit. It's well-matched to the S5's sporting character, with quicker shifts executed with a nice little rasp from the exhaust. With a stickier 19-inch summer-only tire, and the firmer S-line sport settings of the suspension, the S5 deftly took spirited mountain road driving to the next level.
The cabriolet has a few features and amenities of note. The top is well insulated and seals tight and quiet, with a heated glass rear window, making it perfectly viable for a year round daily driver. Even LED reading lamps are offered for the rear seat. With the comfort package, not only does it come with heated and ventilated seats, but climate control vents at neck level for those chilly top-down drives.
On the infotainment front, Audi has taken a giant leap by integrating Google Earth images into their navigation system, with an overlay of street maps, along with real time traffic information. Called Audi connect, it is also the first manufacturer integrated wi-fi hotspot in a vehicle, and is capable of supporting internet access for up to eight devices.
2013 BMW Alpina B7
The urge to make a great car design better is probably as old as the car itself. Unfortunately, the vast majority of would-be hotrodders can't match the engineering talent assembled at an automaker. However, every so often one genius emerges. In 1965, Burkard Bovensiepen looked at the BMW 1800, saw more potential, and developed a line of performance parts for it. Someone at BMW noticed. His company Alpina became an officially sanctioned tuner, selling specialty BMW automobiles through BMW dealers worldwide.
While other markets receive a selection of Alpina-massaged BMW models, the US gets only the Alpina B7 for 2013. The BMW 7-Series, already seeing numerous upgrades for 2013, is absent an M-Series sport model, so the Alpina B7 fills that gap. But Alpina's philosophy is a little different that of BMW's M Performance division. Alpina's cars are typified by "automatic gearboxes and a supple ride," according to Andreas Bovensiepen, son of Alpina's founder, contrasted with "high power and high torque at low revs." Alpina's engine modifications add 40 horsepower for a total of 540. Every Alpina engine goes through 25,000 miles of testing during development before it is approved for production. The B7 engines along with a special cooling package are then delivered to the BMW plant for final assembly.
California's famous Mazda Laguna Seca raceway was host to a track day featuring the M-Series lineup and one Alpina B7. In classic Alpina Blue, it wore signature 21-inch wheels with a 20-spoke design. Compared to the smaller 3-, 5-, and 6-Series M cars, I was impressed with how well the hefty B7 was able to get around the challenging track. Then it was time for a ride from Bovensiepen to see what it could do in the hands of its creator. An accomplished competitive driver in his own right, Andy masterfully lapped the circuit while nonchalantly discussing the car. While we didn't approach the B7's drag-limited 194 mph top speed, the engine produces 538 lb. ft. of torque from 2800 rpm all the way 5000, giving you that punch right where you use it most, whether it's powering out of a corner on a racetrack or just passing on the highway. "Peak torque on the M5 and M6 is at 6000 rpm," he said. "This is more for an everyday driver. The M is more of a sports car."
Indeed, as much as I love the M cars, the ride is quite firm and it's hard to appreciate their peak power levels on public roads. An M treatment of the 7-Series doesn't seem appropriate, especially when Alpina hit such a sweet spot for the performance minded buyer. All B7's will be sold on a special order basis, with 500 cars allotted to the US out of a projected run of 1500. Prices start at $127,600.