The Truth About Cars » Audi The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 14 Jul 2014 16:00:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Audi 2015 Audi A3 Sedan Sales Outpacing Supply, Stealing From Honda, Toyota Mon, 07 Jul 2014 11:00:31 +0000 Audi S3 Limousine

The 2015 Audi A3 Sedan is doing quite well for itself in the United States since its arrival back in April of this year, even if the hipster parties during the sedan’s U.S. unveiling more than likely just amused the automaker’s traditional clientele instead of attracting younger buyers as the party plan intended.

Autoblog reports Audi of America sold 2,452 A3 Sedans in June alone, with just over 25 percent of consumers under the age of 30. That particular group of young Audi drivers are new to the automaker, brand conquests over Honda and Toyota.

As for buying one right now, there may be a line ahead of you: Audi is still stocking its dealer network with the $30,795 sedan, with a wait as long as 30 days for those wanting specific features for their A3. The line may grow longer, however, when the automaker’s A3 E-tron arrives in Q2 2015, with every one of Audi’s U.S. dealerships being granted the opportunity to sell the PHEV.

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Low-Cost Tesla EV To Use Steel To Hit A4, 3 Series Pricing Levels Thu, 03 Jul 2014 11:00:16 +0000 550x365xtesla-model-s-logo-550x365.jpg.pagespeed.ic.C2rTVvi0LG

Though Tesla’s low-cost EV won’t be able to put the E in between the S and the X, it will be able to meet its price target thanks an alloy swap in its construction.

Autocar reports steel instead of aluminum will make up the low-cost EV, which CEO Elon Musk stated will be 20 percent smaller than the Model S. The steel construction will likely be assembled through bonding and rivets, as well.

The use of steel will allow the new EV — expected sometime between late 2016 and early 2017 — to better compete against the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series on price, backed up by the reduced cost in battery production once the Gigafactory goes online at the same time as the low-cost Tesla arrives in showrooms.

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BMW Mexico Plant To Build 150,000 Annually Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:00:06 +0000 2015-MINI-Countryman-Cooper-S-8

Though BMW may announce Thursday where in Mexico it will build its second North American plant, sources close to the matter said the plant will pump 150,000 units annually into auto trains bound for the United States.

Automotive News Europe also reports a Mexican government official claimed the new plant would come with a €1 billion ($1.36 billion USD) investment, and may either be located in the state of Hidalgo just north of Mexico City, or in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

The plant — following on the heels of a new Daimler-Nissan small-car factory to be built in Aguacalientes, as well as an Audi factory in San Jose Chiapa — will likely be used to build MINIs and the FWD 1 Series, with localized 3 Series assembly also speculated based on the automaker’s potential need to better compete against the U.S.-assembled Mercedes C-Class on price.

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BMW To Announce Second North American Factory Before Summer Break Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:00:38 +0000 2012_BMW_328i_sedan_--_2012_DC_1

Still mulling over where to build a second North American factory, BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer stated his company would have an answer before the automaker goes on summer break.

Automotive News Europe reports the automaker is considering countries who have signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, including Canada, United States and Mexico, for a factory where it may build the 3 and 1 series, as well as MINIs.

BMW is doing this in order to properly battle Teutonic competitors Audi and Mercedes, both of whom have or will have factories in place to meet demand, as well as better handle currency challenges by producing popular vehicles in the same market they are bought. All three are also battling it out on record deliveries for 2014, with China and the U.S. as the battleground.

Meanwhile, BMW is spending $1 billion to expand its Spartanburg, S.C. plant to 50 percent increased production capacity by 2016, when the full-size X7 will be among the 450,000 X Series SUVs to leave the line annually. The outgoing record holder in Dingolfing, Germany produced 342,000 3, 5, 6 and 7 series models in 2013.

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Volkswagen To Triple SUV Lineup In Fight Against Toyota For Total Global Sales Wed, 04 Jun 2014 11:00:24 +0000 Volkswagen-T-ROC-Concept-02

With Toyota still in its sights, Volkswagen plans to triple the number of SUVs in its lineup in its fight for the top sales podium among the Global Three.

Bloomberg reports the current offerings — the midsize Touareg and compact Tiguan — will soon be joined by the upcoming seven-passenger CrossBlue-based SUV that will either be assembled in Mexico or Tennessee, coupe and long-wheelbase versions of the Tiguan, the Touareg and a subcompact based on either the Taigun or T-ROC concepts. The strategy would provide VW with the opportunity to meet Toyota across the latter’s range on its way to beat the Japanese automaker in global deliveries by 2018, and would build brand strength in the United States and emerging markets such as China.

Meanwhile, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche are also moving further into the SUV market, ranging from the Cayenne and new Macan — both of which are expected to account for 64 percent of all Porsche sales by next year, according to IHS Automotive — to the Q1 in 2016 and Urus in 2017. The overall game would net Volkswagen an operating profit boost over 6 percent of sales over the current rate of 2.9 percent, as SUVs are considered to be more profitable than other vehicles.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Audi A6 TDI Prestige Thu, 29 May 2014 13:15:47 +0000 2014 audi a6 tdi side

It’s likely that we all have been asked the most dreaded question at parties: “what’s your favorite car?”. I prefer to put a different spin on it: what car would I most like to take a cross-country road trip in? There is always a compromise of comfort, cabin space, trunk space, speed, cost, and/or fuel economy. After spending a weekend with this car, I can say that my answer to that question undoubtedly is the Audi A6 TDI.

2014 audi a6 tdi front

From the side it is uniquely Audi, offering perfect proportions when compared to the shrunken down A4 and the elongated A8. The once bizarre corporate grill has faded into normalcy over time, as have the often duplicated fancy headlights, which, by the way, are amazing. The rear is reminiscent of the original A8. Overall the exterior design is clean, modern, but conservative at the same time. The S-line treatment of the pictured vehicle hints of its sporty aspirations without being obnoxious about it. Bystanders will like this car when they see it but forget about it few minutes later.

2014 audi a6 tdi dash

The interior looks great, too. Every surface is pleasing to the senses; the soft leather smells great, the wood grain is intentionally left uneven, and the minimalist layout is pleasing to the eye. What’s important on a long trip, however, is comfort. The vehicle is very quiet at all speeds and the suspension does a fantastic job of keeping the unpleasantness of the outside world, outside. With plenty of room for four passengers, very comfortable seats, those complaining about these accommodations should have just stayed home.

The infotainment screen hides into the dash to further underscore that clean layout, which is especially nice for night driving. Vital information such as Sirius XM channel or navigational directions are displayed in the gauge cluster. Audi’s MMI Navigation interface is one of the best and easiest to use in the business. The main, iDrive-like, knob is positioned right where your hand is when your arm is resting on the armrest. It is surrounded by hard and soft keys, operation of which is reflected on the screen. All basic controls are easy to access, and once your presets, iPhone and gadget-de-jour, are synced and set to your liking, there is really no need do anything there.

2014 audi a6 tdi interior details

Nobody with an ounce of oil in their blood wants to drive a boring car, which many so-called luxury cars, tend to be. The beauty of the A6 TDI is that, despite the aforementioned refined ride and isolated comforts, it is simply fun to drive. The steering is quick, if a little over-boosted, the adjustable suspension is set just right, allowing plenty of highway ramp fun. The three suspension settings do not change vehicle dynamics drastically, and with sincere respect to Audi chassis engineers, I really question the need for those settings.

The real story here isn’t the ride, or the interior, or the looks. Rather, it is the 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine and its 428 lb-ft of torque at 1750 rpm. Numbers themselves are never impressive; it’s translating those numbers into real world driving characteristics that make so many of us lust after compression–ignition engines. This engine turns this car into a beast. The power is instantaneous; no lag, no delay, no nothing. It. Just. Goes. Off the line, highway passing, the A6 TDI doesn’t care. It just goes, pressing you deeper into the seat. It goes smoothly, it goes evenly, it goes without any drama, and it goes while getting 38mpg on the highway.

2014 audi a6 tdi engine

But nothing is perfect, and neither is this vehicle. For instance the two front cup holders are simply too small. And there is no USB or auxiliary audio input ports (you need to use Bluetooth). Its price, which starts at $57,500 ($67,295 as pictured), does not do it any favors, either. Furthermore, any potential buyer would be a fool to ignore Audi’s reputation for long-term reliability. And yet, if anyone asked me what I would want to drive from New York City, around the Great Lakes and over Rocky Mountains, to San Francisco, this would be my answer.

In my lifetime of automotive obsession, two decades of driving, dozens of personal cars, and years of reviewing cars, I have never been more impressed. As a reviewer, this frustrates me because in my mind I sound like some kind of wobbler. 

2014 audi a6 tdi rear

Audi provided the car for the purpose of this review.

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New York 2014: 2016 Audi A3 TDI Sportback Live Shots Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:22:38 +0000 2015-Audi-A3-TDI-Sportback-6

The 2016 Audi A3 TDI Sportback turned up at the 2014 New York Auto Show wearing white over its diesel-driven FWD system and automatic transmission.

The diesel in question is a 2-liter turbo pushing 150 horsepower to the front through a standard six-speed S tronic transmission.

Inside, drivers can kick out the jams through the hatchback’s MMI infotainment and Bang & Olufsen audio systems while passengers make use of the on-board 4G LTE connection.

No word on pricing, fuel economy or other details beyond an arrival time of Summer 2015.

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BMW May Build Second NA Plant To Fend Off German Rivals Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:04:23 +0000 BMW Spartanburg

In its battle against Mercedes-Benz and Audi for record sales, BMW is mulling over the possibility of a second plant in North America.

Bloomberg reports the automaker would place its second factory in Mexico, with two sites under consideration. The decision to expand will take a few months according to BMW production chief Harald Krueger, Should the move be given a green light, the Mexican plant is likely to build the 3 Series.

The second factory would add to the long-term growth strategy BMW is using to fend off its German premium market competitors in a heated battle for records global sales, fueled by growing demand in the United States and China. Mercedes will add the C-Class to its Alabama facility in June with a new plant in North America due near the end of this decade, while Audi is in the middle of setting up shop in Mexico with a $1.3 billion plant set to produce crossovers beginning in 2016.

Previously, BMW announced it would invest $1 billion to expand its South Carolina plant by 50 percent in 2016, as well as add the X7 large SUV to the X Series lineup currently produced in the plant.

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VW Confirms New Turbodiesel Due Later This Year Wed, 19 Mar 2014 10:15:55 +0000 VW EA288 TDI Diesel Engine

Fans of Volkswagen diesels will be thrilled to know that later this year, the automaker’s latest 2-liter turbo-four will be available for the 2015 Golf, Jetta, Passat, Beetle and Beetle Convertible.

Autoblog reports the new EA288 TDI will produce 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, with an additional 10-horsepower boost for road train-passing emergencies. Other features include EGR, an intake manifold with integrated intercooler, and low-friction camshaft bearings.

Though the turbodiesel will arrive in five VW models for the 2015 model year, all Audis and Volkswagens will eventually receive the EA288 as the automaker phases out the current 2-liter TDI; 12 such models are in showrooms at present, with 105,899 units sold in 2013.

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VW Group, Led By Porsche, Aiming For 10 Million In Sales By Year’s End Fri, 14 Mar 2014 11:37:26 +0000 Porsche-911-991-Targa-01

Volkswagen Group’s goal of selling 10 million units annually may come as soon as the end of 2014, with Porsche leading the way in operating profitability.

Automotive News reports the target, originally set for 2018, is on-track to come this year, according to CEO Martin Winterkorn. The group sold 9.72 million units last year, beating General Motors to become the world’s second-largest automaker.

Fueling the growth are rising volumes in Europe and China, and introductions of over 100 models between now and the end of 2015, including new and updated SUVs for Volkswagen and Porsche.

Speaking of Porsche, the premium sports car brand’s profit earnings tripled to 2.58 billion euro last year, while those of VW and Audi fell to 2.89 billion and 5.03 billion, respectively. Overall revenue for Porsche totaled 14.3 billion euro on sales of 155,000 units worldwide.

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Audi Takes Lead From BMW In Global Premium Car Sales Wed, 12 Mar 2014 18:17:09 +0000 2015-Audi-A3-beauty-exterior-005

For the first time this year, BMW loses the best-selling premium brand crown to a rival as Audi squeaks past the Bavarians in the first two months of 2014 to take the title.

Automotive News reports Audi delivered 242,400 units in January and February of this year, 383 more than BMW; at the same time last year, BMW led Audi by 429 units in their nine-year period of dominance over the global premium car market.

Audi CEO Rupert Stadler appeared not to be impressed by the news, however, as he noted in the brand’s annual press conference this week:

We’re ahead of our two main rivals in the first two months, but this doesn’t really interest me much. Our focus is on further growth.

Said growth aims to be driven by the introduction of 17 new or revamped models this year — including the A3 sedan roll-out in the United States and China, as well as the refreshed A3 hatchback and TT — as part of a five-year, 22-billion-euro investment in the brand, with goal of surpassing BMW once and for all in global sales by 2020.

BMW sales chief Ian Robertson, for his part, was confident his employer would take back the crown soon enough:

The innovative new models coming out this year, such as the 2-series Active Tourer and 4-series Gran Coupe, will give us the momentum to keep growing in 2014.

