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There is nothing quite like a battle to the death.

The kinda thing where it is mano y mano. Two people are walking in but only one is stumbling out, probably covered in blood. For someone, it is light's out.

And you know what they say, right? Second place is the first loser.

So, when I decided to put the 2011 BMW 335iS up against the 2010 Audi S5 I knew that this would be one of those epic stories. Not quite like the Odyssey, that was lame. This would be much more fun.

It reminds me a lot of Pumping Iron with the showdown between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Although you have two greats standing before you, only one can get the trophy.


2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery




2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery



Both cars are "limited" run models, both are good looking and both are quick. Let me make this clear. If anyone were to hand me the keys to either, I would be able to die a happy man. However, this is simply about the best.

In this corner we have the 2011 335iS. Harboring an inline six motor producing 320 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, it has an exterior exhaust note that will make any enthusiast shiver with delight. It is a blend of a modern BMW with vintage Jaguar.

Paired up with a six-speed shift-it-yourself-you-wuss gearbox and boasting a rear-wheel drivetrain, the iS truly speaks to the driver.


2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery



In the other corner is the menacing Audi S5. With its 4.2 liter V8 slotted under its bonnet, it churns out 354 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Because it is a derivative of the R8 V8, which powered the B7 RS4 as well, it has that same guttural grunt.

It's kind of like the sound Lou makes when he is pushing out a couple of reps as his body is beginning to shut down. It is absolutely brutal. It is something a six-cylinder motor will never possess. Sorry, it's just not possible.

Here's a key difference though, our tester S5 is coupled with an automatic, tiptronic transmission. When you put the S5 into "Dynamic" mode, that means shifts come and go a the drop of a hat.

With that said, this is where each car begins to show their respective differences.


2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery



A major part of me knows that even though the quick shifts are helpful by making the S5 accelerate, it just becomes clearer as time wears on, it just doesn't feel fast when taking off at low speeds. The shifting of the tiptronic in the most sporting mode was very fast, essentially dual-clutch like. Even with over 350 horsepower though, it does not make me feel that "What did I get myself into," kind of fun.

Additionally, when the clutch/shifter combination is as good as the iS' you really begin to notice the joy of driving a manual transmission. Sure, you can say "Well, you won't shift as fast as the Audi -- ever." Your point?

Unless you're competitively racing that does not matter, at all.

The best part about the 335's clutch pedal is that it does provide some give. The transmission will punish you if aren't smooth but it is more of a lovetap, where as the M3 would bite your head off. This means that even driving around town it is a cake walk.


2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery



It is quick to see that when you compare these two the iS' powerplant shines all around; however, the S5 only feels animalistic at high speeds or when you really are demanding the car to operate at 10/10ths. Otherwise, it seems a bit too clumsy and not light on its feet.

But it is when you push both into a corner that the character within both motorcars bleeds through.

When you put the BMW at its limits, it playfully asks you for "More, please." Meanwhile the Audi remains a bit too serious and "Nope, not gonna budge." Here's the thing though, I do not prefer one over the other simply because either are desired for its own reasons.

The Audi makes me feel as if I could enter into any turn at any speed and there would be grip, somewhere. Whatever the case, it will sniff out and use it to its advantage. Whether you are at speed or 15 MPH, the S5 has this chiseled out of a solid hunk of metal feel that is hard to come by in any auto these days. Even though sometimes it feels a bit overkill -- for the first time I appreciated Audi's speed-sensitive steering -- it is a relatively welcome feeling.


2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery



On the other hand, the 335 feels more agile and ready to please you, whether that comes through going sideways or keeping its nose dead ahead.

Where the 335iS is like an energetic puppy that is giddy with joy, the S5 feels like you would have to grab it by the collar and drag it to its own bowl to eat.

I think this is largely due to the placement of the motor and the fact it boasts that honkin' V8. Now, if Audi had dropped that supercharged V6 -- from the B8 S4 -- into the S5 -- like it did with the convertible S5 -- I think Audi would have a much livelier product that bounces on its toes.

Without that supercharged six, I am pretty sure someone would say it is like driving with a paperweight tacked onto the hood of the S5.

The Takeaway


Now, I know most of you must be wondering "What's all this mean, exactly?"

Here's how it boils down. The 2011 BMW 335iS is the better car, overall, at the end of the day, if you want something that's going to make you turn around every time you put it in the garage and lock 'er up.
 
With that said though don't get too excited because I personally don't think its styling is going to win any awards anytime soon. No question this is the best E9x 3-Series yet -- from an exterior perspective -- because the tweaks do a lot to visually enhance the car.

But, then you get behind the steering wheel and it hits you. The interior is just cold. Case closed. Hopefully the next 3'er will take after its siblings, the F01 7-Series and F10 5-Series, and inherit more of a cockpit-like design.


2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery



Also, I could really do without the 335iS badges all over the place. A part of me feels sorry because I know so many writers and owners mislead brands with their "limited" editions into this trap because they used to bitch about the car not being special enough. This car should only have one iS badge, if any at all, and it should be on the back.

In comparison, after spending time with the S5 I did not feel an immense desire to hop in the driver's seat. With some cars, I practically have tears in my eyes when I hand back the key but with the S5 that's just not the case.

When I would lock it up for the night I didn't turn around to get one last look before retiring for some rest.

However, it is not a total catastrophe because the S5 makes a lot of sense as a grand tourer in tougher climates. Where the iS is a great fit for SoCal, the S5 is a better fit for New York.

Sure you can get a 335iS, throw Blizzaks on it and manage during the winter. But why not just put some all-seasons on the S5 year-round and trudge through the white stuff without any hassle, thanks to Quattro?

Then there are the S5's seats. Probably the best sport seats in any vehicle. Plenty of bolstering without overdoing it so they do not abuse you during a long journey, like the Cadillac CTS-V's Recaro seats.

If a 6'8, 250 pound man can drive around for four hours and not feel the urge to stretch or feel tired after the entire ordeal, that's quality.


2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery



Meanwhile, even during short jaunts in the 335, I found myself being pinched.

But at the end of the day, this brings us back to Pumping Iron.

Although Ferrigno was a much more intriguing specimen, he just could not seal the deal. It was a valiant effort but there was something just a bit off that ruined the whole damn thing.

The same can be said for the S5 with its peculiar heft. I have never had to take such a long time to adjust to a press vehicle before. I know the car can be better and that's because when I drove the S5 convertible -- with the supercharged six-cylinder -- it felt great.

As long as that dated 4.2 liter V8 is shoehorned in the engine bay, the S5 will continue feeling compromised. Perhaps its because it is so clear that Audi held back on that motor by making it just par when it could have been stellar. Case in point: it is a stellar powerplant when tuned as seen in the R8 and RS4.

On the other hand, the BMW is like Arnold. A reigning champ that really does not seem to have to do too much in order to keep sticking at the top. In reality though, it is clawing desperately in order to maintain its lead.

Believe you me, it is growing narrower.

My proof? If the 335iS was offered in a sedan variant, I am 60/40 going for the Audi S4.

Sorry, BMW. Unlike Arnold you cannot just retire from the sport.


2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery




2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery











2011 BMW 335iS Photo Gallery

2010 Audi S5 Photo Gallery

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PUMPING IRON: 2010 Audi S5 Vs. 2011 BMW 335iS, Can Audi Top BMW, Again?

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