Dialled in! / #Audi-A5
For fine-tuned handling performance, with the characteristics changed at the touch of a button, Bilstein’s iRC kit does all of this from your phone… Words And Photos: Paul Cowland
Adjustable suspension is nothing new, of course. For years now, we have been able to modulate both the ride height and damping rate of any number of high-quality coilover suspension kits. This has been a boon, both for those looking to achieve the perfect ride height – and better still, for drivers genuinely in search of optimum handling. If the suspension of a car can be minutely adjusted not only to achieve perfect corner-weighting, but also tweaked to obtain the perfect damping rate, then you really can have your cake and eat it too.
German suspension leader Bilstein has long been at the forefront of this technology, raising the bar a few years ago with the advent of its ‘ridecontrol’ functionality, which put a switchable push-button on the dash of your car – and linked to switchable damper internals housed within its B16 suspension units. This gave OEM levels of fit and functionality to a wide range of tuner platforms and meant that you could ride around in relative comfort on a soft damper setting for the daily commute, before punching a smart brushed aluminium button to create a much firmer and more responsive set-up for your next ‘B’-road foray or trackday outing…
For most drivers, this was fine. The chance to endow your car with a ‘best of both worlds’ chassis set-up simply by pressing a button while on the move was all that was needed. As with all top-end technology, of course, it didn’t take too long for the boffins in Bilstein’s lab to want to move things forward into the world of the latest technology – so how about making damper adjustment available from your smartphone?
The result of much hard work, development and programming is Bilstein’s innovative iRC system. A combination of hardware and software, this kit can be added as a cost-option to many of the firm’s ridecontrol kits to add an extra degree of functionality and, let’s face it, who isn’t going to be impressed as you whip your phone out on the next track day and instantly transform your car’s handling characteristics while you’re not even sitting in it? As the perfect balance between functionality and technology, it’s a marketleading bit of kit, and like all Bilstein products, while it’s not the cheapest, the quality is sensational.
Keen to see it in action, we went along for the day while Bilstein UK sales manager Aaron Quilter was about to fit a kit to his own A5 Coupé, along with some complementary products from Eibach, Milltek Sport and Revo and also employing the talents of the TT Shop, who’d offered to help with the assembly.
In addition to the fully adjustable IRC coilover set-up, there was also a set of Eibach’s adjustable arms and anti-roll bars, while Revo had donated a set of their stunning 20-inch rims, shod with high-performance Vredestein tyres, and Milltek Sport had provided one of their sonorous exhaust systems – all of which we’ll revisit later on.
Fitting it up
As Aaron’s A5 had barely completed its running-in mileage, with not a hint of rust or corrosion in sight, removing the original equipment was the work of mere minutes for the TT Shop’s hugely experienced technicians.
After a few ‘before’ shots to chart progress, the car was put onto the ramp and work began in earnest. While nobody can deny that the standard Audi A5 is a great-looking car, it’s clear for all to see that the factory ride height and wheel combination lacks a little visual aggression, but the TT Shop team was about to transform both its looks and handling ability.
First on was the Eibach equipment. This tried and tested pairing of uprated anti-roll bars and adjustable front arms can really elevate the handling prowess of the Audi platform. The new anti-roll bars use uprated polyurethane bushes with a clever linen lining that not only helps to retain the supplied grease to prolong the life of the bushes, but it also makes for whisperquiet operation with not a squeak or creak to be heard. The bars themselves are also electrostatically powder-coated, so even on the UK’s oft-salted roads, you can expect many years of service from these parts. Eibach also supplied a full set of their adjustable arms as part of the upgrade.
This chassis is notorious for its lack of frontend adjustment, and this kit answers that problem by replacing the OEM fixed arms with an upgrade that offers total adjustment in every direction. Not only can you wind the all-important camber in – or out – with these new arms, but you can also select a fair degree of caster too, allowing the car to enjoy much greater steering feel and sensitivity, along with the increased self-centreing behaviour that is ideal for high-speed stability and confidence. As these parts offer so much adjustment, Eibach recommends referencing them against the original parts to begin with, adjusting them to the same size, before fine-tuning the alignment later.
The Milltek Sport exhaust had been quickly fitted during a moment of ownership enthusiasm prior to the shoot, by Aaron himself. By his own admission, this was done in rather a hurry, keen to get a dramatic improvement in style and sound. But with the car now up on the ramp, and the timeframe not quite so critical, the TT Shop team spent a few minutes carefully adjusting and fettling where the system sat to ensure that the pipework gave maximum ground clearance without touching the floor, before spending a few valuable minutes carefully positioning the trims in the bumper apertures to give the whole set-up a decidedly ‘OEM+’ feel.