The new models will likely help the Bavarians rule the market for a 10th consecutive year, selling a projected 1.77 million units in 2014 over Audi’s 1.66 million and Mercedes’s 1.56 million according to IHS Automotive. However, previous reports indicate that the United States will not receive the 2-Series Active Tourer, which is taking heat for its front-drive layout.

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Audi Invests In Synthetic Gasoline From Sugar Sat, 01 Feb 2014 08:33:57 +0000 Audis at an Oil Pump

Audi’s bio-fuel initiative is expanding into France through an investment by the automaker to Global Bioenergies, whose bio-isooctane could be the replacement for petroleum gasoline when the time comes to make the switch.

The bio-fuel is made from fermented sugar through genetic modification of E. coli bacteria to produce isobutane gas without poisoning the yeast utilized in the fermentation, an issue currently experienced in ethanol production. The longer-lasting process works with feedstocks like corn and sugarcane as well as straight sugar, and can also be adapted to use biomass such as high-glucose wood chips.

At the pump, bio-isooctane can go directly into a vehicle without modification to the engine and fuel-delivery system, or can be blended with petrogasoline in the same manner as E15 and E85. The biogasoline may also come with a lower price per gallon or litres, as the fuel can be produced much quicker and cheaper than ethanol and other bio-fuels.

For the moment, Global Bioenergies is building two working proof-of-concept production plants in Germany and France, whose total annual output is expected to be 100,000 litres. Audi’s investment will be used to help in the rollout of the new fuel as part of the automaker’s branded e-fuel strategy, with bio-isooctane completing the triad with Audi’s investments in ethanol and biodiesel for their complete lineup of vehicles.

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Review: 2014 Audi A7 Quattro TDI Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:33:58 +0000 IMG_0062

If horsepower is the charismatic star running back, torque is the less heralded offensive lineman. Horsepower gets most of the attention while torque goes about doing the grunt work. Heck, most people don’t even know whether it’s measured in foot-pounds or pound feet. It does, however, get the grunt work done. You wouldn’t imagine a car that weighs over two tons and has but 240 horsepower as the Audi A7 S Line Quattro TDI does to be able to achieve a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds. That’s because the 3 liter turbo diesel V6 also has 428 lb-ft of torque, most of it available in just about every driving situation. 



The base 2014 A7 TDI quattro is almost $67,000 and this car had about 15K worth of toys added. As the owner of a Chevy Volt once told me, nobody who is buying a $40,000 car is looking to save money on fuel. That literally goes more than double for a car that stickers out to be just shy of $82,000. The TDI A7 is not about great fuel mileage, though the figures are better than respectable, I recorded 26.7 mpg over 490 miles of mostly suburban and urban driving, and 32.3 on a 40 mile jaunt on the Interstate with cruise control set to 79-80 mph. Considering that it’s a big, heavy car, the fuel economy is remarkable.

If people aren’t going to buy the A7 TDI for fuel economy, then why are they going to buy it? In a word, range. As a recent coast-to-coast “record” drive showed, you can make great time on the road if you don’t have to stop to refuel. While I don’t think that most A7 TDI buyers will care that their car has annual fuel costs within spitting distance of those of the Dodge Dart I drove a couple of months ago, they will be interested in another figure on the A7 TDI’s Monroney sheet: 38 mpg highway. The A7 TDI’s fuel tank holds 19.2 gallons of low sulfur diesel fuel,  so that means that with a theoretical range of almost 730 miles, while you aren’t going to challenge any of Louie Mattar’s records, you will be able to make many trips non-stop. That’s enough range to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back without having to stop for fuel, and still have plenty of surplus fuel to tool around Vegas while you’re there.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Not having to stop as often for fuel and the minor inconvenience of finding a gas station with a diesel pump (2 of the 5 filling stations within a mile of my house have diesel fuel) are the primary reminders that you’re driving with a compression ignited engine. Sure, if you’re a gearhead, you can tell that the engine has a distinctive diesel clatter, and the tachometer redlines at 4,800 rpm (when warm, when cold it’s 4,200), but for the most part it drives completely normally. Normally, that is, for a car with that much torque.

There is another reminder that you’re driving a diesel, the A7′s stop-start system. Any stop-start system is going to be noticeable. Combustion engines shake when started and stopped, but diesels shake a little more, so when the stop-start system is activated and its algorithms call for shutting the engine off (it’s a complicated algorithm and I was never really sure when it would decide to shut off the motor) you get reminded that the A7 has a TDI under the hood. My guess is that the people who buy the A7 TDI want a little bit of a reminder that they’re driving a diesel so they won’t find that shake and rattle objectionable when they’re getting ready to roll.


Once in motion, all of that torque brings to mind words like effortless. You can accelerate from just about any prudent speed and even some imprudent ones (at least on public roads) as well. There’s no noticeable turbo lag, the longest you have to wait to go faster is when the ECU and eight speed Tiptronic transmission decide you need more leverage. The gearbox drops a cog or two and at that point the word evoked is locomotive.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The test car is an all-wheel-drive Quattro version in S Line trim. At first I thought the steering was a bit too easy driving around town but then I found the dynamic settings in the MMI infotainment system. You can select comfort, automatic, dynamic i.e. sport mode, and custom settings. Most of the time I drove in dynamic mode. The ride was stiffer than the Jaguar XF and XJ that I’ve tested, but not uncomfortably so. It handles well, though it’s a bit too large to say that it’s tossable. I generally didn’t drive anywhere near the limit, but while the steering is precise, and while it does have AWD, it’s still an FWD based Audi and it typically understeers a bit. When you do try to hang the back end out a bit, or enter a turn a little hot, the nannies are there to keep things on an even keel.


The was one flaw with the A7 TDI’s driving manners. It is sensitive to road grooves and expansion strips between lanes. The way the front tires grabbed expansion strips was so noticeable that I checked the tire pressures and they were indeed about 6 psi low on both fronts. Pumping them up to sticker specs made a big difference, but the A7 still danced a little on grooved pavement. I discussed this with our reviews editor, Alex Dykes, since he drives many more cars than I do every year, and Alex says that it’s something one finds with some European cars and that he’s seen the phenomenon come and go depending on the brand and model of tires used. The A7 TDI as tested was shod with 265/35 R20 Dunlop SP Winter Sport tires. I can’t tell you how sticky they are in snow or how well the Quattro system works in slippery conditions because though it was pretty cold out on Belle Isle taking the photos, we didn’t get any snow in Detroit till after they picked up the car.


Visibility was outstanding, helped by small triangular glass lights in the rear sail panels. Forward visibility was good and at night it was outstanding. Audi has been using lighting as a distinguishing feature both in terms of brand identifying LED layouts as well as technology. They’re currently trying to get approval for an intelligent lighting system that reacts to road and traffic conditions. In the meantime, the all-LED headlights on the A7 are the best I’ve ever used. Not only do they do an exceptionally good job lighting the path ahead when the road is straight, the combination of cornering lights and main headlamps that actively steer means that when the road curves, it will be well lit as well.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Other electronic gizmos worked just fine. The car has a collision avoidance system that also works with the adaptive cruise control so if you have the cruise activated, you simply cannot rear end someone. I tested it a couple of times, with my foot hovering over the brake pedal of course. I’m still undecided about autonomous automobiles, but the last collision I was in was my fault, rear ending someone while looking for an building address and I suppose it’s nice to know that the car will pay attention when you don’t. Still, it’s kind of eerie. The same braking effect is applied if you put the cruise into coast mode for longer than just a few seconds so out on the highway you practically won’t ever have to touch any pedals with your feet.


The MMI system, which uses a pop-up non-touch screen for a display and actual buttons and wheels to navigate, is intuitive enough that I didn’t have to RTFM even once to figure things out. Speaking of the pop-up display, since Jaguar came out with  shifter knobs that rise and HVAC vents that spin open upon power up, other luxury automakers have appreciated the need for a little theater, so not only does the A7′s infotaiment screen popup (it can be retracted if you want a smooth dashboard while driving), but also the tweeters for the Bang & Olufsen branded audio system rise up below the A pillars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

One thing that I didn’t like about the MMI system was that every time you shut off the car, it would default back to automatic ride mode. Also, and this is true about the Chrysler 300 S I drove not long ago, if you’re paying for the S badge on the side, I think you sort of expect an S button on the console, not have to use the infotainment settings. Another feature that I don’t like is how addresses are entered into the navigation system. You use the MMI knob to rotate through the alphabet and then select letters. It’s a bit awkward, like using a vintage Dymo labelmaker to enter data.


The way the MMI knob and buttons work on the infotainment system is a bit more intuitive. The audio system it controls is another feature of the car that is outstanding. Since Audi still offers a CD drive in addition to memory card slots and other audio sources, I popped in one of the discs in Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar box set and the closely mic’d percussion on Stucco Homes sounded great. It’s quite possibly the best car audio system that I’ve sampled, but then for the $5,900 it costs, you can buy some very nice home audio gear, so it should sound good. Surprisingly, considering all the inputs, it was disappointing that I couldn’t find a standard 1/8″ stereo jack or a USB power tap. My Android phone’s audio easily hooked up with the car, though the phone side of things was more iffy and sometimes it could not initialize the phone.


The surroundings for that good sound and theater are luxurious, if not sumptuous. The dashboard and door panels are a symphony of textures and a subtle use of color: leather grain (both real and polymer based), brushed aluminum, dark grey plastic, and wood with exposed grain. You want to run your hand across it all. The upholstery is black leather, so the light colored headliner brightens up what might otherwise be a dark cabin. Fit and finish was perfect, but this A7 was part of a group of TDI powered cars that Audi designated for the press fleet, all of them white, with large “Clean Diesel TDI” decals on the flanks, so while the fleet management company folks told me they weren’t doing anything special, it’s possible that the A7 had received some special detailing. The seats were very comfortable, no complaints from my bad back. In back there’s plenty of leg room, but with the “four door coupe” roofline, anyone over 5’9″ tall will probably get to know that headliner well. That sexy rear end comes at a price.


Speaking of which, while I’m loathe to use the term “four door coupe” that automakers seem to love, there is a term that Audi seems to be reluctant to use: hatchback. Yes, that sexy rear end is a hatch. A very large and heavy hatch. Not surprisingly, Audi stashed a power lift/close button inside the jamb. The struts needed to hold up the large hatch are so stiff that if you try to close it manually, you’ll end up using much of your weight.


As mentioned, the ride is comfortable, though windnoise from the back part of the car was noticeable to both myself and a passenger. I kept checking to see if I’d left the glass moonroof open.


I also thought that I once left the hatch open, but it turns out I was just confused by the pictogram to activate the rear decklid spoiler. Normally it works automatically and will pop up at higher highway speeds (on a brief burst on an onramp I saw it in the rear view mirror somewhere north of 85 mph), but I confess to some automotive douchebaggery once I figured out how to raise it manually, but only when I was in front of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.


Everything was so good on the A7 TDI that I was left looking for things to criticize and you’ll note that most of the negative comments are for minor things like how tThe trip computer that displays in the middle of the gauge package could have more information. The instrument panel, by the way, is very nicely laid out, with that computer display flanked by round tachometer and speedometers, which are cleverly angled towards the driver.


At the top of this post I said that the A7 TDI is almost too perfect. I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias from knowing that it is a German car, but there was almost a clinical way in which is does everything so, so well. The latest version of the Forza racing video game/sim avoids the so-called “uncanny valley” effect in a lot of digital art and animation in part by ensuring that surfaces are not perfect, just as real surfaces in the real world have imperfections. I suppose that it’s a good thing that we live in an age where cars can be so good that you almost miss the endearing imperfections of earlier ages.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Turbos, Diesels Rule Top 10 Engine List in 2014 Fri, 13 Dec 2013 11:30:57 +0000 Audi 3.0 TFSI Engine

‘Tis the season for year-end Top 10 lists celebrating and lamenting all things in the world of life, and the automotive industry is no exception. Ward’s Automotive has announced its list of the 10 best engines for 2014, and it’s a turbodiesel-intercooled festival of power this year.

The winners on the 20th anniversary of this list are as follows:

  • 3.0L TFSI Supercharged DOHC V6 (Audi S5)
  • 3.0L Turbodiesel DOHC I6 (BMW 535d)
  • 3.0L Turbodiesel DOHC V6 (Ram 1500 EcoDiesel)
  • 83 kW Electric Motor (Fiat 500e)
  • 1.0L EcoBoost DOHC I3 (Ford Fiesta)
  • 2.0L Turbodiesel DOHC I4 (Chevrolet Cruze Diesel)
  • 6.2L OHV V8 (Chevrolet Corvette Stingray)
  • 3.5L SOHC V6 (Honda Accord)
  • 2.7L DOHC H6 boxer (Porsche Cayman)
  • 1.8L Turbocharged DOHC I4 (Volkswagen Jetta)

Of note, Ford’s three-pot EcoBoost marks the first time an automaker won a spot on the list with only three cylinders, while Fiat scores a first-time win with its 83 kW electric motor found in the 500e. On the other end, only two engines from last year’s list returned — Audi’s 3.0-liter TFSI and Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 — while six of the 10 are oil-burners, a first for Ward’s.

