The Truth About Cars » Audi http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/audi/ BMW May Build Second NA Plant To Fend Off German Rivals http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/bmw-may-build-second-na-plant-to-fend-off-german-rivals/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/bmw-may-build-second-na-plant-to-fend-off-german-rivals/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 14:04:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=791289 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/vw-confirms-new-turbodiesel-due-later-this-year/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/vw-confirms-new-turbodiesel-due-later-this-year/#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 10:15:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=775585 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/vw-group-led-by-porsche-aiming-for-10-million-in-sales-by-years-end/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/vw-group-led-by-porsche-aiming-for-10-million-in-sales-by-years-end/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 11:37:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=771258 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/audi-takes-lead-from-bmw-in-global-premium-car-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/audi-takes-lead-from-bmw-in-global-premium-car-sales/#comments Wed, 12 Mar 2014 18:17:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=770714 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/audi-invests-in-synthetic-gasoline-from-sugar/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/audi-invests-in-synthetic-gasoline-from-sugar/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 08:33:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=729082 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-audi-a7-quattro-tdi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-2014-audi-a7-quattro-tdi/#comments Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:33:58 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=665050 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. 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/turbos-diesels-rule-top-10-engine-list-in-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/turbos-diesels-rule-top-10-engine-list-in-2014/#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2013 11:30:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=678850 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/bmw-focused-on-i-subbrand-over-short-term-monetary-gains/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/bmw-focused-on-i-subbrand-over-short-term-monetary-gains/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 14:25:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=642577 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/nurburgring-diaries-part-ii-audi-a3-1-4tfsi-sportback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/nurburgring-diaries-part-ii-audi-a3-1-4tfsi-sportback/#comments Wed, 16 Oct 2013 12:45:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=624641 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…..an 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Review: 2013 Audi S6 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-audi-s6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/review-2013-audi-s6/#comments Thu, 20 Jun 2013 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=492579 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/review-2013-audi-allroad-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/review-2013-audi-allroad-2/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 17:26:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=463018

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.

Exterior

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.

Interior

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.

Infotainment

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.

Drivetrain

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.

Drive

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-audi-a7-2/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/review-2012-audi-a7-2/#comments Thu, 27 Sep 2012 14:00:12 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=461637 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-audi-tt-rs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2012-audi-tt-rs/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 13:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=452753

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 TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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Review: 2013 Audi allroad http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-audi-allroad/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-audi-allroad/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2012 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=451808

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 TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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2012 Audi A6 3.0T http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/2012-audi-a6-3-0t/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/12/2012-audi-a6-3-0t/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2011 22:51:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=423925

“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 TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2011 Audi S4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2011-audi-s4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2011-audi-s4/#comments Wed, 16 Nov 2011 20:10:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=418664

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2011-audi-q5/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2011-audi-q5/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 19:27:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=411473

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2012-audi-a7/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2012-audi-a7/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2011 17:04:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=401283

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.

A7 rear quarter A7 instrument cluster A7 rear quarter 3 A7 view forward A7 rear quarter 2 A7 front quarter 3 A7 cargo Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail A7 side A7 front quarter A7 side 2 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail A7 wood A7 interior A7 rear seat A7 view rearward A7-front-quarter-thumb A7 night vision A7 rear A7 engine A7 bicycle A7 google nav usually precise A7 instrument panel A7 A7 rear quarter 4 A7 front A7 interior 2

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Review: 2011 Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-q5-2-0-tfsi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-q5-2-0-tfsi/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2011 19:26:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=392143

The crossover is the new minivan, and in an age of $4-per-gallon gasoline, the fuel-efficient crossover is all the rage. While minivan-mommies may disagree for the sake of image, ask yourself: how is your crossover different than your parent’s minivan? The minivan sprang out of the station wagon revolt and the CUV is the result of minivan denial. As usual, the formula is the same: start with a sedan, add a taller box, toss in some optional AWD to make buyers think they are getting something rugged and you get instant sales success (unless you’re a Chrysler, but that’s a different review). This CUV formula wrought on an A4 creates the Audi Q5, one of Audi’s hottest selling models in the US market. Sales of the cute-ute soared over 70% to just over 23,000 in 2010 and show no signs of cooling with January sales up 50% over 2010. To keep the momentum (and CAFE numbers) going in the right direction, Audi has mated the corporate 2.0T engine to the latest 8-speed auto from ZF creating the 2011 Q5 2.0T Quattro.

