60 Minutes nearly killed Audi in North America. After “Unintended Acceleration in the Audi 5000” aired in 1986, Audi sales dropped from 74k sales a year in 1986 to less than 12k by 1991. Sales remained constant until 1996, when Audi debuted a car that would finally tackle the BMW 3-series and the Mercedes C-Class head on. With its still unusual all-wheel drive system, classic German styling and interiors that set the industry standard, the A4 single-handedly revived sales in North America. An Audi fan since birth (when I was driven home in an Audi Fox GTI), I viewed them from afar; Roswell’s nearest Audi dealer lay eight hours away in Dallas. So I rejoiced when I signed the paperwork to purchase the first of the 5-valve V6 powered A4 quattros. Little did I know the next year would be filled with Germanic Sturm und Drang.
“Lola” was a 1998.5 (as Audi always introduces models in the half-year cycle) A4 2.8 V6 with quattro and a 5-speed manual. The blue paint and khaki interior with matching blue piping on the seats really set off the beautifully proportioned car, despite numerous rock chips from several Colorado winters. She was German to a T, right down to the goofy lever by the turn signal to turn on the lights, and the complete lack of cupholders.
I fell in love at first sight. The joy continued as we blasted down I-70 in the cold snow towards Breckenridge. Having driven Plymouths, Dodge Neons and other ChryCo products growing up, I was astounded by the Audi’s steering feel, suspension taughtness and the little Audi’s sheer verve whenever a curve presented itself. I was sure I’d found the perfect car, front-wheel bias be damned.
But as with all affairs, this one didn’t last. Lola loved to torment me with her various “glitches,” for which Audi became justifiably notorious in the late 90’s. Sometimes the climate control would become possessed, and the taillights would refuse to work (at least only one side at a time). However, it was the sunroof that doomed her. The novel rotary dial switch would malfunction, opening the roof at random. It was this problem that led me to find her insides full of two feet of snow. There was no hope after that, and she left me on a tow truck, and I left her in a Mazda6.