General Motors scored two wins this year for the first time since 2008 with the Cruze’s 2-liter turbodiesel I4 and the new Corvette Stingray’s 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8. Among trucks, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is the sole winner, based on the strength of its 3-liter turbodiesel stump-puller.

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BMW Focused On i Subbrand Over Short-Term Monetary Gains Tue, 05 Nov 2013 14:25:10 +0000 02-2014-bmw-i3In lieu of short-term monetary gains over their competitors at Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (via Audi), BMW is spending its earnings on building up their i sub-brand through the city-focused i3 and the plug-in hybrid supercar i8.

As a result of their focus on the cutting edge, and in spite of demand for the brand’s 3 Series, the German automaker posted a 3.7 percent decline in third-quarter earnings, pulling in $2.6 billion this time around. In an effort to stay ahead of their hard-charging competition (both of whom aim to bury BMW in the sales war by the end of this decade), BMW will introduce 25 new models during the 2013 and 2014 model years, 10 of whom are completely new. In contrast, Mercedes aims to release a baker’s dozen of all-new Teutonic goodness by 2020, while Audi plans to add a few more numbers to its Q series of SUVs.

Regarding the i3, 8,000 orders have already been sent to dealers in the United States, Europe and China, prompting BMW to make more of the EV in time for its debut in European showrooms November 16; American and Chinese customers will get theirs sometime in the first half of 2014. The price of admission for the i3 on our shores will be $41,350, with an optional 650cc 2-cylinder engine — whose sole purpose to keep the electric power going for an additional 80 to 100 miles on top of the 80 to 100 miles the electric-only model travels — priced around $4,000.

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Nurburgring Diaries, Part II – Audi A3 1.4TFSI Sportback Wed, 16 Oct 2013 12:45:42 +0000 IMG_3282

As soon as I arrived at the rental counter in Stuttgart, I realized I’d made a fatal miscalculation. In the weeks and months preceding my trip, I thought the task would be easy – obtain two back-to-back rentals of vehicles that aren’t sold in the US. Simple. But that fickle foe of the flat-earth car enthusiast, globalization, had conspired against me. Turns out that despite my “premium class” upgrade, the EU-spec vehicles made from pure unobtainium that I’d reserved failed to materialize. Instead, my options in Dusseldorf – our first roadside waypoint on this European Vacation® – were limited to either a Toyota GT86 or an Audi A3 Sportback. Great, I thought. Two cars that, despite being sold in slightly different configurations abroad, were still known quantities back home. I went with the GT86 for the first leg because, well, I wanted to tear into it on the mother of all public racecourses, the Nurburgring. You can read how that went here. I also figured that in Stuttgart, there’d be a larger selection of rental vehicles to choose from, since the city’s slightly more populous and naturally the airport must be larger, too.

Whoops – the airport’s not larger. Less passenger traffic by half, as it turns out. In fact, the rental garage has only about a third as many cars as we witnessed in Dusseldorf, and not nearly as many interesting ones. Sauntering up to the counter, I am offered – a Toyota GT86. S#*%! After much begging and pleading my options open up to a Ford Focus diesel, a BMW 3-series, and… Audi A3 Sportback. Wonderful. Well, let’s take the car least like something we get in the US (for the moment) and hope it turns out to be interesting enough to write about.


I say “the least like something we get in the US” because, for the moment, the US doesn’t get this car. Nor are we likely to ever get the 1.4TFSI-powered Sportback version I drove since, with 138 blazing ponies and front wheel drive, it doesn’t quite fit in with the upscale-techie-hip-urban-luxury vibe Audi’s been cultivating in this country for some time now, with moderate success. In Germany, you purchase this car when you’ve graduated from junior to lower-middle management and need the requisite notch up from your Golf to prove it. In America, I’m not quite sure who buys the A3. Not too many people, mind you, but some people. Probably the same people that used to drive Golfs and want more or less the same thing, but with a bit more cachet and a nicer interior. Such is the Audi A3’s raison d’etre, to serve as a cleanly styled and practical stepping stone to other brand purchases down the line, like the A4, A6 and (step on enough corporate throats and cross your fingers) A8.


Anyway, I’ll dispense with the build-up and give you the car itself – in all its glory. It’s a nice looking thing, the third-generation Type 8V A3 Sportback. I always prefer a hatch to a trunk, so while the A3 sedan we’ll be getting in a few months isn’t exactly frumpy in its 15/16ths scale A4 sheetmetal, it’s just a bit too “been there, done that” for my eyes. Flinty headlights and requisite LED running lamps give the new car a more slimmed down, sleek appearance compared with the previous 8P-generation car. Inside, the Audi is a clear step up in both design and materials over its Mk7 Golf platform mate.



Comfortable cloth sports seats (good luck ever seeing those again in a US-bound Audi) provided all-day comfort, while the rest of the major touch points in the cabin were all leather-trimmed. There’s a clear absence of buttons and clutter in the A3, with everything besides basic climate controls being handled via the MMI knob and motorized display screen. Everything functions intuitively enough and it’s a nice place to spend time; in traditional Audi fashion, the interior is likely to be the trump card for over BMW and Mercedes-Benz competitors for many shoppers.


Out on the road, the A3 continues to acquit itself quite well. Around town and trundling up to highway speeds, the 1.4TFSI builds speed smoothly and predictably, with little turbo lag or flat spots. Nor will it ignite your loins on the way there, with a quoted 0-60 time of around 8 seconds. Autobahn left lane velocities were achieved with much less fuss than in the Toyota GT86 – the A3 felt more composed at high speeds (130 mph indicated) than the Toyobaru did, with obvious care put into wind and tire noise suppression and overall stability.



Granted, the Toyota got to those speeds more quickly, but once there, the Japanese coupe was far less happy. It’s one thing to “feel” the German-honed qualities of a car on pedestrian American highways and byways, but out where they are truly in their element, you gain a newfound respect for the difference in where engineering attentions are paid for the Audi versus the Toyota. It might not make a lick of difference in terms of long-term resilience or the ability to crack 200k miles without putting a dent in your retirement account, but at the very least, for regular Autobahn cruising it’d be hard to recommend the Toyota over the Audi.


In terms of driving involvement though, there’s no contest. The A3 is as isolated as the GT86 is involving. Being that they’re not competitors, these differences are beyond academic. But it highlights an interesting quandary that cross-shoppers of the upcoming Mk7 GTI and FR-S/BRZ will face – what type of driving pleasure do they value? The damped responses and rounded edges of the GTI, a car that will cruise happily at 150mph all day long and take up a back road in stride, but leave the driver wondering whether all that ground he just covered was actually curvy or straight? Or a car that will strain every sinew in the hunt for more enjoyment and send all that feedback directly to its driver? It’s an interesting difference, and one I felt was worth pointing out.


Unlike the GTI, the A3 is no hot hatch. Nor does it pretend to be. It is comfortable transport that’s as happy pootling around in congested urban centers and shutting itself off at every stoplight to save fuel as it is soaking up the autobahn at 130 mph. The perfect car for Germany, then, and a pretty damn good car for the rest of Western Europe and Asia. It’ll be interesting to see how that character translates when it makes its way back across the pond to the US. Hopefully the larger engines and heavier options necessitated by our new car marketplace don’t blunt the inherent “rightness” of the relatively basic version tested here.


2013 Audi A3 Sportback S-Line 1.4 TFSI 6MT (Mad-tite Euro Edition)

Base Price: 28,700 EUR

Powertrain: 1.4-Liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive – 138 horsepower, 184 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 31 mpg US

This vehicle was rented, insured and fueled on the author’s dime. Photos by the author.

DSC_0892 DSC_0893 DSC_0894 DSC_0895 DSC_0896 DSC_0897 DSC_0939 DSC_0940 DSC_0941 DSC_0942 DSC_0943 DSC_0944 IMG_3282 IMG_3284 IMG_3286 ]]> 18
Review: 2013 Audi S6 Thu, 20 Jun 2013 13:00:27 +0000 IMG_0195
Audi first tossed us the keys to its S6 with the SuperBowl mega-ad “Prom”. Premise: dateless kid gets handed Dad’s super-sedan for the evening, kisses the prom queen, gets punched by the prom king, snorts around town with a big grin on his face.

The message was clear: buy this car, put a little excitement in your life. What a load of cobblers.
It’s a beautiful car though. To my mind, Audi does the whole kickboxer-in-a-suit best of ze German manufacturers. You could nearly call it subtle; all classed up in charcoal wool but with cauliflower ears of aluminum.

Of course, the grille looks just plain ridiculous with that mandatory front plate floating out there like the pricetag on a Marshall amp. Somebody in Ingolstadt is a big fan of the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15. Or basking sharks. Or venetian blinds. Or all three.

There’s something molluscan about those all-LED headlights as well. I like the lit-up eyeliner effect, but what with light-emitting-diodes glued on everything down to a Nissan Sentra (where they look like permanent Christmas lights in a trailer-park) it’s hardly a talking point anymore.
Anyway, it’s a neat-looking car from the back, which is the view you’ll have of it if you’re driving anything short of a Shelby Mustang (or if Baruth’s giving you a lift in a rental Camry – wink). Mein Gott, this thing hauls keister!

Outfitted with the optional Bang and Olufsen stereo-system, twin NCC-1701 Enterprises deploy from the dashboard on startup, the better with which to bathe your ears in crappy high-compression MP3-quality audio. Choose a CD instead and the octave-spanning mitts of Sergei Rachmaninov might be dancing along the dash, or you could crank up the sat-radio and try to figure out what Nicki Minaj has against gardening implements.
Quilted seats, brushed aluminum trim – why do people buy Bentleys again? Seriously. What a lovely place to slosh your internal organs around in. Sorry about the PR photo.

Previously, Audi’s all-weather M5-equivalent had two more cylinders and two fewer turbos. The V10 will be missed by some, but not by those who remember the less than stellar way it combined Lambo fuel consumption with limp-noodle torque. Think of it as a sort of LM002-equivalent: neither that Frankenstein’s -12 nor the Gallardo-sourced -10 were meant to be harnessed to such a heavy ox-cart.
As luck would have it, I stepped right out of a 2004 RS6 into this modern twin-turbo Teuton and it’s basically the same car: a ridiculously complicated leather-and-steel straight-jacket with which to bind Newton’s laws and bend them to the driver’s will. It’s a Fifty Shades of Grey physics textbook.

With the new machine, you get a more-efficient 4.0L V8 fitted with forced induction – something Audi’s always done well – and despite only moderate peak torque gains over the old S6, the increase in forward shove is huge. 406lb/ft of shove slots in around 1400 rpm, and while your co-VP is still deciding between Sport and Sport+ in their M-car, you’ve simply wound up the snails to their full four hunnerd n’ twenny horses and walked outta there.
The Audi is not without its own pre-flight checks, but simply flicking the selector into Dynamic should do the trick. The steering is artificially sweetened. The air-suspension prepares for attack. The somewhat-laggy dual-clutch transmission steps up the snap-downs. All this stuff will be broken four minutes after the warranty expires, so enjoy it while you can.

Ripping up a curving mountain road reveals a complete indifference for driver-based idiocy. You know the whole steering-wheel and accelerator pedal on a string Speed Secrets thing? The Audi takes the scissors to any thread of careful throttle management or unwinding at the apex – kill ‘em all and let God sort it out seems to be the order of the day. It’s a GT-R with two extra doors and a heritage of coil-pack failures.
For me, that’s a problem. The heads-up-display ticks through the numbers with alarming rapidity, but there’s little to do besides steer left and right, or jam on the brakes when needed – these could stop whatever hyperbolic metaphor you prefer: a freight train, the Earth’s rotation, volcanic eruption, the tides, tectonic drift, space, time.

Here, crawling up into an altitude where wet snow still clings to the mountain like the “before” shot of a Head n’ Shoulders commercial, the big Audi’s poise is that of a show-shoed Siberian Tiger. A muted whuffling issues from quad exhausts like the warning cough of a big cat about to spring, and away it sleds again to hurtle back down the hill like an avalanche with heated seats.
Fast? Oh yeah. But its only the king of the prom, and somewhere out there a guy in a BRZ just planted one on your girl. You can black his eye if you want – this thing can haul off and land a haymaker on pretty much anyone.

Poise, power, comfort, luxury, and the nagging sensation that someone out there is having more fun than you are. For a lot less.

Audi Canada provided the vehicle tested and insurance.

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Review: 2013 Audi allroad Fri, 12 Oct 2012 17:26:03 +0000

If you haven’t been paying attention to my life story (discretely woven into my reviews), I’ll spell it out clearly: I live in what is considered to be a temperate rainforest on the California coast, the nearest asphalt or concrete surface is over a mile away, and I have a deep (some say questionable) love for station wagons. If you combine this with liberal political leanings, my DINK (Dual Income, No Kids) status and a passion for Costco runs, I am the target market for an off-road wagon. Enter the 2013 Audi allroad. (No, for some reason “allroad” doesn’t get a capital letter.) Audi invited Michael Karesh to a launch event, event a few months ago, but what’s the XC70′s only competition like to live with for a week? Let’s find out.

Click here to view the embedded video.