Editor’s note: apologies for the press shots, which were made necessary by a technical problem.

Outside, the Q5 plays the same farm girl card as the majority of the Audi lineup. The wholesome sheet metal is attractive, but completely devoid of the dramatic styling cues that grace the new X3, GLK, SRX and even the XC60. Some might even call the Q5 slightly boring. The sterile exterior was accentuated by the rental-car white paint our tester wore. Sales of the old X3 paled in comparison to the Q5, but by early indications, the X3 has the Q5’s sales crown in its sights this year. Will the wholesome farm girl beat the beauty queen with its newly found frugal practicality? Since it will take a while for the market to let us know, give us your take now in the comment section below.

In order to maintain brisk sales, the base Q5 has received an engine down-size for 2011. With the likes of the Ford Explorer sporting a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine option, it was only a matter of time before one of VW/Audi’s turbo engines was found under the Q5’s hood. Audi followers know that the TT, A3, A4 and A5 are now available exclusively with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot in the USA and if the numbers tell the full story, buyers may not miss the 3.2L V6 when the option is finally removed at some point in the future. Forced induction lovers rejoice! The turbo charged fuel sipper is the base engine, not an expensive option (unlike the new the new Explorer).

While the 211HP Audi 2.0-liter TFSI engine is nothing new, the lighter duty version of the 8-speed ZF cog-swapper found under the hoods of certain Rolls Royce and BMW models is. According to ze Germans, the 2 extra cogs alone are worth an 11% improvement in fuel economy over the previous 6-speed. The result of the displacement right-sizing and extra gears means the Q5 in 2.0T guise delivers 20MPG city, 27 highway and 22 combined. On paper this is only a 15% increase, in practice during our 800-mile week-long test of the A5, we averaged an impressive 26.5MPG in mixed driving; a practical real-world 25% increase in mileage over a Q5 3.2 I drove a year ago. 26.5MPG would be good in a FWD CUV, but even better when you note that all US bound 2.0T models are equipped with Quattro.

By offering AWD standard on all Q5s in the USA, Audi succeeds in distancing themselves from the likes of the two-wheel-drive XC60 or GLK chionophobic base models. For MPG comparison, the new BMW X3 xDrive28i delivers 19/25 MPG, the Volvo XC60 3.2 AWD gives buyers 18/24, the Acura RDX spools up 17/22 and the Mercedes GLK rounds out the bottom gulping a lowly 16/22 MPG. No wonder Audi expects 60% of Q5 buyers to stick with the base four.

At the first stab of the accelerator it seems that there is a replacement for displacement after all: while the 3.2L V6 in the Q5 3.2 may deliver 59 more horsepower, it’s actually 15lb-ft down on its two-liter cousin. Torque comes on early, lag is minimal and the twist doesn’t quit until high in the RPM band. It is therefore no surprise that our tester scooted to 60MPH in 6.8 (Audi claims 7.1 officially), down only .2 seconds to the 3.2 equipped Q5 we have tested in the past. It’s worth pointing out that the 2.0T beats acceleration expectations while the 3.2 merely meets them. The numbers are close enough to make little difference to most shoppers.

The only impediment to sporting progress in the 2.0T seems to be the 8-speed transmission. The sheer number of gears seems to leave the transmission software confused about which gear is right for you. The result: acceleration can be a varied experience depending on your speed. Still, overall performance is quite good having a far more linear feel than the 3.2L I6 in the XC60 or even the 2.3L turbo four in the RDX. Buyers paying extra for the Q5 3.2 may be disappointed to find that the 3.2 is still mated to ye olde ZF 6-speed. Towing capacity is the same between engines at a lofty (for a small CUV) 4,400lbs when properly equipped.

