Is form and presence an integral function in car design? More so than ever before in the history of the car industry, it’s a resounding yes.
One car designer, Chris Bangle, now former head of BMW Group’s Design department, feels that modern cars, by design, are rolling works of art built to fit into their respective environments. I’ve taken that to heart as I look at car design, trying to appreciate the car for it’s stance, lines and curves just as much as I appreciate it’s drivability and peformance.
My perception of what car design can be was altered by Audi last night. After leaving the family’s BMW E60 5 Series at the valet, we walked into an upscale restaurant to grab a beeper and wait for the first available table. While walking around the stores by the restaurant I came across a beautiful Phantom Black Audi S8, parked between Loius Vuitton and Brooks Brothers stores, looking every bit the part of a $100,000 luxo barge that can hit 60mph in under 5 and aptly parked in front of two other upscale, elegant brands.
After the buzzer went off and we made our way back to the restaurant, I came across a brand new also-Phantom Black S6 parked in front of the restaurant. After giving it a few walk-arounds, my family managed to pull me away and into the restaurant where we got a table by the windows that happened to overlook the exact spot where the S6 was parked.
I spent most of dinner studying the car and decided that I absolutely love the exterior design of the car. Oddly enough, by the end of dinner, I’d decided I liked the C6-platformed S6 even more so than the current E60 M5. Surprising? Maybe, the M5 is currently the fastest, best-handling sport sedan available and I do like performance. However, it seems everyone has an M5, much less an E60 5 Series. I typically see 2 or 3 M5’s on the way to work each day let alone the dozens of 5 Series, a commute on which I rarely see an A6 and there’s never an S6 to be found.
It was refreshing to not see an M5 for a change - a car which has lost most of the subtlety on which it was built. The design of the M5 has gone from a subdued, barely recognizable Ferrari-killing sedan to a blatant, in-your-face styled car with its huge M-body kits, quad exhausts, and silly air vents along the front fenders. It’s trying too hard to distinguish itself as a sporting car when it shouldn’t be; the E63 AMG is just as bad as well. Heck, even the BMW 550i is forcing the issue with it’s M Sport package dressing it up to be an M5-look-a-like. The essence of a “Q car” has been lost by the same company that created it.
This is what I love about the S6 though, it’s subdued nature. It carries the heart of a Lambo Gallardo, though detuned to about 435HP, it’s still plenty quick producing a 0 to 60 time in the Porsche 911/Cayman range all while seating 5 comfortably - but doing so with a very understated and sneaky exterior design. Honestly, upon approaching the S6 I saw while at dinner, I initially thought it was an A6 3.0T before noticng the small “v10″ badging on each of the front fenders - probably the S6’s cheesiest design touch. But, that’s what I want to drive, I want the James Bond-esque brute-in-a-tuxed0 that can cruise around unnoticed but has the power to bloody the nose of most opponents it encounters.
The M5 just looks like a car that always wants to race from stop light to stop light - more a modern muscle car than luxury whip - always shouting “hey, look! I’ve got an F1-derived engine and let me tell you about my Nurburgring times!” It’s begun to lose the luster of previous M5’s with brutal power hidden beneath calm, quiet exteriors. I want more than that, especially in terms of design, I want something that can look the part of an $75,000+ car, not just perform like one. The base of the M5, the E60 5 Series, is plain awkward and at times its design shows that making it hard to fit in with newer company like the Jag XFR or facelifted A6, who are much more attractive in their base trim, let alone the faster R and S siblings, respectively.
For my money, I can’t rationalize an M5 when I know there’s a perfectly capable, more attractive and likely more useable V10 sedan out there than can go about it’s business with nobody none the wiser. The S6 just carries with it so much more presence and handsome looks over the M5 while still satisfying the driver - for me, the design is as important as the performance, a balancing act that the S6 has yet to be rivaled on.
I must say, by the end of dinner, I was disappointed to find myself at the valet stand getting into an BMW E60 5 series instead of a Phantom Black S6.