Audi A4

For my German trip, the rental website had promised me a new Mercedes C-class, but I was happy enough with the Audi. After about 900 miles with it, I have to say I liked it. Driving in the US, where everyone drives at the same slow speed, you forget what it is to feel under-equipped car-wise, in terms of what you want to do and what the car is able to do. Driving in Germany and the Alps reminded me. It was strong enough up to an indicated 240 km/h. (“Whatever that is in real money,” I thought to myself, pressing the throttle to the carpet) I only realized just how quick this was when I sat down at a computer the following day. Even taking into account speedometer over-read, that means the other fellows, in their 540 wagons, and Mercedes S Class’, with whom I was attempting to keep pace, were running at more than 130mph. In a light dusting of snow, on two lane autobahn, with quite a lot of traffic. So on balance this Audi wasn’t quite man enough: at those speeds, it was a little hard to place on autobahn sweepers ( although in fairness a Buick Lucerne I had recently was worse at half the speed) and it was unstable in crosswinds. But below 110mph, it was fine. Most of my motoring was not on de-restricted autobahn, instead the posted limit seemed often to be 120km/h, however, I saw no cops, and the natives I spoke to say the police do not really focus on this sort of speeding. Normally one is a pariah for daring to want to Motor, and opposed to saunter along the highway; in Germany, you realize many other people feel as you do, and indeed, it can be done safely. All Americans need to come here, see how it is done, and go home repeating the mantra “Move Right”. Best of all, blasting up the outside lane, chewing my salty german sausage, I remembered why I thought cars were cool in the first place.

This A4 had ESP, not that it was exercised much. It imparted a useful warm feel, especially on those little narrow winding roads cut into hillsides that the Swiss are so partial to. The sort where the locals all drive Subarus at 100mph, and you nearly throw the rental car down the hillside understeering on the thin spreading of liquefied cow turd covering the road, out of sight around a curve. The six speed was a joy to use. It had poke in top rolling at 90mph+. In 2nd and 3rd there was a really noticeable turbo boost effect – lots of fun. At one point, a passenger asked if I was deliberately trying to slide it out of a junction, when the boost had caught me unawares. The interior was somewhat black German bread; stepping into this, as with most German cars, one wishes Alfas were reliable. It never ceases to amaze me that people to whom tyre squeal, or 90 mph on the motorway represents hard driving, still rush out to buy German cars. The badge must be so important to them. Faced by characterless dour interiors, I always find myself thinking “all that money, and it looks like this?”. I had this experience test driving a Porsche 968, and a 540. As the Fabricator says about Toyotas “Its only when you beat on them, really beat on them, and they STILL don’t go wrong, THEN you get it”, and the same is true with the BMWs/Porsches/Audis I have driven; once you use them, drive them hard, then it is clear why a premium needs to be paid. Everything is just as it should be. I just wonder about all these folk I see cluttering up the middle lanes of California’s freeways doing 60mph in their BMW 335s. I suppose a Prada handbag, a Hilfiger shirt, is no more or less functional than any other handbag/shirt, so why should cars be any different ?

Another marvelous feature was the navigation, which was all in English; after programming, it spoke to me in friendly tones – disappointing since I was hoping for a Nazi bark. Simultaneously, between the tach and speedo, there was a little graphic showing how to place the car for the next intersection. These systems really work now. Luddite Summers converted. One weird thing was on the journey from Lucern to Stuttgart, it decided to navigate me through the center of Zurich. Interesting, but I can’t believe that was the optimal route.

So all around this Audi was a very useful and likeable tool which left me wondering what the bigger A6 was like, at least partly because entering Germany from Switzerland, on a quiet piece of road, a 3.0 TDI wagon blew past me moving at more than 250ks…..I know, I tried to keep up and couldn’t.