Out on the road, the 2.0T’s suspension tuning is similar to the 3.2: stiff for a CUV. Wide tires, a wide track, beefy brakes, fairly svelte curb weight (the 2.0T is 209lbs lighter than the 3.2) and oddly well balanced weight distribution of 50.5/49.5 (TTAC estimate) and quick steering (3.2 to lock) combine to give the Q5 athletic prowess on the track worthy of a BMW badge. If you are used to your Audi plowing like a nose-heavy freighter, the Q5 will surprise you. A quick-shifting DSG gearbox or at the least some shift paddles (available on the 3.2) might even turn the 2.0T into a pleasing corner carver. Compared to the likes of the XC60, RDX and GLK, the Q5 is certainly the road feel champ but it can’t quite match the new X3 for road manners.

First released as a 2009 model, our 2011 tester brought few changes to its largely monochromatic interior. Audi’s limited and tasteful use of wood trim helped break up the large expanses of black in our tester but let you know the price tag is lower than the wood-laden Q7. Unlike some of the competition (and some Audi models) buyers can opt for lighter leather and dashboard shades resulting in a feel that is far more airy than the black-on-black-on-black theme of our tester.

The latest MMI system is the largest change inside the Q5. Along with a large high-resolution LCD in a dedicated dash binnacle, a revised MMI controller knob that now includes a mini-joystick and revised software. The high-resolution 3-D navigation screens are crisp and comparable to BMW’s latest iDrive. BMW’s wise-aspect ratio screen gets the nod for the wow factor, but Audi delivers a close second in both form and function. Bluetooth and iPod integration are both about average in the class with logical controls and fairly good media device browsing ability on the main screen or the small LCD between the speedo and tach via the steering wheel controls.

My only major gripe with the MMI system continues to be the lack of voice commands for media device voice control ala Ford Sync, in truth this is a complaint against everyone but Ford. A less critical niggle is that Audi has done nothing to address the ergonomic flaw in the button and knob layout. While you can change the volume on the steering wheel (and voice command is available for some functions) I found myself spending a great deal of time looking down at the array of buttons surrounding the MMI dial or hunting for the volume knob. In a CUV with a moderately high beltline, this poses a distraction issue. Some upgrades, including steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a backup camera, and intelligent cruise control are available only on the 3.2 Prestige (the most expensive version of the Q5) so they were not available to test on our loaner.

Great, but how much does it cost? Our Q5 came in Premium Plus trim with a base MSRP of $39,400, the $3,000 navigation and parking sensor package and the $850 Bang & Olufson sound system. Only a $350 rear side-airbag option, 19”” wheels and some sparkly paint remained un-selected on our nearly loaded $44,600 tester. While the navigation system wears a big price tag, even for the luxury market, the functionality of the MMI is worth it. To achieve the lower ticket the 2.0T is “de-contented” to 18-inch wheels, a manual lift gate, and washerless headlamps. In our book these features (or lack thereof) are worth the $7,300 discount and greater fuel economy. A quick drive by my local Audi dealers revealed that all but two examples on the floor had had the MMI, so if you want a stripper, be prepared to order.

In comparison, a similarly equipped Volvo XC60 3.2 (albeit larger and more powerful) is the value leader coming in $2000 less with more interior room. A comparably equipped Mercedes GLK? $46,400. If BMW is more your style, an X3 xDrive28i will set you back an eye bulging $47,825 comparably equipped. Admittedly the Q5’s sporty dimensions (read: small) limit cargo room compared to the GLK and XC60, both which can easily swallow a 10-foot PVC pipe or 6-foot ladder from the home improvement shop of your choice. Practicality lovers note that the XC60’s fold-down front seat actually allows the Swede to sword-swallow a 10-foot ladder if you are careful. As pictures can attest, a two-tank water softener will fit in the Q5 no problem. If a sporty ride with cargo hauling capacity is what you seek, look no further than an Audi A4 Avant. If you really must CUV like the Jones’ then the Q5 2.0T is certainly a well-balanced choice.

