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4T : Reviews & Road Tests

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16 March 2011


Editor’s Note:We began this story yesterday with some technical background on this very special test mule built by Audi. Read the first installment of this story HERE .



I’m at a small public driver training facility ten minutes drive from Audi’s Neckarsulm factory and about to sample perhaps the coolest A5/S5/RS 5 variant ever produced. Outwardly the car looks like a stock A5 coupe fitted with RS 5 winter wheels and an S5 exhaust with rear valance. Underneath is a predominantly aluminum chassis, likely an early prototype of Audi’s next-generation MLB-Evo making optimum use of exotic materials. One other thing – it’s also been fitted with a turbocharged 5-cylinder from the TT RS fitted lengthwise and tuned to over 400 hp.



Actually, I am pretty sure I’ve driven this car or one of its identical twins back in 2009, but back then it was just a 2.0T and that was at Bosch’s Boxberg test facility where cameras were strictly verboten due to just every car there being a prototype or test mule of some sort.



Today’s driver training facility has no such photographic constraints. That’s a plus, but I still can’t help taking note of a gaggle of elementary school kinder being taught bicycle safety no less than 20 yards away as I saunter up to the A5.





The car is known internally as “the Beast” I’m told by Peter Seizinger of quattro GmbH. You may remember Seizinger’s name from our test drive of the quattro Concept back in December. Peter is specifically a Technical Project Coordinator at quattro GmbH and he’s the guy who effectively installed the quattro Concept’s drivetrain… or, more specifically, Seizinger installed the drivetrain “in an RS 5” that was shipped to ItalDesign as a guide for the construction of the quattro Concept. It’s pretty obvious “the Beast” is that RS 5.



Seizinger walks us through the quick basics of the car. Audi built 3-4 of these A5s, likely as early lightweight design studies that employed much of the experimental lightweight construction practices now being perfected for its next-generation MLB-Evo architecture.



Ingolstadt gave us a glimpse of an A4-sized MLB-Evo chassis while touring their Audi Lightweight Design Center (ALDC) in Neckarsulm and, as reported yesterday, this is the next-generation of MLB hardware that will help the four-ring marque set new standards in lightweight design through optimized use of various materials to maximize strength while minimizing weight. A highly placed source at Audi AG effectively confirmed to us in Geneva that this car is an early prototype of that method of construction. Additional weight savings came from components such as carbon fiber hood and trunk lid and aluminum doors.



After logging a few thousand kilometers with a 2.0T drivetrain, this particular A5 was transferred to quattro GmbH for a high-performance conversion as part of the evaluation process of the quattro Concept by Audi AG’s board. Out came the car’s 2.0T-based drivetrain including the standard Torsen all-wheel drive system, suspension, brakes and even the seats.





Upgrades for “the Beast” came mainly from Audi’s expansive partsbin. Shell-style Recaro seats make for a more sporting driving experience and, more importantly, drop weight. RS 5 brakes, suspension and those aforementioned 5-spoke winter wheels were also added, as well as the full crown gear all-wheel drive system from the RS-spec car.



As you’ve already probably gathered, Audi sidestepped the RS 5 when it came to the engine and gearbox. Seizinger and his team also skipped the RS 5’s 7-speed S-tronic because of its added weight (also maybe to retain some manual transmission purity) and instead went with a 6-speed gearbox from the S4. Finally, in went that magical 2.5-liter turbocharged 5-cylinder from the TT RS and RS 3.



In stock guise, Audi’s 2.5T FSI is second only to the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport in power efficiency as measured by horsepower per liter. However, the 2.5T planned for the quattro Concept and pioneered in “the Beast” was going to have a little something extra to the tune of over 400 hp, a figure that knocks the Veyron Super Sport down a peg.





Also changed for fitment reasons was the design of the engine’s intake manifold and airbox. We hear there’s no real performance reason for the manifold redesign, but the 2.5T is taller and longer than even Audi’s V10 so a lower design was necessary in order to fit the engine in both the A5 body and that of the concept car it preceded.



When we test drove the quattro Concept in California, Setzinger and his team weren’t allowing photos of the engine bay. This time around, the Audi staff raises no such concerns when the carbon fiber hood is lifted… so we snap away. From what we saw, we’re positive the engine and manifold are identical to what we saw under the hood of the quattro Concept.



As it sits on the tarmac, “the Beast” weighs in at just 3086 lbs (1400 kg), more than 661 lbs (300 kg ) lighter than the RS 5. That’s impressively light though Audi is targeting yet another 220 lbs more from the curb weight should the quattro Concept see the light of an assembly line.



When I slide into the car, I note the changes. The car’s production level interior was apparent last time I drove the car in 2.0T guise but the seats offer a big improvement to the experience. The only other indicator of this car’s special nature is a red ring on the shift knob and an engine kill switch mounted to the right of the shifter where the coin holder normally sits – required kit for test mules we’re told.





Audi offers us three quick laps on a tight course within the test facility – not a lot, but enough to get more than a feel for the dynamics of the lightweight setup. Out on the first lap it’s immediately apparent that this car is in a whole different league – much more nimble, entirely neutral and very willing to deliver gobs of power.



Revs and boost come on quickly, not as immediate as the RS 5 but it seems like it has less lag than I remember experiencing in the quattro Concept last year. Then again, the difference may be the conditions. Back then we were driving that priceless prototype with Seizinger sitting in as our co-pilot in the canyons near Malibu – menacing cliff face on one side and a sheer drop off with wrecked cars (literally) at the bottom on the other. This time around we’re on a closed course with no co-pilot, at teh wheel of a test mule with 9800 kilometers on the odometer. We’re pretty much allowed to go as fast as we want so long as we don’t ram the car up the tailpipes of the TT RS pace car hot-shoeing up ahead of us.



Planting the car into each curve, I just can’t get over how light and nimble it is. It still leans like an RS 5, which is to say more so than the go-kart-like TT RS with its lower center of gravity. However, the A5’s grip seems to know no bounds and understeer is a non issue during our three times round. In the straights it pulls… pulls like no A5, S5 or RS 5 I’ve driven to date.



Audi claims that “the Beast” will knock out 0-62 mph in “the low 4 seconds”. For the record, the RS 5 will do it in 4.6.





So why let journalists like us drive “the Beast”? Audi pulled the car out to add some real live experience to their day-long teachings on the merits of lightweight design. At this point the car has done its job convincing the Audi board to clear the way for the quattro Concept and hopefully it’s gone further in convincing them to build a production version of that car. With its initial mission complete, Audi was free to pull it out of their secret garages and share it with motoring hacks in order to help sing the praises of light weight and give us a taste of a possible production quattro Concept without all the pressure of continuous hooning in a priceless one-off. Likely the Beast is priceless too but it doesn’t also do duty on auto show stands, at corporate events or private parties at Villa Piech.



It’s important to note that Audi wasn’t billing the car as a drivable prototype of MQB-evo, though our intel suggests that’s exactly what it was. Considering that, “the Beast” is also likely a harbinger of a future generation of RS 5… lighter in weight, smaller in displacement, yet even more capable. In that case, the future is bright indeed.







Also watch video HERE.




For more discussion on this story, click on the link to our discussion forums to the left.
For more photos of the car in this story, click on the link to our gallery at the right.



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