If you remember the original A6-based (2001-2005) allroad, this isn’t it. That allroad remains a European delicacy not available on our shores. Instead we get the European A4 allroad (but we drop the A4 prefix in America) which replaces the A4 Avant as the only Audi wagon on sale in the United States. While the new allroad is a bit more than just a jacked up A4 Avant, it’s far less of a transformation than the A6 allroad. First Audi lifted the Avant by 1.5 inches to allow for 7.1 inches of ground clearance, then they borrowed the wider track from the A5 to compensate for the height increase. The added width meant the body was too narrow so they added some rugged plastic wheel arches. To to convince shoppers this is more than just a “jacked-up-station-wagon,” Audi fitted a baleen inspired front grille to the A4, because in Audi-speak cars have horizontal grilles and SUVs have vertical schnozes. Transformation complete.


While Audi butched up the exterior of the A4 for allroad duty, little has been done to the cabin. Inside we find the same A4 interior introduced in 2008. While the A4′s cabin was class leading in 2008 and it has aged well, it does show its age when compared to the newer Volvo and BMW interiors, especially in the black-on-black-on-black color scheme of our tester. While I found nothing wrong with the trappings, I found myself continually asking if the plastics that surrounded me were fitting of the $40,495-$57,170 price range. One thing is for sure, the camel leather and brown dash combination with oak wood trim make the interior a far more attractive place to spend your time.

The natural competition for a soft-roading wagon that will set you back 50-large is limited to the Volvo XC70 AWD which ranges from $35,450 to $54,754. Comparisons are tricky because the allroad has shrunk over the past 6 years going from an A6 to an A4 based wagon and the XC70 has grown from an S60 to an S80 wagon. As a result the allroad’s seats are more compact than the XC70′s Barcalounger-sized thrones, the difference is most obvious in the rear where the allroad has troubles swallowing four adults comfortably. The cargo situation is similar with the XC70 swallowing 33 cubes of widgets with the seats in place and 72 with the rear thrones folded while the allroad’s cargo hauling rings in at 27/50.


The Germans have cornered the market in joystick based infotainment systems since BMW first introduced iDrive in 2001. Since then Audi has been in a gadget arms race with the Roundel. Taken as a whole, MMI isn’t as intuitive as iDrive with more confusing menus and illogical button placement. While I’m sure you would get used to it over time, even after a week I found myself needing to stare at the array of buttons for way too long to find what I needed. See that little knob in the upper left of the picture above? That’s the on/off button, volume knob and track forward/backward toggle. You probably don’t want to know what happens if you spill your Slurpee on there.

On the flip side, MMI has probably one of the most advanced feature sets on the market thanks to their well-executed Google integration. While iDrive allows you to search for Google results (as do a number of other systems), MMI takes it a step further and overlays your traditional map images with Google satellite imagery and even allows you to zoom in and view Google Street View images so you can creep your neighbors. On the down side, the Google map function requires a $15-$30 a month subscription after the first few years for the built-in cellular modem, and when traveling at freeway speeds the system has troubles downloading maps fast enough to keep up leaving you with a blank screen at times.

Since the XC70 is the logical competition, a comparison to Volvo’s Sensus system is inevitable. Volvo’s system lacks the online data, app integration and Google snazz that MMI brings to the table, but it counters with a considerably easier to use system. Volvo’s screen size and graphic quality is easily on par with MMI and in sharp contrast to MMI, most of the system’s commands can be fully utilized via the steering wheel button which means you eyes are off the road less.


Nestled inside the “classically Audi” (read: long) front overhand is a 2.0L turbo charged four-cylinder engine. This 2.0L TFSI (in Audi speak) is a rework of the classic 2.0L turbo engine that Volkswagen and Audi have had on the books for a while. Despite having the latest in direct injection and variable valve timing tech, the engine puts out just 211HP. Thankfully torque is on par with the other entries in the Euro D segment at 258lb-ft from 1,500-4,200RPM. Sending the power to all four wheels is a ZF 8-speed automatic and Audi’s Quattro AWD system. Like many in the Audi lineup, this system is now programmed to send 60% of the power to the rear wheels under most situations. The rear bias delivers a driving feel more similar to a RWD vehicle than Quattros of the past.

Pitted against Volvo’s XC70, the allroad is livelier than Volvo’s base 3.2L inline six thanks to the turbo, the XC70′s curb weight and Volvo’s 6-speed automatic. Rather unexpectedly however, the XC70 T6 with 300 turbocharged horses and 325lb-ft of torque is the performance leader in this shoot out. If 300HP in your Swedish sled is insufficient, $1,495 will bump the T6 to 325HP and 354lb-ft. Volvo of course continues to use a FWD biased Haldex system to send power to the rear. While the system isn’t capable of sending more than 50% of the power to the rear wheels, this fifth-generation Haldex system spends more time than ever in AWD mode making the system’s FWD heritage unnoticeable in 99% of driving situations.


Don’t get too excited about those performance numbers from the Volvo just yet. When you’re out on the road the XC70 is faster in a straight line, dispatching 60 in 5.6 seconds (T6 Polestar) vs the allroad’s 6.3 second time, but the extra 261lbs, taller ride height and skinnier/higher profile tires mean when the road bends, you’ll be seeing the XC70 in the allroad’s rear view mirror. That being said, the allroad feels less confident out on the road than the XC70. Why? Mostly because that engine is hanging out in front of the front axle. The weight balance, coupled with the rear wheel bias makes oversteer and understeer close neighbors in the allroad. While I found the dynamics entertaining, even pleasing, I know a few drivers that found it disconcerting and preferred the XC70′s understeer-all-the-time dynamics.

Road noise and engine noise in the allroad were higher than I expected even on smooth roads. We can probably chalk this up to A4 platform’s age and the wide 245-width tires, but at these price points I expected things to be quieter. BMW’s new 2.0L turbo engine is a pinnacle of four-cylinder refinement, this is not something that can be said of the Audi mill which sent more vibrations into the cabin than a number of modern economy cars. This is another area where the XC70 comes out ahead as even Volvo’s anemic base engine is a smooth inline six.

Out on the trail, its obvious that Volvo and Audi’s missions were different. The XC70′s higher profile tires, 1.2-inch higher ground clearance and shorter front overhang meant that despite having an AWD system that many in the industry describe as “less sophisticated,” the XC70 is better equipped to handle mild off-roading than the allroad. When the road gets icy, the Haldex system is slower to respond than the Quattro’s always-engaged AWD system to send power front/rear but Volvo fights back with a traction control system, that was far more willing to send power left/right on either axle.

With a starting price of $40,495, the allroad is $3,200 more than the 2012 A4 Avant it replaced, $4,150 more than an XC70 3.2 and $395 more than the powerful XC70 T6. Audi’s premium pricing doesn’t just stop at the base points however. Should you want a nav system in your allroad, expect to shell out $46,795 for the Premium Plus trim with Audi Connect which widens the gap to $1,100 over the XC70 T6. Adjusting for feature content further widens the divide to between $2,590 and $4,595 in favor of the Swede. After a week with the allroad I was still unable to figure out who it is really for. Despite my rural lifestyle, I have never honestly felt the need for a jacked-up AWD vehicle that couldn’t tow 7,500lbs. When pitted against the Volvo competition, the Audi has trouble justifying a larger price tag due to an unrefined engine and reduced soft-road ability. If I lived in Europe, the allroad might make more sense to me (taking into account my love of wagons) but as it is, the allroad ends up being an expensive landing at the wrong airport. Maybe it really is time to say goodbye to the Euro wagon?


Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.3 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.9 @ 93 Seconds

Average Fuel Economy: 23.5MPG over 811 miles


2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exterior, rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Exteruir, wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Engine, 2.0L TFSI Turbo, 211HP, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, MMI controlls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, HVAC Controlls, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seat HVAC vents, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, rear seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Audi Allroad, cargo area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail


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Review: 2012 Audi A7 Thu, 27 Sep 2012 14:00:12 +0000 After I went to California and induced some dude at Toyota to loan me a Hot Lava Orange Scion FR-S earlier in the month, I figured I’d see if Audi’s PR types had forgotten how I compared the R8 to my hooptiefied ’92 Civic. Sure enough, Audi’s institutional memory proved to have some threadbare spots, and so I was able to arrange for the use of an Audi A7 for my trip to California for the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing 24 Hours of LeMons at Thunderhill Raceway. That meant a lot of rural highway driving, a lot of loading of race equipment into the cargo area, and exactly zero pushing-the-edge-of-the-performance-envelope 11/10ths-tyle driving. We’ll follow up Mr. Karesh’s impressions of the A7 from last year with a few of my own.
First of all, the idea of a car with a bootsplash screen when you fire it up— not to mention the 10-second delay before all systems are ready— tells you more than any single cue that we’ve gone past the era of computer-enhanced vehicles and into the computers-on-wheels era. I haven’t looked at the wiring diagram (i.e., I didn’t feel like spending a couple of months navigating the Audi bureaucratic labyrinth in order to avoid spending a bunch of my own cash for a shop manual), but I’ll bet this car boasts plenty of multiplexed control systems. We’ll get back to some of the implications of this a bit later in this review, because right now I want to talk about good old-fashioned switches.
See, regardless of what goes between a switch and the device it controls, be it a length of wire or a digital control unit, you still have a brute-force physical electrical contact that a human touch will control. The A7 has a bewildering quantity of switches available to the driver; in fact, it has so many that I made bad LeMons drivers count them as a penalty during the race.
So, what happens when schmutz gets into the switch contacts, when corrosion and normal mechanical wear take their toll a few years down the line? I’m not saying that Volkswagen Group products have a well-documented history of electrical-system glitches stretching back decades, because that gets us into anecdotal territory best explored by our readers, but the sheer number of such opportunities for failure here means that maddening electrical gremlins may crop up early on in the A7 ownership experience. Right, that’s not what new-car reviews are for, so let’s move on.
When I got this car, I was all set to make a very clever comparison between Apple and Audi, based on my observations that the crossover between owners of products from both companies is so high. However, that idea crashed like a Quadra 650 showing a Sad Mac when I saw the head-spinning complexity of this car’s controls and displays; take a look at about 10% of the information available to the driver under ordinary conditions. Steve Jobs figured out that ordinary users of electronics (e.g., your grandma) don’t want complexity. They don’t even want on/off controls, it turns out, because they don’t want to learn new stuff. If Jobs had consulted on the design of this car, it would have about six controls and one big primary-color gauge showing Driving Situation Quality or some such Cupertinonian metric.
However, the thing that Audi products do have in common with Apple products is compelling design. The A7 is beautiful, of course (just as the packaging around your new Macbook is beautiful), and it features intimidatingly correct ergonomics throughout. At this point, we need to think about the person the A7 buyer wants to be; in my mind, this person is a man with cruelly small rimless glasses who works as a “creative” in some discipline that requires him to be conversant in the work of impenetrable philosophers like Lacan, while demonstrating insider knowledge of obscure facets of urban popular culture (say, the acid house scene of Minsk). He lives in an edgy neighborhood in some unearthly expensive city (Helsinki, Singapore, etc.) and he experiences physical pain when exposed to a piece of bad design. In other words, the kind of guy who always made me feel like a total ignorant, mouth-breathing schlub in grad school and even today reduces me to a state of excessive italicization. I’m not saying this is what actual Audi buyers really are, any more than real-world Corvette buyers match the idealized Corvette owner (no, we’re not going there… this time).
Unfortunately, Audi’s need to reduce the level of existential terror in its target demographic while keeping the sticker price of the A7 below six figures (the car I drove lists at $68,630) means that there’s a lot of cool-looking shit that gives off a strong “I’m gonna break” vibe. Say, the plastic covers that hide the unsightly hinge mechanism on the hatch; 15 years ago, when deconstructionist thought was the postmodern flavor-of-the-month, you could get away with mechanical innards showing. Not today.
Still, though, we get back to that good-design thing wherever one looks in the A7. These little tie-downs in the cargo area would get a lot of use, were I to daily-drive an A7. Yeah, sure, they’re more fragile than they need to be, but Audi seems to believe their drivers would feel that their senses had been flayed with an electrified cat-o-nine-tails if they caught sight of some dowdy J.C. Whitney-grade tie-down.
The cargo area beneath the hatch is usefully large; in fact, I was able to fit more LeMons Supreme Court bribe booze in here than I was able to fit in the ’11 Escalade.
The power hatch was kind of neat at first, but then became utterly maddening once I realized that all opening and closing of the hatch must be done by the car, at its own pace. When I tried to close it manually and felt the car refuse to allow such manhandling, I felt shamed. Shamed like I was some gristly sunburned toothless uranium prospector in Nevada bashing the tailgate of my ’61 IHC Travelall, after rinsing my bloody gums with a deep swill of generic vodka out of a plastic bottle, and a stern German engineer caught me at it and frowned sadly at the spectacle.
My feelings of disapproval in the view of imaginary cold-eyed German engineers just grew as the weekend with the A7 progressed, because this car knows better. For example, those who read LeMons Judge Magazine’s review of the Escalade Platinum Hybrid may recall that the Cadillac did pretty well as the mobile sound unit in the Macho Man Penalty. Not so with the A7. I cued up “Macho Man” on the iPod, made the miscreant drivers don the hats and mustaches, and began a disco-dancing tour of the Thunderhill Raceway paddock. The E30-driving Macho Men weren’t putting their hearts into it, so I did what any self-respecting LeMons Supreme Court Judge does at that moment: popped open the driver’s door to harangue them. Unfortunately, the programmers of the A7 decided— in the name of sicherheit— that opening the driver’s door should apply the parking brake, and the Macho Men ended up staggering into the Audi’s rear bumper. After that, the car remained bitter and resentful over my scandalous breach of common sense, ignoring the gearshift’s position, turning down the music, and so on. Naturally, this got me to thinking about the mischief that could be caused by nihilistic hackers, were they to get into the A7′s code; we’ll discuss those possibilities in a later post.
Now that we’ve veered into (or at least glanced off of) the subject of the sound system, the A7′s standard “Multi-Media Interface” setup sounds very good and has a less frustrating interface than most systems I’ve seen in my somewhat limited experience of 21st-century automotive entertainment-system technology. There’s less lag between input and result than in most such systems (though a $150 smartphone manages to have no delay in its touchscreen input). The only real weakness is the lack of serious audio power; I felt that I needed to listen to a lot of bass-heavy Massive Attack to really get into the European-ness of the A7, but even top volume wasn’t loud enough. I suspect that the system is capable of pushing more watts through its excellent-quality speakers, but that an invisible German safety monitor knows that excessively loud music is deleterious to one’s health and keeps audio levels down.
On the plus side, the interior of the A7 looks gorgeous. Everything you see and/or touch is made of top-shelf materials, and the overall effect is of being in the totally sensible (yet gangsta-grade) office of the Lacan-quoting dude with the Cruelly Small Glasses.
Just look at the visual composition of this door panel (and pay no mind to the 29 electrical contacts in all those switches that will spend their lives enduring temperature extremes, vibration, and moisture).
The back seat works as well, though I didn’t get a chance to put any very tall passengers back there. On the subject of comfort, the A7 delivers a reasonably smooth ride for such a sporty-handling machine, but the road noise is pretty bad when you’re on not-so-smooth rural two-laners (as I was for much of the weekend). In fact, the tire noise was so loud I had to wonder whether there might have been some problem with the tires on this 11,000-mile press car.
I didn’t come close to flogging the hell out of this thing and learning all that race-y stuff that automotive journalists are supposed to write about, but the A7 certainly is a powerful and asphalt-gripping beast.
The 310-horse supercharged V6 and 8-speed automatic deliver respectable and usable power, roaring safely through even the hairiest passing situations involving drunks towing horse trailers behind space-saver-spare-equipped F-150s on State Highway 162. Because only Alfa Romeo seems capable of making a V6 that sounds great, you don’t get the kind of engine noise that a good V8 or I6 gives you, but the power is real. In 345 miles of mostly highway driving, I achieved a genuine 23.35 miles per gallon (of 91-octane), which is about five MPGs better than I’d expect from a biggish car with this kind of acceleration.
The navigation system, with its Google Maps integration, manages to be both cool-looking and helpful, though the interface is as busy as everything else the A7 driver sees.
Could I see driving the A7 every day? Sure, I’d be willing to put up with the Safety Police overseers and road noise in exchange for the blown V6 power, all-wheel-drive, and cargo-hauling practicality. However, I’d be sweating over the complexity and expecting hefty annual maintenance bills once the car hit about age four.