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

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 2.5 seconds

0-60: 6.9 seconds

q5080005-1280 q5080006-1280 q5080004-1280 q5e_medium q5080002-1280 q5080007-1280 q5d_medium q5g_medium Audi Q5 q5b_medium Audi Q5 q5f_medium q5c_medium Quo Vadis? q5h_medium 2011-audi-q5-2.0t-engine-view Audi Q5

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Review: 2011 Audi A8 (Short Wheelbase) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-a8-short-wheelbase/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-a8-short-wheelbase/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2011 19:57:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=390924

The Audi A8’s fifteen minutes of fame in Super Bowl XLV showed that Audi did not intend for its flagship to fall into the luxury sedan trap of courting mainstream aspirational lust with a stodgy, obviously “upscale” demeanor. And since America’s economic recovery is too halting to inspire over-the-top indulgence, and Mercedes owns the “bulk-and-bling” approach to luxury anyway, Audi’s attempt at a more subtle, sophisticated brand of luxury flagship makes good marketing sense on paper. But does Audi’s cleaner, leaner design aesthetic strike the right tone for a “new era of luxury,” or does it doom this A8 to the over-subtlety that kept its predecessors from breakinginto the mainstream of full-sized luxury? More to the point, does Audi’s sophisticated marketing message reflect a car that really does offer a different approach to luxury? Let’s find out…


Starting with that nose. Between the lovable tailfins on a Caddy and the Bangle-butt of a 7-series lies the polarizing grin of the A8’s drop-jaw grille. Our tester didn’t wear a front license plate, which is both a blessing and a curse: the need for the Auto Union logo sitting front and center eventually grates on the inner ADHD designer. Yet it looks like no BMW or Merc: white marker lights change to yellow when you signal a turn. The avant-garde LED headlight squares have, in the words of lighting guru Daniel Stern, “a richer spectral content in a particular range of wavelengths that facilitate visual acuity at night.” That’s true. Please believe that HID’s days are numbered.


Too bad love wanes past the A8’s fenders. It’s a plus sized A4, with more elegant swage lines. Much like a 30+ foot yacht from the manufacturer of smaller/similar vessels, the A8 looks sharp in its high beltline, with an oversized hull demanding respect. But the rear is downmarket enough to clamor for more chrome, more bustle…more of anything. As Simply Red once said, “She was so beautiful, but oh-so boring.” Ostentatious exterior design isn’t for everyone, but Audi seems to have again erred a bit too far on the side of subtlety.


But inside the A8 does scream posh, with a TV-binnacle free dashboard timelessly, effortlessly sweeps the length of the cabin. Only the console’s undefined meeting point with the dash and a DVD/Media door slapped in the center of prime real estate would make a Camry giggle with delight. Luckily, the A8’s mass quantities of woodgrain and brushed aluminum capture the heart faster than mercury-laced bread finds Huckleberry Finn. Not to mix metaphors, but the cabin’s LED accent lighting ups the ante with a TRON homage, bringing the front end’s goodwill indoors.
And from the driver’s seat, surrounded by well-chosen, well-crafted materials as well as the latest in technology, the A8′s sophisticated design brief finally begins to make sense. Sit back in a 22-way adjustable massaging throne–strong enough to pinch a nerve–and start the show. Tap the ignition button and Audi’s MMI screen elegantly pops out, along with two masterfully rendered Bang & Olufsen tweeters. The $6300 audio upgrade has best-in-class highs and imaging, but like B&O products sold in shopping malls, runs flat on mid/low bass back at home (paging Dr. Mark Levinson!).


The meaty tiller sports metal-like chrome bits, with a thumbwheel to control some of Audi’s MMI features. Not necessary, because the console’s rotary knob and fairly logical buttonage are a quick study. MMI’s unique Etch-A-Sketch-alike pad for entering addresses is cool, but stupid: a touch screen from Kenwood’s finest beats scraping a fingernail to write a street address. Still, a level of technology overload that would just seem pointless and geeky somehow feels proper when it’s located with ergonomic precision amid top-notch materials. Like the rest of the car, the technology is easy to overlook or dismiss, and yet just works with unobtrusive ease.


While the tee-bar gear lever never warmed my soul, the 8 speeds are a necessary part of the fun, if only in sport mode. It’s a close ratio box, leaving the 4.2L V8 (372hp @ 6800rpm) no chance to fall out of its powerband. Very necessary, since twin-turbo V8s are available at this price elsewhere. Even worse, Mercedes adds AWD as a relatively cheap ($3000) option.