As with all Milltek Sport systems, the fit and finish is exemplary, using factory pickup points to allow for a rapid fitment. Every part of this system is hand-finished using super-accurate jigs to ensure a perfect fit, as well as the kind of soundtrack that is such a major improvement for a diesel-powered vehicle. Finished from the highest quality aerospace grade, non-magnetic stainlesssteel, this is also another part that will be more than up to the rigours of year-round use in the UK’s harsh climate.
With these parts on, it was time to turn to the main attraction – the Bilstein iRC kit. As the pictures show, there’s a huge amount of adjustment with this kit, with threaded seats front and rear allowing a considerable degree of fine adjustment to achieve the desired ride height – and, if required, corner-weighting.
The front units are replacement struts, so these are simply built into the front subassemblies, complete with its new Eibach arms, of course, and then re-fitted to the car. The rears use separate spring seats and damper units, precisely replicating the OEM parts it replaces. As a serial OEM supplier, Bilstein designs and manufactures all of these parts to exceed original equipment quality, so as one would expect, these fitted quickly, precisely and without incident.
As the veterans of literally thousands of coilover upgrades, the TTS team used their ‘best guess’ to set a baseline ride-height and, as it turned out, it was almost perfect once the car was back down on the ground! Each kit comes complete with two ‘C’ spanners, which means that these can easily be adjusted once the units are in situ.
Where the iRC kit differs from normal coilovers is that each damper unit has a sender wire that must be returned back to the central control box. From this, the owner can then fit either the smart alloy pushbutton on the dash for manual operation, or if preferred, the iRC control box for integration with their smartphone. Alternatively, the system allows you to run both methods of adjustment – perfect for those days when you’ve left your phone at home and still want to adjust your suspension.
Once the wires have been carefully routed, each damper is a simple ‘plug and play’ fitment into the central control box. Then, once that has all been fitted and neatly cable-tied away, it’s only a case of downloading the software from the app store (currently £2.99) before the system neatly integrates onto your phone. The final touch was a full alignment session on the TT Shop’s ultra-accurate Hunter rig, ensuring that the A5’s wheels were pointing in the right direction with minute-perfect precision.
With this done, the smart new #Revo
rims could be bolted up. These monsters weigh in at an impressive 9.5 x 20-inches and wear 275/30-20 Vredestein rubber. All decent rims have the power to truly transform the demeanour of any project, but these wheels dramatically alter the whole looks and proportions of the car, bringing the visual weight lower down and making the A5 look much more purposeful and aggressive.
On the road
Even before driving the car, it was clear that these new enhancements had added a great deal to transform the car’s visual appeal, but would this new look translate into equally wonderful road manners? With a substantial reduction in ride height and those huge Revo rims, would the car still maintain its everyday useability and prowess, or would it be a case of looks first, and handling a distant second?
The answer, thankfully, is that the resultant package has managed to keep a foot in both camps. The ride is certainly more positive and sporting, sure, but thanks to the dampers doing their job so efficiently, the ride quality really is excellent – particularly when switching the dampers into their softer ‘comfort’ modes. The Eibach anti-roll bars allow the car to stay flatter in the turns, reducing load transfer, and the new front arms have added a new-found urgency to the steering geometry, which makes the front end much more grippy and telegraphic – a facet nicely augmented by the wider Vredestein rubber. This car really has a great deal of mechanical grip now, but has gained it without ruining its original charm.
The subtle burble from the Milltek exhaust is also a real treat – Audi diesels always sound pretty good (for their genre) anyway, but in this one, with its fabulous new note, which gives just enough drama and noise under throttle – and whisper-quiet refinement off it – makes a compelling case for petrolheads to make the sensible move to fuel-efficient TDI. In short, it’s a very accomplished package. The final icing on the cake is the ‘geekfactor’ endowed by the iRC, of course.
In this app-driven age, you’ll never tire of adjusting and fettling your ride quality to suit and, let’s be honest, it does have more than a little novelty value too.
An all-round accomplished success then. The message is clear; next time you want to get your Audi sitting and handling right – get on the phone!
‘The ride is certainly more positive and sporting, sure, but thanks to the dampers doing their job so efficiently, the ride quality really is excellent...’
‘Where the iRC kit differs from normal coilovers is that each damper unit has a sender wire that must be returned back to the central control box...’
‘It’s clear for all to see that the factory ride height and wheel combination lacks a little visual aggression...’