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Review: 2012 Audi TT RS Mon, 16 Jul 2012 13:00:30 +0000

Anyone who’s been paying attention knows that the Audi TT is based on the VW Golf, which can be had for under $18,000. And it can seem silly when people buy an econobox then pour multiples of the purchase price into mods. When Audi does the same to create the $57,725 TT RS, how can we take the end result seriously?

Audiphiles will notice the subtle changes Audi has made to distinguish the RS from other TTs, and approve. The rest of us will see an Audi TT with a tasteful, non-retractable wing spoiler and gorgeous five-spoke alloy wheels. We might notice the enlarged intakes beneath the headlamps. There’s nothing to proclaim to those not in the know that they’re in the presence of a 360-horsepower bullet. Aside the big grille that started them all, outrageous styling details just aren’t the Audi way. The TT itself remains as iconic and beautiful as the day it sent car designers around the world racing back to their sketch pads. The car’s shape authentically communicates its front-engine, all-wheel-drive layout.

Little of the extra money over the $39,175 base TT went into the RS’s interior. The nappa seats (with faux suede center panels and contrasting stitching) and door panel inserts pass muster, but much of the rest looks and feels suited to a car half the TT RS’s price. Such is the danger with any special performance model where over $16,000 goes towards upgraded hardware. This said, little seems cheap, just purposeful (though the clicky buttons on the base audio system wouldn’t make the cut at Hyundai). Amenities are limited; a universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, and heated power front seats are standard, but keyless ignition and driver seat memory aren’t even available. One owner commented that a sunroof would have been nice to let some light into the dark interior. Also, Audi’s latest infotech hasn’t yet made it to the TT. A note for all auto makers: metal has no place on top of a manual shift knob. You’ll want driving gloves on hot, sunny days.

The front seats are very supportive and moderately comfortable (as is often the case with my particular back, no position of the four-way lumbar felt quite right). The back seat is headroom-limited to preteens and height-challenged adults, and these only if the people up front are willing and able to shunt forward a few inches (we had two kids in back for one short trip, not something we’d want to do daily). But there is at least a back seat for those who sometimes need one, and it folds in two sections to nearly double the 13 cubic foot cargo area. The TT’s windows aren’t large, but they all start low enough and the pillars are thin enough that you can easily see all around the car from the driver’s seat, in sharp contrast to a 370Z (the predecessor of which lifted more than a little styling inspiration from the TT). The forward position of the windshield header can obstruct traffic signals, but this lesser crime doesn’t crimp confidence once underway.

Make that rapidly underway. Volkswagen’s rarely praised long-stroke 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine has been boosted and heavily modified to yield 360 horsepower (at 5,500 rpm) and 343 pound-feet of torque (at 1,650), a healthy 95-horsepower bump over the already quick four-cylinder TTS. Ford’s EcoBoost V6 produces similar numbers at a higher torque peak—with an extra liter of displacement. I’ve driven plenty of highly pressurized engines that feel much less torquey at low rpm than their specs suggest they ought to. A torque peak south of 2,000 rpm often doesn’t mean much in practice. This isn’t such a case. The TT RS mill explodes out of even the tightest corners. Wind it out, and the shove only grows more forceful, with a throaty burr from the exhaust once over 3,500. The sound isn’t that of sophisticated machinery, but it’s also far from agricultural and clearly not that of an inline four. Hit the Sport button to open up the dual mode exhaust sooner (it still doesn’t drone when cruising). The information center suggests that boost builds gradually, but there’s never a sensation of lag, only a tsunami-class surge.

In other TTs a clutch is no longer available. In the TT RS, it’s mandatory. Clutch and shifter efforts are fairly high, but their action is so fluid and precise that this meatiness energizes rather than tires. The slop-free electro-mechanical steering has a similar character, with a more direct feel and more nuanced feedback than I’ve experienced in any other recent Audi. Pushing the car hard through turns, your fingertips and the seat of your pants know exactly which direction the front tires are pointing and how much they’re slipping. At highway speeds, the steering becomes very firm and virtually locked on center (with sport mode bumping it up another notch). Oddly, the one car I’ve driven in the past year with similar steering was a Cadillac, albeit the much-praised CTS-V.

Unlike with the CTS-V, fuel economy surprises in a positive direction. The trip computer reported an average of 8.5 miles per gallon for a few hot laps around my favorite handling loop, but I’ve observed as low as five in some other cars.The EPA rates the TT RS at 18 city, 25 highway. The car’s trip computer routinely reported much better numbers: low-to-mid 20s in the suburbs, and high 20s to low 30s on the highway. Doubting its veracity, I asked a man who owns one. He measured low 20s in aggressive mountain road driving. A MazdaSpeed3, with nearly 100 fewer horses and front-wheel drive, has the same EPA ratings.

All-wheel drive ensures a drama-free transfer of the turbo-five’s prodigious power to the road, even when exiting sharp curves with your foot planted. Others report reaching sixty in a little over four seconds. On the other hand, all-wheel drive combined with the very nose-heavy 60/40 distribution of the car’s 3,300 pounds (only 153 more than a base 211-horsepower TT) means that the TT RS isn’t going to handle like a conventional sports car. But until you approach the tires’ high (but not quite Boxster S-high) limits, the Audi doesn’t understeer substantially (a change from the less graceful first-gen TT). Instead, it feels like a solid chunk of machinery that simply goes where it’s pointed with little if any untoward drama. With a smooth hand on the wheel and a steady foot on the throttle, the rear tires initially slip about the same time as the fronts, defying physics. Extreme measures withstanding, oversteer isn’t happening, even with the stability control disabled. I tried to provoke some in a large, empty parking lot, and failed. Nail the brake with the steering wheel turned, and you just scrub the hell out of the outside front tire. The tight chassis nevertheless engages, even titillates. The weight distribution extracts the largest penalty from braking. Hit the pedal hard at speed and the front tires are much more easily overloaded than in a more balanced car. A 2013 Boxster (no new Cayman until next year) should prove more playful on a road twisty enough to exercise it and open enough to wind out its peaky flat six. But I’ve never driven a four-second-to-sixty car that is remotely as easy to flog around my off-track “track” as the TT RS. Yet it’s also a blast, literally and figuratively. In the cut-and-thrust of suburban driving the Porsche does its best to mimic the livability of a Toyota while the Audi continues to entertain. Not for a moment in the latter car will you forget what you’re driving.

And the Audi’s livability? Not bad, actually. The ride is firm, but unless you engage sport mode it’s rarely harsh. The lightning-quick adaptive dampers earn their keep. Restrict their range with sport mode, and the car jostles more on imperfect roads and rhythmically bounces down a concrete highway much like a late model STI or Z. The difference with the TT RS is that this bouncing is avoidable. A Jetta GLI reacts more sharply to broken pavement and generally seems less refined. (At less than half the price, it better.) An Evo is considerably more brutal, and a non-NISMO 370Z rides much like the Audi does in sport mode, while a 2013 Boxster (when fitted with its own trick shocks) is modestly easier on the teeth. Noise levels inside the TT RS are moderately high on concrete highways—if you need quiet, get a bigger Audi—but a Z or Corvette is much harder on the ears. One nit: if you lower the windows at highway speeds, there’s buffeting. But if you’ve lived with any other high-performance sports car on a daily basis, you can easily live with this one.

The tested TT RS included a $2,700 bundle of “titanium” (i.e. metallic gray) wheels, “titanium” grille, and sport exhaust (which allegedly deepens the tone a bit). For rear obstacle detection, steering-linked headlights, nav, and a Bose upgrade from the marginal base audio you need the $3,500 Tech Package. Or not. Neither package seems a good value unless you absolutely must have their contents.

Not twins, a.k.a. under the influence

At the TT RS’s price there are plenty of other contenders. Among sports cars without drop tops, the Nissan 370Z NISMO is over $16,000 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $11,000 less afterwards (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool), but it’s much harder to see out of, much trickier to handle, and generally much harder to live with. A Chevrolet Corvette 3LT with adaptive shocks costs about the same as the Audi. The more brutal Corvette weighs less, but feels larger, partly because it is ten inches longer but also because GM has yet to get the car’s steering quite right (we’re all hopeful for the C7). If you can’t instantly choose between these two cars, you don’t know what you’re looking for. Do without any options, and the recently superseded 2012 Porsche Cayman S listed for “only” $5,000 more than a TT RS. But check enough boxes to equip the Porsche roughly the same, and it flew another $12,000 out of the ballpark. Of course, if you happen to need either a limited-utility rear seat or all-wheel-drive, then the TT RS becomes your only option in the bunch.

Beyond the back seat and all-wheel drive, the TT is simply a different animal than the others. As much as I’ve sung the praises of rear-wheel-drive dynamics, I find myself drawn to this highly charismatic, chuckable chunk of an Audi. Perhaps this is because I’ve also long had a thing for hot hatches. I own a Protege5, greatly enjoy the MazdaSpeed3, and am very much looking forward to the Ford Focus ST. Take that class of car, with its inherently safer handling yet often more lively “point and shoot” disposition at legal speeds, dial the engine and chassis up to 11 while lowering the driving position, tune these bits and pieces to form an unusually coherent firm-but-not-stiff whole, and you essentially have the Audi TT RS. Yes, there’s a Golf under there somewhere, but for anyone who has loved a hot hatch this could well prove a deal maker rather than a deal killer.

Audi provided the TT RS with insurance and a tank of gas.

Scott Vollink of Suburban Porsche in Farmington Hills, MI, provided a 2013 Boxster S so I could compare the two cars. His dealership also sells Audis. Scott can be reached at 248-741-7980.

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail TT RS front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS front quarter high, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS side, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Under the influence TT RS interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS back seat, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS cargo area, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS groceries, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh TT RS wheel, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 52
Review: 2013 Audi allroad Tue, 10 Jul 2012 13:00:44 +0000

Americans are smart people. Avoid the word “wagon” in favor of “Avant,” and they still see a wagon. And don’t buy it. So for 2013 there are no more Avants for us. Instead, the “allroad” is back. Audi promises that it’s more than just a fancy name.

