Want to get your car handling to perfection? Better still, want to be able to change its characteristics at the touch of a button? German suspension legend BILSTEIN has just raised the bar with its latest iRC kit for the Audi A5 which does all of this – and more… but from your phone!!!
Adjustable suspension is nothing new, of course. For years now, we have been able to mess around with both the ride height and damping rate of high quality coilover kits. This has been a boon, both to those looking to achieve the perfect stance – and better still, to drivers genuinely in search of handling nirvana. If a car can be minutely adjusted to achieve perfect corner-weighting, and then fettled 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 front 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 cosseted 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 attack or track day outing…
For most mere mortals, this was fine. The chance to endow your car with a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ style chassis persona while simply pressing a button 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 – and as they doubtless sat there in their lunch-breaks, texting their mates and downloading countless apps, an inevitable ‘Eureka!’ moment occurred. How about making damper adjustment available from your smartphone?
The result of much hard working, 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, ‘geek chic’. Who isn’t going to be impressed as you whip your phone out on your 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 market leading 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 gladly accepted an invitation from BILSTEIN UK sale manager Aaron Quilter – as he was about to fit a kit to his own A5 coupe. As you might imagine, with the great and the good of the tuning world in his contacts list, Aaron had also lined up an impressive supporting cast to augment the iRC system. This not only included the likes of Eibach, Milltek and Revo for a little extra goodness, but also the irrefutable talents of the TT Shop, who had held up their hands to fit the wish-list of choice assembled parts. In addition to the fully adjustable IRC coilover set-up, there was also a set of Eibach’s adjustable arms and anti-roll bars. Revo had donated a set of their stunning 20” rims, shod with ultra-grippy Vredestein rubber, and Milltek had added their own touch of magic to the party with 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, removing the original equipment was to prove to be the work of mere minutes for the TT Shop’s hugely experienced team. 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 A5 is a great looking car, it’s clear to see that the factory ride height and wheel combination lacks a little visual aggression. In the quest to make it a car for the everyman, and hit its key price point, it’s totally understandable that Audi couldn’t justify the fitment of such choice enhancements, but unencumbered by such restrictions, the TT Shop team were about to move the unsuspecting recipient into the big league in looks and handling terms.
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, and when examined closely, it’s clear to see the quality of the new components. The new bars, for instance use uprated polyurethane bushes to account for their fatter diameter. Notice how the bushes also feature a clever linen lining too. Not only does this help to retain the supplied grease to prolong the life of the bushes, but it also makes for whisper-quiet operation. Nobody wants a squeaky anti-roll bar now, do they? The bars themselves are also electrostatically powder coated, so even on the UK’s oft-salted roads, you can expect many years of faithful service from these parts. Eibach also supplied a full set of their adjustable arms as part of the upgrade too. This chassis is famed amongst tuners for its lack of front-end adjustment, and this kit answers that problem by replacing the OEM fixed arms with an upgrade that offers total adjustment in every direction. So, not only can you wind the all-important camber in – or out – with these new arms, but you can also wind in a fair degree of caster too, allowing the car to enjoy much greater steering feel and sensitivity, along with a useful dollop of self-centering behaviour. Great for those that like to press on a bit! 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 adding a final sprinkle of chassis magic during the alignment session later.
The Milltek exhaust has been quickly fitted during a moment of ownership enthusiasm prior to the shoot, by Aaron. By his own admission, this was done in rather a hurry, keen to get a dramatic improvement in style and sound. With the car now 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 aperturesto give the whole set-up a decidedly ‘OEM+’ feel. As with all Milltek systems, the fit and finish is exemplary, using factory pick-up 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 really is far too nice for a diesel-powered vehicle. Being finished from the highest quality aerospace grade, non-magnetic stainless steel, 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 pics show, there is a huge amount of adjustment with this kit, with threaded seats front and rear allowing infinitesimal fettling ad infinitum to get the perfect stance – and, if required or desired, corner-weighting. The front units are replacement struts, so these are simply built into the front sub-assemblies, 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 aping the OEM parts it replaces. As a serial OEM supplier, BILSTEIN designs and manufactures all of these parts to greatly surpass 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. A guess, as it turned out, would be 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 push button on the dash for manual operation, or if preferred, the iRC control box for integration with their smartphone. If you’re a total control freak, the system allows to run both, of course! Perfect for those days when you have 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” 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 much 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 visage, but would this new look translate into equally wonderful road manners? With a substantial drop and those gargantuan Revo rims, would the car still maintain its everyday usability 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 economically sensible move to derv. In short, it’s a very accomplished package.
The final icing on the cake is the geek-factor endowed by the iRC, of course. In this app-driven age, you will never tire of adjusting and fettling your ride to suit, and let’s be honest, it does have more than a little pose and novelty value too – which is no bad thing at your next meet.
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!