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Monday, September 22, 2008

BMW M3 vs. Audi RS5

The rivalry between Audi and BMW is a clash of industry heavyweights, a battle for the hearts and minds of the most demanding, tough-minded car enthusiasts in the world between two adventurous, successful car companies. And it's all coming down to the 2010 Audi RS5 and the 2010 BMW M3 CSL.

These cars are coming down the production pipeline, major statements of automotive performance by two companies that care more about excellence than profit. (They're German, after all.) If you're a car enthusiast, the prospect of these two super coupes will be all you're going to be talking about for the next year.

And yet both Audi and BMW want the other to win the race to market. Why? Because the output of the V8-powered 2010 Audi RS5 and 2010 BMW CSL will both hover around 450 horsepower, and whichever arrives first allows the enemy to gazump it on peak power.

That is, if these cars arrive at all.

Supercharged V6 or Brawny V8?
The 2010 Audi RS5 will be measuring itself against the current BMW M3 with its high-revving 4.0-liter V8. There have been mutterings about a supercharged V6 in the new Audi, and indeed the 2009 Audi S4 sedan that arrives this autumn will feature this unnaturally aspirated 350-hp V6.

But not so the RS5. The RS5 coupe will be a flagship, so Audi will be giving a one-fingered salute to the demands of environmentalists for downsized engines. The RS5 will feature a twin-turbo version of the corporate Audi 4.2-liter V8 and it'll deliver 450 hp and 332 pound-feet of torque, a substantial boost above the 414-hp output of the normally aspirated 4.2-liter V8 we remember from the Audi RS4.

At the same time, this 4.2-liter V8 will incorporate direct injection to improve fuel economy and it will meet the new, stricter European air emissions standards that will come into effect in 2009.

Supercar Power and Shifting
As you revved the RS4's V8 beyond 8,000 rpm, the engine and exhaust bellowed thunderously in unison, and you felt your heart pierced by the arrow of some petrolhead Cupid. And there will be much more of the same in the new RS5's V8. The red-rimmed tachometer will encourage you to seek the redline, and even in turbocharged form this will be a free-revving engine. In a world of politically correct anti-smoking regulations, this will be a Montecristo cigar.

Never fear. A slick manual gearbox will be part of the mix, but Audi also plans to offer an upgraded version of its dual-clutch transmission for the RS5, a matter of some difficulty considering the power output involved. Engineers have been readying the S tronic system for its longitudinal V6 engines, an ambition finally realized this year for the A4 and Q5, and the next development is the DL7Q transmission.

This dual-clutch setup uses wet clutches instead of dry units like the S tronic, a measure to improve durability under a heavy torque load, and indeed Audi hopes to use this transmission for the V10-powered S6 and RS6 as well as the RS5. The shift action will probably be fractionally slower than that of a dry-clutch unit, though.

Regardless, the RS5's dual-clutch DL7Q will swap cogs quicker than a six-speed manual, and the automatic mode will save fuel, too. You'll be able to fire through the gears like a driver in the DTM racing series using shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, and the transmission will also feature a launch-control mode.

High-Performance Quattro
The RS5 will feature Audi's customary all-wheel-drive system, but it has added a new, secret ingredient — a special rear differential to enhance the car's handling. It's a development of the active sport diff now available on A4 Quattro models, which eradicates understeer, Audi claims. In a corner, the new diff shifts torque laterally across the rear wheels to the outside tire, delivering more grip. The result is a car that turns in sharper and then doesn't plow across the apex in understeer mode. Time will tell if the RS5 will match the M3's tail-happy slideability, but it's another example of Audi making an effort to measure up to the performance standard set by the M3.

The new active sport differential complements the Quattro system's torque-sensing center differential, and apparently the torque split of 40 percent front/60 percent rear will remain. Audi is working toward an even more rear-biased split, as the change from the former 50/50 split to a 40/60 split proved instrumental in giving the RS4 the steering crispness real drivers prefer.