The original allroad differed quite a bit from the A6 Avant. Terribly late to the SUV party, Audi took a midsized A6 wagon and flared the fenders, widened the track, raised the ride height, and fitted an over-engineered height-adjustable air suspension that rendered the 2001-2005 allroad both more capable of venturing off the pavement and less capable of staying away from the dealer. Unlike in the Avant, a manual transmission was available. Between a 250-horsepower turbocharged V6 borrowed from the S4 (and not offered in the Avant) and a 4,167-pound curb weight (a gain of 100 kilos), the SUV-like wagon’s EPA ratings were an SUV-like 15 city, 20 highway (14/21 with the manual). When the Q7 SUV finally arrived, Audi dropped the allroad from its U.S. line.

Now, after a seven-year hiatus, the allroad is back. Or is it? The new one is based on the A4, not the A6. Audi refers to the new car and last year’s A4 Avant as “cousins,” but the DNA suggests a much closer relationship. Both cars have the same, single powertrain option, a 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine driving all four wheels through a manually-shiftable eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s no S-worthy six and no available manual transmission. Also no air suspension, though the fender flares (second tone standard, body color an extra grand), wider track (from the S5 coupe), and suspension lift (by 1.5”) reappear. Oh, I almost forgot: the allroad also gets a bespoke chrome grille and fascia-mounted stainless steel skid plates, “giving you the right kind of armor to help battle even the toughest backcountry roads.” The interior appears identical to that in the A4, typical tasteful Audi fare.

Audi suggests that, despite the platform and powertrain downgrades, the new allroad comes pretty close to the old one. Its cars have been growing with each redesign, so the current A4 isn’t too much smaller than the A6 two generations back. Your eyes will report otherwise. The original allroad felt like a midsize car inside. The new one feels like a compact, especially in the back seat, where both shoulder room and legroom are down by a couple of inches. Cargo volume with the second row folded suffers the most dramatic cut, from 73.2 cubic feet to 50.5.

Audi is on firmer ground with powertrain performance. Peak horsepower might be down, but so is curb weight, to 3,891 pounds. Meanwhile, midrange power is about the same (peak torque is 258 pound-feet for both the previous car’s V6 and the current one’s four) and the automatic transmission picks up three ratios. The 2013 car feels a little winded passing on an uphill in the Colorado mountains, but then so would the original. (Audi apparently selected the route for ambiance, not for showing off its powertrains.) The 2.0T feels fairly energetic near sea level in the A4, and it should feel much the same in the new allroad. The various changes do strongly benefit fuel economy, which the EPA rates 20/27. (Audi notes that the new car does as well in the city as the old one did on the highway. They don’t note that the discontinued Avant managed 21/29.)

I personally prefer compact cars to midsize ones, as they can feel much more agile. Despite a strong supercharged V6, the latest A6 is too large to play. The problem with the allroad is that a higher ride height tends to harm handling. Well, forget that tendency. The new allroad drives very much like the A4, too heavy and mature to qualify as tossable but carving the mountain roads with a solid structure, no slop, moderate roll, and good balance. The all-wheel-drive system’s default 40/60 rearward bias contributes to the last. Consider my fears unfounded and my expectations exceeded. The steering, as in all of Audi’s “B-segment” cars for 2013, gets its assist from an electric motor rather than a hydraulic pump. For better or worse, the new system feels very similar to the old one, with moderate heft and good weighting but minimal feedback. The standard seats lack lateral support, but a $500 “sport interior” option fixes this.

The 2012 A4 Avant started at $37,275. The 2013 allroad starts at $40,495. The “Premium Plus” package added $4,600 last year but adds $3,300 with the new car (because 18-inch wheels and rain-sensing wipers are standard), leaving a difference of just under $2,000. (Which might explain why the Avant is gone and the allroad is back.) Google Earth-based nav (which includes WiFi hotspot capability and moves the MMI knob from the center stack to a much more ergonomic location on the center console) adds another $3,050. A decade ago, the original allroad listed for about the same price when equipped similarly (but with a few more inches, a couple more cylinders, and the trick air suspension). Checking all the boxes on the 2013 (B&O audio, layered wood trim, sport seats, 19” wheels, adaptive cruise, active steering) takes the sticker all the way up to $56,695.

Seeking something more the size of the original allroad? Well, Volvo offers the XC70 (but no longer the V70) for about $3,200 less when both cars are fitted with heated leather seats and 18-inch wheels (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool). The bigger, softer, heavier Swede doesn’t handle as well as the Audi, and won’t go as far on a gallon of gas (18/24), but its roomier interior includes some primo front seats. Best of all, for a mere pittance ($200!) you can literally boost the inline six-cylinder engine from 240 horsepower to 300.

The original Audi allroad acquired something of a cult following. This won’t be happening with the new one. It’s a good car, but not a special one. Then again, Mom always admonished the intended market against joining a cult. Perhaps good is good enough, and the SUV stylings will actually sell more wagons. Though it didn’t stand out in any particular way, the “right sized” allroad looked and felt the ideal tool for a round trip between Denver and the posh mountain resort.

Audi provided insured and fueled cars, airfare, deluxe accommodations, an abundance of gourmet food, all we cared to drink (a single beer in my case), and a gift that contained the press kit (since regifted to a reader).

Michael Karesh operates, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail allroad front, photo courtesy Michael Karesh allroad mountain curves, photo courtesy Michael Karesh allroad front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh allroad rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh allroad interior, photo courtesy Audi allroad cargo area, photo courtesy Michael Karesh allroad engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 88
2012 Audi A6 3.0T Fri, 30 Dec 2011 22:51:32 +0000

“How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?” So said the farmer to his wife about the chances that their sons would return home following the end of the First World War. The societal implications aren’t quite so large, but the same might be wondered about the redesigned-for-2012 Audi A6. Now that the sexy A7 is available, why get the staid sedan with which it shares a chassis, powertrain, and interior?

Exterior styling is far and away the largest difference between the A6 and A7. To craft a Mercedes CLS competitor out of the sedan, Audi more dramatically flared the wheel openings, removed the frames from the side windows, lowered the roof a couple of inches, and relaxed the arc of the roofline to flow it all the way to the rear of the car, creating a hatchback. None of the tweaks are eye-grabbingly radical, but together they do yield a considerably more stylish whole. The most beneficial tweak might be the upward sweep of the A7′s beltline over its rear wheel. There’s no such curve in Audi’s sedans, including the new A6, and the rear quarters appear less dynamic as a result. (Though there’s just enough metal between the rear wheel opening and beltline of the new A6 to avoid the poorly proportioned, pinched appearance of the current A8’s rear quarters.) This isn’t to suggest that the A6 is an unattractive car. It’s very tastefully styled and in aesthetic terms easily holds its own against the current BMW 5er and Benz E-Class. The problem is that we’ve now seen the A7. This makes Audi a serial offender: the A4 sedan doesn’t look so good once you’ve seen the related A5 coupe. On top of this, while I’ve never had an inherent problem with the “same sausage, different lengths” German design philosophy, and even believe that a high level of design consistency is good for a brand, the current trio of Audi sedans might carry this philosophy too far. They’re hard to tell apart at a glance.

Some interior details vary between the A6 and A7, but as with those that have too often been relied on to differentiate the sibs within GM’s litters they’re the sort of differences you’ll only notice when directly comparing the two cars. For example, the triangle of wood trim on the front doors has a high trailing point on the A7 but a low trailing point on the A6. Both interiors are attractive in the same tastefully restrained way, especially when fitted with the same trim options (such as the naturally finished wood trim on the tested A7 instead of the glossy timber on the tested A6). Both cars are available with the same impressive electronics, including a nav system that employs Google maps to display a satellite image of your location and front-and-rear obstacle detection systems that display the closeness of nearby objects by quadrant in addition to the typical beep.

Coupes that are more stylish than their sedan counterparts are far from new. But about 30 years ago manufacturers realized that they could craft sedans that looked and drove more like coupes, and coupe sales consequently plunged. Over the past decade there has been a mild revival in coupe sales, if we’re willing to grant that the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7 are “coupes” despite their rear portals. But why offer both a “four-door coupe” and a sedan? Ostensibly, for the same reason you’d offer both a coupe and a sedan: the latter will be roomier, easier to get in and out of, and altogether more functional. No problem here in the original Mercedes case: the first-generation CLS was certainly far less functional than the E-Class on which it was based.

The problem with the Audis—admittedly not a bad problem to have: the A7 isn’t significantly less roomy than the A6. The A7’s roofline might be a couple inches lower, but somehow headroom is only reduced by a few tenths up front and by less than an inch in back. Shoulder room and legroom similarly differ by only a few tenths of an inch. The A7 is also just about as easy to get in and out of as the A6. People getting into the rear seat don’t have to engage in contortions to avoid banging their head on the header. Once they’re ensconced, either car’s back seat is adequately roomy and comfortable. Nothing impressive, lest the A8 lose its raison d’etre, but little to complain about, either. The A7’s primary interior limitation is entirely artificial: there’s no center seating position. On the other hand, the A7 is actually the more functional car when cargo hauling is called for, given its large hatch.

If you’re not feeling much need for speed, and care more for keeping the initial outlay and fuel bills low, the A6 sedan is available with Audi’s ubiquitous 211-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. I actually requested an A6 with this engine, but none was available. So the tested A6’s four wheels, just like those in the A7, were driven by a 310-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6. The supercharged six isn’t dripping with character even in 325-horsepower tune in the performance-oriented S4, and has even less personality in the A6/A7 application. But driving all four wheels through a ZF eight-speed manually-shiftable automatic transmission it certainly accomplishes the task of moving the car, feeling much more powerful than its official power ratings suggest in the process. Tipping the scales at just over two tons, the A6 3.0T is about 150 pounds lighter than the A7, and consequently might be a little quicker. Though the BMW 535i xDrive manages to point a little higher, the A6 3.0T’s EPA ratings of 19 city and 28 highway are nevertheless impressive given the car’s curb weight, performance, and all-wheel-drive (if far off the 2.0T’s almost shockingly good 25/33). The trip computer’s reports were in line with these ratings.

Much like its powertrain, the Audi A6’s chassis is supremely competent. Understeer creeps in later and less heavily than with older Audis and body motions are well controlled, with just a hint of bobble from time to time. Thanks to the all-wheel-drive system, even unwise throttle applications mid-turn don’t upset the car’s composure. The harder the sedan is pushed, the better it behaves, inspiring confidence. Within the segment, only the BMW arguably handles with as much precision and poise, and even the 5er now has less communicative steering. Compared to the A7, the A6 rode a little more smoothly, but how much of this was due to the lower profile tires on the former (265/35YR20 vs. 255/40YR19)? The A7’s optional sport suspension might be a little firmer than that in the A6, but the difference is not dramatic. Especially when so equipped neither car provides the sort of smooth, quiet, insulated ride you’ll find in a Lexus. Older A6s had higher interior noise levels, but the new ones continue to trail the ultra-low segment average. And yet, compared to the S4 with which they share an engine, both the A6 and A7 also feel considerably larger and much less overtly sporting. The A6 is about eight inches longer and nearly two inches wider than the S4, but it’s only about 200 pounds heavier, so the difference in driving feel isn’t entirely a matter of physics. One factor: the S4’s optional active rear differential isn’t offered in the A6 or A7. In either of them you’re clearly driving a largish four-door. Perhaps a more overtly sporty driving experience should have been part of the A7’s role. If so, consider this an opportunity lost. For better or worse, the A6 and A7 drive nearly the same. Competence to spare, but limited passion.

So far we’ve got no compelling reasons to buy the A6 instead of the A7 unless you’re a knuckle-dragger who believes hatchbacks are only suitable for subcompact economy cars. But how about this one: Audi charges over $7,000 extra for that fifth door. Equip an A7 like the $57,470 tested A6, and the sticker will read $64,845. How attractive does that A7 seem now? Should the A6 instead be seen as offering all of the goodness of the A7, save the sexy sheetmetal, at a considerably lower price?

Well, this depends on how the 2012 Audi A6’s price compares to those of its direct competitors. Equip a BMW 535i xDrive with everything on the tested Audi A6, and it lists for over $10,000 more. But it also includes more stuff because of how BMW packages features and options: things like power-adjustable seat bolsters, adaptive shocks, a power-adjustable steering column, and keyless access and ignition (a standalone option not on the tested Audi). Adjust for these using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Audi’s price advantage shrinks to a mere $6,670. Skip the sport packages and this difference is cut in half (BMW charges much more for its more comprehensive package). No longer $10,000, but no matter how you slice it the Audi is considerably less expensive than the 5er as well as its prettier sister.

The usual caveat at this point: compared to anything German, you can spend a lot less by opting for something Japanese. Yet compare the Audi A6 to the Infiniti M37 and you’ll find that they’re within $1,000 of one another, with the modest advantage usually going to the Audi. In this light, the A6’s price seems very competitive.