Then again, Audi has the Kenny G commercial. And the all-aluminum A8 is far lighter on its feet than the big Benz, cornering with precision and idiot-proof poise: I couldn’t get the tires to chirp on a dry urban road. Flash the torque convertor, hammer the throttle and the A8 leaps forward, much to the fear of its occupants. Throw in a corner, hit the apex at full-tilt and still nothing: understeer creeps up and the active handling nanny taps the brakes, even with the system disengaged.


So it’s not an M5, but the A8 is a joy to drive on a twisty road, with linear steering, quick tip-in and acres of grip. It’s good enough to make A8 briefly lose power steering boost in a fast U-turn: a minor quibble, an easy fix for any chassis engineer.
So let’s chill. With the boulevardier in mind, the A8’s air-sprung ride goes flat over sharp bumps or pavement joints: no matter how beautiful, twanky-inch wheels are for children. The A8 has enough wheelbase/heft to dull impact harshness, but the endless banging from the front end on my commute to work got old in a hurry. Larger rubber might well help, but can the exterior really afford even more subtlety?
No car is perfect, not even a luxo-sedan that kisses a 6-figure asking price. And the A8 is the best in class for cornering, plus it’s a charming and timeless work of art, inside and out. If it had a pair of turbochargers and less worrisome depreciation rates, the A8 would hands down rule the competition. If, on the other hand, you can’t commit to an Audi A8 over a BMW or Merc, consider leasing one as a company car instead. Audi’s approach to luxury takes a little more time to appreciate than the competition, and even if you decide it’s not for you, it can be well worth experiencing.

Audi provided the test vehicle, insurance and a tank of gas.

Not a fan of our Facebook page? Too bad about that. For our Facebook peeps, here are your answers: Nick Roshon, not an old man’s car, MMI is easier than I expected to learn. Darren Williams: maybe the aluminum doors are why it feels cheap, so it’s a price worth paying. Adam Blank, I assume it tops out at 155mph like most German cars, you must promise to bail me out of jail before I find that out in the real world. John Walker: the lighting, MMI touch pad and massaging seats are pretty outstanding, and no, don’t tow with it. Ken Morton: every S-class I’ve been in rides better, road crushing weight perhaps? Stephen Schwarz: like so many new cars, the rear visibility is terrible, front is acceptable.

Exploring a new genre, or more of the same? fancystuff engine audi-a8-thumb MMIpad fancyreararmrest MMIpad3 front3quarter front3quarter3 rear MMIpad2 tvup massagingseats popuptweet front3quarter2 tvdown rearseatwoodgrain Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail front interior

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Review: 2011 Audi S5 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-s5/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-2011-audi-s5/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2011 18:23:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=389502

Everyone hates the BMW M3. If you need proof of that, simply look at the sheer number of times auto manufacturers compare their latest wares to the M3. The green-eyed monster is alive and well for a reason: the M3 is a performance legend whether or not you agree it’s the performance king. The M3 is Elvis, King Arthur, Robin Hood and the Fountain of Youth all rolled into one. The seemingly insurmountable task of dethroning the M3 encourages all manner of attempts from every unlikely angle of the automotive world from the former Volvo V70R to the Nissan 350Z. In Audi’s corner: the S5 coupe.

Audi has had BMW in its sights for some time, but the A5/S5 is the first real shot across the performance coupe bow in a while. Back in 2007 Audi’s R&D department seemed to suffer from the same issue Volvo was up against in 2004: designing a vehicle to battle E46 M3 instead of the soon-to-be-announced E92 M3. When you look at the S5 in this light, it makes sense that Audi didn’t deliberately take a 354HP V8 to a 400+ horsepower fight. In attempt to perhaps make up for the power shortcomings, Audi revised the S5 gently in 2010 bringing a revised telematics system (the third generation MMI), redesigned lamps and a new trick active sport differential to the party. At just about the same time, BMW announced more appropriate S5 competition in the form of the 335is. Coincidence? You decide.

Stylistically, the Audi S5 is the farm girl with perfect skin compared to the airbrushed fashion models from BMW and Mercedes. The flowing lines are undoubtedly sexy however slightly plain in comparison to the crazy bulges, flares and creases worn by the competition. For 2010 the only changes to the exterior are new LED tail lamps bringing the S5 up to date with the rest of the Audi lineup.