The RS5 will also benefit from the new A4-based platform, with a wheelbase that's 4.1 inches longer than before thanks to relocating the front differential ahead of the clutch. The front wheels are carried by an aluminum five-link suspension, while the rack-and-pinion steering assembly is closer to the centerline of the front wheels. The result is 5 inches less front overhang, so there's less mass leading the front tires down the road plus a more even weight distribution (although it's still markedly biased to the front).

Compared to the familiar Audi S5, the RS5 will have a wider track thanks to 20-inch tires, and the bodywork will have fender blisters to enclose the wider rubber. Audi also plans to shed 110 pounds from the 3,594-pound S5 by using even more aluminum up front as well as plenty of aluminum and carbon-fiber trim.

Looking Good
The design of the 2010 Audi RS5 is typical ballistic Audi, with a grille that looks like it's smashed through a chicken coop at speed, a deep front bumper and airdam and those trademark oval tailpipes. There's a real focus on aerodynamics, too, as the body sits a few millimeters lower, and Audi is experimenting with some active aerodynamic devices that might involve not only the rear spoiler but also the front air splitter changing position according to speed.

Meanwhile, you'll be sitting in the usual ergonomically excellent driving position surrounded by sleek napa leather upholstery and you'll be holding the flat-bottom sport steering wheel Audi has recently adopted. And just as in the 2009 Audi RS6, you'll have the option of adjusting the responses of the suspension, steering and throttle in case you're lapping the Nürburgring Nordschleife instead of cruising the neighborhood.

Expect the 2010 Audi RS5 super coupe to appear in 2009 and then begin full production in Quattro GmbH's Neckarsulm factory (the former site of NSU, the company that developed the rotary engine before Audi took it over) in the sixth week of 2010. It should be capable of accelerating to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.5 seconds, our sources tell us — naturally, a couple tenths quicker than a BMW M3.

Is the BMW CSL Still in the Game?
In fact, BMW may have already folded in this poker game. Ludwig Willisch, the new chief executive of BMW's M Division, noted that there's not enough demand to justify the expense of developing the limited-edition CSL, confirming comments made earlier this past summer by Klaus Draeger, the M division's development chief.

Our sources say that the hard-core CSL — uprated to 450 hp and slimmed down by 220 pounds compared to the standard M3 — had been just 12 months away from production after numerous sightings during development at the Nürburgring. But Willisch has burst our expectant bubble. "Based on current numbers, there is most likely insufficient demand for the M3 CSL," he recently told a representative from a German automotive Web site.

Willisch also ruled out an M3 Touring and an M version of the new 7 Series, although he has confirmed a high-performance X6 and X5 with a 460-hp version of the twin-turbo V8. It's deeply ironic that BMW is passing on the lightweight CSL for heavyweight crossovers.

What We're Missing
The M Division engineers had prepared an extensive diet of carbon-fiber parts for the 2010 BMW M3 CSL, we're told. The checklist featured a carbon-fiber hood with the same exposed (and UV-ray proofed) weave as the M3's roof, a new front bumper with a larger air intake, and a new rear aero diffuser. The strip show was completed by the substitution of manually adjusted seats for electric ones, thinner rear glass, a cardboard floor for the trunk, and the deletion of the audio and air-conditioning systems.

Meanwhile, the CSL's 4.0-liter V8 had been breathing deep through the big grille intake, a carbon-fiber airbox and new valves to deliver as much as 470 hp. Insiders predicted a top speed of 186 mph, and the use of sticky tires and an M Track mode for the stability control would have made the CSL ideal for track-day heroics.

The M engineers had also widened the M3's front track, stiffened its spring and damper rates and then revised the suspension geometry to make the steering noticeably more direct.

But what we're missing most is the opportunity to see Audi and BMW go head-to-head in the same arena, a real match of engineering excellence with no excuses. Though the times are fraught with financial risk, we'll see if BMW can hold back the 2010 BMW M3 CSL once the 2010 Audi RS5 sees the light of day a year from now.


Unknown September 22, 2008 at 3:53 PM  

Audi RS5 is so cool, and is my favorite