Drive enough of them and you will come to understand that state-of-the-art $100,000-plus German automobiles generally represent a tip-top way to get from A to B. Take the fully loaded 2013 Audi RS5 Cabriolet I tried out last month. It had luminescent red paint, an intuitive “S-tronic” transmission, crisp road manners, ceramic brakes, electronics controls complicated enough to confound both of my teenagers, and an eager twin-turbo V-8 good for 450 horsepower anytime I wanted it. What was not to like?
“That’s a seriously ugly grille,” my neighbour said, upon checking out the RS5 in our shared driveway.
Said neighbour knows of what he speaks. He is on his third RS4—an ’07, one of the last of the subtly restyled RS Audis. It has flared fenders and a few other visual tweaks—but generally shares looks more like the standard A4 than the hopped up 420-horsepower rocket that it is.
Let me explain: it has been a few years since Audi gave a big rethink to the front view of its lineup, abandoning the old smooth, svelte, wind-cheating look in favour of something more grille-heavy and power-suggestive—like that of a 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC, or possibly a Dodge Ram truck.
They explored the new look first by extending the lines that framed the grille to include the shape of the air intake beneath it, as if they were contiguous. That visual effect was compounded by replacing the body-colour bumper that previously divided the two grilles with a harder-to-spot black one. The bumper has been receding into the visual background ever since—behind slats on Audi’s A and S models, and behind a single monstrous honeycomb grille on the RS.
On my model, the grille measured 43 cm from top to bottom—three-quarters of the vertical span of the car’s front end. Which is a lot for an automotive feature rendered all but obsolete by under-bumper air-intakes.
The RS has lots of company. The 2014 Buick Lacrosse, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300C and Lexus IS—every last one of them is having a go at impersonating the majesty of the Rolls-Royces and Bentleys that started it all.
Still, the RS 5 is a fine car, a fact I was reminded of while making my way, top down, to the gym at 6:30 on a beautifully clear sunny morning. BBC World News was playing on Sirius XM, and I was lost in pleasant reverie as I drew up to the light. Which was when I heard the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of a nearby car stereo. The source was a spanking new RS4 at the opposite stop line. Its young driver—in shades and a thin moustache—met my gaze. He grinned …and gave me a big thumbs-up.
Had I been driving a lesser Audi 5—the A5 or S5 perhaps—I wouldn’t have been singled out for inclusion in this fellow’s brotherhood of bling. All we had in common were our garish new grilles. Nice cars both. Shame they chew with their mouths open.
This year’s fetish: big grilles
2014 Buick Lacrosse