Ultimately, it’s hard to find fault with the 2012 Audi A6 based on any objective criteria. It might not be as fun to drive along a winding road as an S4, but then no sedan with an adult-friendly rear seat is. The A6 3.0T’s engine is strong yet efficient. Its chassis handles with poise and precision while also riding fairly smoothly and quietly. Its interior is stylish and adequately comfortable, if short of luxuriously plush (that’s just not the Audi way). We’re back with the problem posed initially: the A7 performs the same, accommodates people about as well, accommodates cargo better, and has a sexier exterior. How, then, to get excited about the A6? We’re left with its much lower price, but how exciting is that? The A7 proves that it’s possible to offer a more stylish car with no significant tradeoffs. So why not do it? Or, taking a different tack, if you’re going to offer two models, why not style and tune the A7 to make it far edgier than the A6? One possibility comes to mind: even though it’s nearly as conservative as the A6, the A7 is just too sexy for too many luxury car buyers. After all, many doughboys DID return to the farm. For those luxury car buyers who cannot handle the sleek hatch (and those who simply don’t want to pay the excessive premium for it), the A6 does just about everything very well.

Audi provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2011 Audi S4 Wed, 16 Nov 2011 20:10:03 +0000

I needed a suitable car for a spirited 500-mile run to the “coolest small town in America,” and back. One leaped to mind: the Audi S4 with its optional active differential. In our first encounter, the current “B8” S4 underwhelmed me. Though quick and capable, it just didn’t feel special. “A4 3.0T” seemed more apt. But that car lacked the trick diff. And metro Detroit’s roads aren’t the most challenging. A re-test was warranted. The roads of Southeastern Ohio and West Virginia would provide it.

My first reaction upon seeing the imola yellow sedan: “So much for stealth.” I needn’t have worried. Though subtly attractive, the S4 is nevertheless a four-door sedan that’s decidedly less sexy than the related S5 coupe. Even in yellow it doesn’t attract unwanted attention from law enforcement the way a sports car would. Scratch the “even in yellow:” against a background of fall foliage the bright hue serves as camouflage. The wheels’ $150 “titanium” finish attractively contrasts with the yellow, but could be obtained for free by simply not washing the regular 19s (the brakes’ plentiful dust is nearly the same color). The tested S4’s black leather interior is similarly tasteful to a fault and all business, with only some dark gray alcantara and aluminum trim to liven the place up. (Silver/black and red/black are available interior color options, though the latter does nix the butt-restraining alcantara and require another $1,000 for this favor.) Audi’s “MMI” interface is much easier to operate here than in the Q5 crossover, as the shifter serves as an armrest while working the system’s knob and foursome of buttons.

The biggest problem with the drive from Detroit to West Virginia: with roads running straight to the horizon (and far beyond), the first 250 miles are mind-numbing. The S4’s performance tires clomp and roar on Michigan’s pockmarked concrete highways, less so on Ohio’s smoother asphalt. Luckily even the S4’s base sound system is quite capable of drowning them out without distortion. The car’s ride, though far from harsh, jiggles enough that putting off rest stops is not an option. Every ripple gets reported to the ears and bladder. Even the S4’s rearview mirror is stiff. The driver’s seat includes four-way power lumbar and provides very good lateral support, but I can’t get comfortable in it. Put less delicately, the seat often puts my ass to sleep. If there had been passengers in the back seat, they would have found it livable but tight. Though the S4’s body structure and interior possesses the solidity and refinement expected of a premium car, it’s not the ideal turnpike cruiser.

A bright spot: hitched to a six-speed manual and driving all four wheels in a 3,847-pound sedan, the 333-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V6 covers 25 highway miles on each gallon of gas (the trip computer reports 25.8 while driving nearly 80 MPH, but manual calculations suggest it’s about one MPG high). Drive it like you stole it down a mountain road, and you’ll still observe mid-to-high teens. The previous-generation S4’s 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 was far thirstier, with EPA ratings of 13/20 vs. 18/27. Unfortunately, what the engine giveth the fuel gauge taketh away: the latter reliably reported a 0-mile DTE with about three gallons left in the tank.

Once south and east of Columbus the roads become increasingly entertaining, and with Ohio 555, full of tight curves and blind knolls, the fun really begins. The V6, though it lacks the soul of the previous-generation S4’s 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8, produces an encouraging mechanical whir when revved, some of it courtesy of the supercharger, along with a modest amount of exhaust roar. (With no lag, the blower’s muted whine is the only sign that boost is in play.) The “3.0T” engine is louder here than in the A6 and A7, but still far from too loud. There’s no drone when cruising at highway speeds. Oddly, the six is least refined at idle, where it suffers from a touch of the shakes.


The V6 is so strong through its wide midrange that deep downshifts are rarely called for—a sharp contrast to the Mazda RX-8 I’ll drive the rest of the long weekend. Push down on the accelerator, and the six rockets the car smoothly out of curve exits. This broad torque curve proves especially welcome on West Virginia 14, which is much more heavily traveled than I had hoped. Half the state drives pickups, the other half drives Chevy Cavaliers (which I hereby nominate as the Official State Car of the mountain state). The blown six is ever ready to jump past clots of them whenever the briefest passing zone pops up.

If you need to shift, or simply want to, the S4’s slick, solid, moderate-of-throw stick serves better than Audi shifters of years past. Second can be a bit hard to hit when rushing a downshift, but this is the full extent of its shortcomings. Unlike in late model Volkswagens where the tach was numbered in hundreds, the S4’s rev-meter is numbered in the thousands with a large font and is consequently far easier to read at a glance. A light and/or beep 500 rpm short of the redline would be even better, but wasn’t much missed. Don’t care for a clutch? A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual is optional here—and the only transmission Europeans can get. On the other hand, they can still get an S4 wagon, while we’re limited to the sedan. An S4 wagon with a manual transmission? No longer offered anywhere.

I take a side trip to hilly Charleston to sample a couple of R-Design Volvos—you’ll read about them later. Afterwards, the S4 is a perfect match for the more convoluted sections of US60 east of Gauley Bridge. At Rainelle I take a shortcut, miss a turn (no nav in this lightly optioned $49,625 car), and end up on a delightfully undulating single-lane ribbon of asphalt. Later, on the way back to Detroit, with a nav system lifted off my old man to warn of impending hairpins, the S4 chews up WV16 (with an especially glorious stretch after it splits from 33) and OH26 once across the Ohio. If anything, the S4 makes driving all but the twistiest bits of these roads too easy.

The Audi’s steering deserves only second billing in the credits. It’s fairly quick, naturally weighted, firm at highway speeds (especially in “sport” mode), and finds its voice as the car’s high limits are approached. Placing the car precisely never poses a challenge. But luxury was clearly a top priority, and the system doesn’t feel as nuanced or as direct as the best. You do your part, and it will do its. Melding as one? It’d rather not.

The S4’s suspension takes up some of the steering’s slack. As mentioned above, though far from harsh it’s communicative even when you don’t care to chat. Firm springs and taut damping keep body motions under control, with just a hint of float in quick transitions to remind you that this isn’t an extreme sport machine. Partly because the V6 weighs less than the old V8, and partly because the differential is now ahead of the transmission (enabling a 55/45 weight distribution), the current S4 doesn’t plow through tight curves like the previous one did. Instead, it feels almost perfectly balanced. The 255/35ZR19 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tires grip the tarmac tightly as long as no snow is falling. Add in all-wheel-drive and strong, firm, easily modulated brakes, and even the most challenging roads can be tackled with extreme confidence.


The resulting lack of drama can get a bit boring, as discovered in my first drive. But with the optional active differential, progressive, easily controllable oversteer is just a dip into the throttle away. Unlike with the Acura TL’s SH-AWD system, driving sideways isn’t happening without an unpaved road surface or extreme steering inputs. But a tighter line is there for the taking, just dial in the desired number of degrees with your right foot. This agility enhancement should be standard equipment in an “S” car. As is, it’s $1,100 very well spent. I would not buy an S4 without it.

Ultimately, the S4 proved a perfect choice for the trip to Lewisberg. Some other cars would have been more engaging and entertaining. Others would have been more isolating and comfortable. But for moving rapidly along an unfamiliar twisty byway with never a wheel out of place, rain or shine, the S4 could hardly have been beaten. It’ll get you there, quickly and securely and even somewhat efficiently, with plenty of smiles along the way.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2011 Audi Q5 Fri, 16 Sep 2011 19:27:47 +0000

Tick off all the boxes on an Audi Q5 order form, and you’ll find yourself staring at a $58,350 tab. Too much for a compact crossover? Well, the example seen here will set you back $20,000 less. Now I know what you’re thinking: “A mere $38,400 for a right-sized chunk of German engineering? Sign me up!” Not so fast—to save twenty large you must give up something. But what?

The Q5’s outer shell is very much current Audi…except it also strongly resembles the latest Cayenne. (And the latest VW Touareg for that matter. Time for a Fortune cover?) If these lines are viable for the far pricier Porsche—and dealers can’t keep the peppers on the lot—then certainly they’re sufficiently upscale for this Audi. One wrinkle: the full tab nets the twenty-inch five-spoke wheels the designers had in mind when they penned the Q5’s exterior. At the other end of the spectrum, you get the 18s seen here. Not bad rims, and certainly far from tiny by historical standards, but ensconced in a clean-to-a-fault soap bar with wheel openings sized for dubs they take the whole downmarket.

When optioned with the Luxury Package, the Q5 contends with the Infiniti EX35 for the segment’s best interior, with soft leather covering not only the seats but also the door armrests and the hood over the instruments. But with this package the price jumps well into the fifties—it’s only available with the V6 and top trim level. The base interior, though it shares the same Teutonically tasteful design and solid construction, is a decidedly less opulent place. The door armrests are molded soft-touch plastic with hard plastic door pulls, and the seat upholstery, though technically leather, like much automotive cowhide easily passes for vinyl. (In fact, I have in my notes that “the vinyl isn’t as convincing as some.”) All-black with a smattering of wood trim not your thing? Any of the three two-toned color schemes, offered at no additional cost, warms the cabin up considerably. But even then the interior doesn’t have the cozy, custom-tailored ambiance you’ll find inside the Infiniti (assuming you can fit). My wife loved that Infiniti. She was not a fan of the Audi, to put it politely.

Keeping the price under forty means the standard audio system (pretty good, but no 505-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen, that’s another $850) and no nav. The latter omission isn’t a problem for me personally, except it also means that the primary “MMI” (climate, audio, etc.) control knob and its surrounding buttons are on the center stack, where they’re not nearly as comfortable to reach or as easy to operate. With the nav these controls are much more ergonomically located aft of the shifter on the console. My wife’s comment on the controls: “Every time I had to do something new I had to sit there and think about it.” Even starting the Q5 poses a challenge for the unfamiliar. I was baffled for a number of minutes (I don’t want to admit how many) until I noticed a slot tucked up next to the center stack’s air vents. Stick the entire fob into it, push till it goes click, and—what do you know—the car starts. Want to keep the fob in your pocket? Then spring for the V6.

In general, automotive infotainment systems won’t let you do various things while driving. Click over to the Q5′s phone dialer, and you’re informed: “Distraction causes accidents. Never enter data while driving.” Click to accept this…and the next page lets you enter a phone number. Better than not being able to do this at all, but making habitual liars out of drivers one click at a time.

You get the same firm but supportive seats regardless of how the Q5 is optioned. If you want to feel like you’re sitting on a sofa, an Audi is not the car for you. The high, unobstructed view forward from the driver’s seat is a key reason people buy this sort of vehicle instead of the wagon (“avant” for those who speak Audi) most driving enthusiasts would favor. Huge mirrors do the same for the rearward view. The Q5 is only 182 inches long, about the same as a BMW X3 or Infiniti EX35 but much less lengthy than a Cadillac SRX or Lexus RX 350, which really compete with the others in terms of price rather than size. Still, unlike in the Infiniti there’s plenty of room in back for the average adult. A high-mounted cushion provides good thigh support and the seatback reclines. The compact exterior has a larger impact on cargo space, but there’s still more of it than in the Infiniti. More of a bother: the artfully shaped tailgate affords no good grips and opens so high that women of below-average height will need a step ladder to reach it. Or get one of the upper-level trims, which include a power tailgate.

The stopwatch will tell you that the 2.0T’s 211-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is nearly as quick as the 3.2’s 270-horsepower V6, thanks to a plumper midrange (peak torque of 258 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm vs. 243 at 3,000) and two extra cogs in the autobox (for a total of eight). But the six feels smoother and sounds far sweeter. The turbo four is more than capable of moving the Q5, but the six is much more likely to move the driver. With eight speeds, manually downshifting to second or third for a turn requires a lot of taps. The solution: shunt the shifter into S and the transmission will find a suitably low gear (or an even lower one) on its own.

The advantage of the turbo four + eight-speed combo: fuel economy. The EPA ratings of 20 city, 27 highway are tops for the premium compact crossover class, though BMW’s mighty turbocharged six is close behind. In casual suburban driving the (possibly optimistic) trip computer reported high twenties and low thirties.

Last winter I attended a comparison drive for the new BMW X3…and came away impressed with the Q5. The BMW had a steadier, more composed ride and more balanced handling, and when fitted with a (conservatively rated) 300-horsepower turbocharged six is much quicker. By any objective measure it’s the best performer in the segment. But the Audi’s chassis felt livelier and somehow more natural, and on curvy roads I enjoyed driving it more. The biggest difference: steering that clearly communicated what was going on at the front contact patches. This was the standard steering and suspension: a $2,950 “Audi Drive Select Page” offered only on the top trim substitutes active steering and adaptive shocks, but unlike on some other Audis doesn’t include an active rear differential. With the moderately rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and conventional rear differential a heavy right foot can coax the rear end to step out, but this is a more practical possibility with the BMW.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with the Q5’s steering this time around. Part of the reason could be that I didn’t have the other vehicles (X3, RX, SRX) on hand for a direct comparison. But the Q5’s steering also isn’t as exemplary during daily driving as it is when hustling along a curvy road. When driven casually, steering effort varies dramatically and somewhat unpredictably, and the feel is more artificial. The positive spin: when you most need the steering to talk, it talks. The Audi wants to be driven hard. Ignore its needs, and (like the high-strung, high-maintenance mistress I don’t have) it misbehaves while refusing to talk to you.

One mystery: the tested vehicle was fitted with W-rated Goodyear Excellence tires. Such “grand touring summer” tires, though commonly fitted as standard equipment in Europe, rarely appear in the all-season-loving U.S. On the Q5, we get performance-oriented rubber only with the “S Line” package, which is only offered with the V6. By accident or otherwise, the press fleet Q5 2.0T was wearing relatively sticky Euro-market treads.

So, to get to a $38,400 sticker (up $400 from the tested 2011 model), you’ve given up the wheels the designers intended, leather that feels like leather, ergonomic controls, a broad array of conveniences, the sweet sounding six, the trick shocks, and sticky tires. But do other cars offer more at this price point?

Not the related A4 Avant wagon, which lists for $800 more while including fewer features as standard equipment. You get a standard panoramic sunroof with the wagon—one’s an option on the Q5—but no power lumbar on the passenger seat, no wood trim, no three-zone automatic climate control, no automatic lights, no rain-sensing wipers, no trip computer. Tally up the differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Q5’s price advantage widens to about $1,500. Detroit’s product strategy favored SUVs because they found car buyers were willing to pay more for them than for a wagon. The Germans didn’t get the memo. By this yardstick, the Q5 is a bargain: 380 pounds more car (4,090 total), less money.

The Infiniti EX35 that seduced my wife lists for $1,800 more, but includes a standard 3.5-liter V6. So is the Q5 3.2 a more appropriate comparison? Load up both the Infiniti and a Q5 3.2, and the Japanese crossover ends up about $5,500 less. The Germans charge top dollar for options, who knew?

A similarly-equipped BMW X3 xDrive2.8i lists for about $4,000 more, partly because you must specify the “Premium Package” to get the leather, wood trim, and dual four-way power lumbar adjustments standard on the Audi. This brings along some features not on the tested Audi, most notably a panoramic sunroof. Adjust for these, and the Audi retains a roughly $2,200 advantage. Enough to sway some buyers? Maybe. At a minimum the Audi is competitively priced.

So, with the Audi Q5 car buyers face a quandary. It’s fun to drive compared to any other compact crossover save the BMW, but anyone who makes this a top priority will (or at least should) go with the A4 Avant or BMW 3-Series wagon instead. So the Q5 is more likely to sell to those seeking the perceived superior comfort and convenience of a crossover. But a sub-forty Q5 lacks many comforts and conveniences. Check off the boxes to get these, and the price tag rapidly ascends into the mid-forties and beyond, at which point the Q5 isn’t as good a value.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Review: 2012 Audi A7 Fri, 01 Jul 2011 17:04:32 +0000

Large four-door cars with the style of a coupe aren’t a recent innovation. But early attempts, like the 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora, failed to captivate car buyers. It fell to Mercedes to launch the “four-door coupe” segment with the 2006 CLS. Though sales have long since dwindled to exotic car levels, back when the CLS was new about 2,000 of them left dealer lots each month. This apparently provided sufficient motivation for other manufacturers to offer their own “four-door coupes.” Volkswagen didn’t stray far from the original with its CC. Audi, on the other hand, has taken a very different approach with the new 2012 A7.

To begin with, Audi appears to have figured that, if you’re going to sweep the roofline nearly to the trailing edge of the car, you might as well make it a hatchback. The American market has rejected large upscale hatchbacks in the past—the Rover 3500, Acura-based Sterling 827, and Merkur Scorpio come to mind—but tastes have broadened in the intervening decades. The Porsche Panamera certainly has its critics, but the car’s hatchback configuration hasn’t figured highly in their critiques. And the BMW 5-Series GT? Its aesthetic shortcomings similarly extend beyond the hatch to the car’s bulky proportions.

If the Audi A7 were a stunning car, few would mind the hatch. Unfortunately, while the A7’s thoroughly tasteful exterior is far more attractive than the Porsche’s or the BMW’s, it’s a conservative design unlikely to inspire doubletakes the way the swoopier CLS did, even still does six years on. In a bid for “coupeness,” the A7’s side windows are frameless and its roofline is a couple inches lower than that of the closely related 2012 Audi A6 sedan (and nearly a half-foot lower than that of the 5-Series GT). Audi’s latest design language, with a focus on crisp horizontal lines, suits the A7’s more balanced proportions much better than it does the A8 sedan’s. A double crease along the shoulder of the car often provides the illusion of a pinstripe. The overall appearance might not inspire passion, but it exudes technical perfection. This car couldn’t be anything but German.

The Audi A7’s interior is similarly very tasteful without making a strong design statement. A line arcs from one door along the instrument panel top to the other door, but you’ll find the same in a relatively pedestrian Buick. Unlike in the first-generation CLS, nothing here seems inspired by classic Jaguars or wooden watercraft. Audi has long been known for the quality of its interiors, but the rest of the industry has been catching up. Notable in their absence: upholstered instrument and upper door panels. The seats’ stitching does not contrast, and their leather isn’t especially soft. The door pulls are, typical of Audis, hard plastic. In general the interior seems of very high quality, but not quite luxurious. The riskiest interior choice: the tested car’s ash trim is minimally finished and has a heavy grain that can actually be felt. I liked it. Others who rode in the car weren’t so sure about the matte finish. Glossy wood is available for them.

An advantage of the sensible design: though not the limo substitute the BMW GT is, there’s nearly as much passenger room inside the Audi A7 as in the related A6. So four adults fit comfortably. The front seats are moderately firm and properly supportive but less cosseting than those in some other luxury cars. They also provide minimal lateral support. Perhaps because this is an A7 and not an S7, no sport buckets or power-adjustable bolsters are offered. On the positive side of the ledger, the headrests adjust fore and aft, a rarity these days. Unlike with the first-generation CLS, contortions aren’t required to get into and out of the rear seat. One functional shortcoming: the rear bench is split by a low, integrated console, so three people cannot sit back there. For a family of five this car won’t work.

The cargo area is constrained by the car’s low tail, but it extends well forward, especially once the second row is folded. A two-piece package shelf effectively seals off the passenger area from the cargo area. It’s not nearly as heavy or overengineered as the bulkhead in the BMW 5-Series GT, but is nevertheless a little fiddly (and also reflects badly in the backlight). After removing it I was easily able to fit a bicycle with the front wheel removed (and probably would have fit it with the wheel attached if loaded in the opposite direction). Up front, the A7 isn’t as accommodating. There’s not enough room in the glove compartment or the center console for my SLR-style camera, so it rolled around the passenger footwell all week.

Some of the Audi A7’s toys impress, others not so much. The LED headlights ($1,400 if ordered a la carte) are the latest thing, but my eyes failed to detect a significant advantage over Xenons. Since they aren’t standard, the units musts be the same size and shape as a conventional headlight. Things will get more interesting when cars are designed around standard LED lights. The 1,300-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system sounds so crisp and so clear, even at high volumes, that its $5,900 price almost seems justified. My old man declared it far superior to the Mark Levinson system in his Lexus LS 460. He was less crazy about the tweeters’ acoustic lenses that remain in their somewhat obtrusive upright position even when the system is turned off. The Internet-connected nav system uses Google maps to display satellite images. A regular nav screen just doesn’t seem sufficient afterwards.

You can also search the Internet for addresses. The MMI system, with a knob, a half dozen or so buttons, and a touchpad that recognizes letters written with a fingertip, is usually easy to operate on the fly, but programming the nav system could be much easier. One ergonomic flaw that continued to confound me at the end of the week: the button to start the engine is located to the right of the shifter. The optional head-up display can include navigation information and night vision warnings (there’s a pedestrian detector), but not a tach or song titles (both of which I enjoyed having in a Buick). The display for the optional night vision system is located between the speedometer and tach, too low to be continuously viewed. The blind spot warning system seems designed to only signal if a car is overtaking you from the rear quarter. If one is parked at a steady speed in your blind spot it assumes you know it’s there. Other such systems light up in a wider range of circumstances. The adaptive cruise control works better than earlier systems; it’s even viable in stop-and-go traffic. Though the A7’s concept and design seem a natural fit for a panoramic sunroof, the roof portal is a standard-sized unit.

Currently only one engine is available in the U.S.-market Audi A7: the same 310-horsepower 3.0-liter supercharged V6 available in the redesigned 2012 A6. Officially the related mill in the Audi S4 kicks out another 23 horsepower, but the A7’s engine feels stronger than its power rating. The six’s quiet, refined character is better suited to the A7 and A6 than the smaller, sportier car. There’s no sensation of boost and no sound from the supercharger, just impressive V8-style torque (the 325 foot-pound peak runs from 2,900 to 4,500 rpm). Sixty arrives in just a bit over five seconds.

The Audi A7’s ZF eight-speed automatic shared with many other luxury cars (and soon some Chryslers) has excellent ratios for quick launches, relaxed highway cruising, and everything in between. It reacts quickly, but shifts are usually noticeable, with the occasional odd bump when braking to a stop (I noticed the same in some BMWs). Europeans get a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automated manual instead. Did Audi judge this transmission insufficiently refined for American luxury car duty?

The 3.0T / automatic powertrain achieves excellent fuel economy for a powerful, 4,200-pound, all-wheel-drive car: the trip computer generally confirmed the 18 city / 28 highway EPA ratings. On one highway run to the airport the car managed nearly 30 mpg, about as good as my much lighter, much less powerful Mazda Protege5. In the suburbs I observed between 15 and 25, depending on the frequency of stops.

When equipped with the optional sport suspension (which lowers the car 0.4 inches) and 20-inch high-performance Yokohama tires, the Audi A7 handles about as sporty as it looks. So supremely competent, and more direct than in the typical luxury car, but short of thrilling. Steering firmness can be set to “comfort,” “dynamic,” or “auto.” The difference between the modes is noticeable. In any mode the steering gets firmer as speeds increase. You need to be travelling 70+ before it feels tight even in “dynamic.” The similar system in the larger Audi A8 feels a little firmer and tighter, if memory serves. Feedback is better in smaller Audis. The A7 feels significantly less nose-heavy than earlier Audis—perhaps because it is, with the differential positioned ahead of the transmission to enable a 54/46 weight distribution. But even with this, the AWD system’s initial 40:60 rearward torque-bias, and a braking system that intervenes to counter understeer the A7’s dynamics aren’t those of a rear-wheel-drive car. The general attitude of the chassis is one of very mild understeer. Power oversteer only happens with an aggressive throttle on loose surfaces.

With the sport suspension at least, the Audi A7’s ride is most decidedly firm, with the occasional jostle, but far from punishing. Noise is more of an issue. Though the A7’s interior certainly isn’t loud, it’s considerably louder than that of other luxury cars. The optional 20-inch tires contribute, especially on concrete; the standard treads should be less noisy. The hatchback configuration might also contribute. But the bottom line is that Audis have tended to suffer from more road noise than other luxury cars, and this remains the case with their latest.

Pricing starts at $60,125, and tops $80,000 when all the boxes are checked (the tested car lacked only heated rear seats). A 535i xDrive Grand Turismo lists for within a few hundred dollars when similarly configured—but you’ll receive a much larger discount with the slow-selling BMW. (The BMW is a quarter-ton heavier, so an argument could be made that the 550i GT is more comparable.) The redesigned 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS550 4Matic lists for about $12,000 more. TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool indicates that nearly half of the gap can be explained by additional features on the Mercedes, including adaptive shocks, a sophisticated air suspension, various high-tech safety features, and more extensive leather upholstery. Then there’s the matter of the Benz’s much larger engine. With the Mercedes only offered with a V8 (why?), and the Audi only offered with a V6 (for now), the two avoid a direct confrontation. Probably the toughest competition for the A7: an identically-equipped A6 lists for exactly $8,000 less. Since the two cars are very closely related under the skin, this is how much you’re paying for the A7’s sleeker hatchback body.

In the end, the Audi A7 seizes the middle ground between the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the BMW 5-Series GT in both appearance and functionality. It’s more involving than those cars, but much less so than a Porsche Panamera. So buyers who highly prioritize functionality or who buy cars for almost entirely emotional reasons will end up behind the wheel of something other than the Audi. But the entire idea of a “four-door coupe” suggests a desire to have the functionality of a four-door and the styling of a coupe in the same car. The segment is all about compromise. Those seeking an intelligent “both brained” compromise between the excesses of these other cars will find it here.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data.

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