Inside, Audi’s recent goth trend continues unabated. Henry Ford would be proud of Audi’s interior design color palatte; buyers can have whatever color dashboard, center console, doors and carpets they desire, as long as it’s black. The monochromatic theme was slightly broken up in our tester by the creamy “Silk Napa Leather” covering everything that wasn’t plastic. Although you can opt for beige, brown or red leather, the majority of the interior will always be black. While I do appreciate a dark interior, the all-black style and high beltline may turn off some buyers. Still, interior components are all first rate in terms of feel and the available birch wood trim adds much needed warmth to the interior. Compared to the M3 and 335is, Audi’s interior parts are all of similar quality, but BMW’s more liberal use of color and optional trim allow buyers to break up the vast expanses of soft-touch plastics in a way only the more expensive Audis allow.

Audi shoppers I spoke with were confused by the S5 coupe and s5 cabriolet, so allow me to explain. Despite the fact that the S5 coupe and S5 cabrio are basically the same car, the drivetrain is totally different. The S5 coupe is motivated by ye olde 354HP 4.2L V8 that has been Audi’s V8 of choice for some time coupled to a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, whereas the S5 sans-top benefits from Audi’s latest 3.0L supercharged V6 engine and a 7-speed DSG.

Despite the slight horsepower reduction vs the 4.2L V8 (333HP & 325lb-ft vs 354HP & 325lb-ft) the only major downside to the 3.0T is the distinct reduction in aural satisfaction caused by the missing cylinders. The upside to the new engine and transmission can readily be seen in the 0-60 times (5.1 as tested for the coupe vs 5.2 according to Audi for the cabrio) and in the significantly better mileage; 17/26 vs 14/22 for the V8. On the surface it sounds like the V8 is the better engine for the job, but the topless S5 weighs as much as a BMW 740i tipping the scales at 4310lbs almost 400lbs heavier than the coupe. While the aural purists may welcome the continuation of the V8 in the S5, I’d take the supercharged six any day.

When it comes time to hit the gas pump the 4.2L V8 proves to be a thirsty companion, I averaged a lowly 18.1 MPG over 800 miles (80% highway) with my first tank coming in at 14.6MPG. Compared to the 23.6 MPG average I recorded in the BMW 335is tester I had back in 2010, or the claimed 26MPG highway average of the S5 cabrio. Buyers should consider their gas budget before purchasing. Does that make the S5 coupe’s V8 a liability? Yes and no. If V8 sound is what you desire in a car, then look no further; the 4.2L V8’s swan song is one of the best.

Pricing and Quattro have long been Audi’s two major selling points, so how does the S5 coupe stack up? Well, $53,650 is your rock-bottom starting price (ouch). This will get the bare-bones buyer an S5 nicely featured with Quattro AWD, xenon headlamps, rain sense wipers, Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) without navigation, automatic climate control and Bluetooth. Stepping up to the Prestige model for $59,550 adds keyless entry and ignition, Bang & Olufson audio system, navigation and the third-generation MMI navigation system. Our “Prestige” tester rang in at a whopping $64,375with a 6-speed manual and the $3,950 Audi Drive Select system. A comparably equipped M3 (keeping in mind the M3 is of course RWD only) rings in around 10K more before dealer markup and the335is is more or less similarly priced when you adjust for option package content. It should be noted that the Infiniti G37x AWD rings in a veritable bargain at $49,575 (comparably equipped) but its AWD system just isn’t as nimble as Audi’s Quattro.

Speaking of that third-generation MMI, while I appreciate the ability to manipulate all the various features while in motion, (mostly because I value my right to fiddle with buttons more than my own life) I do put some value in a vague attempt to make a system inherently safer regardless of your decision to fiddle. Despite revising the MMI controller to include a mini-joystick disc on top of the MMI controller, they have done nothing to address the ergonomic flaw in the button and knob layout. While you can change the volume on the steering wheel and voice command is available for some functions, I found myself spending a great deal of time looking down at the array of buttons surrounding the MMI dial and hunting for the volume knob. Still, the system’s menus are fairly intuitive and as easy to learn as much of the competition but I found the addition of the joy-stick like disk on top of the MMI knob more of a hindrance than a feature. iPod and USB device integration is very good allowing control from the MMI screen or the color screen between the tach and speedo, but it would be nice if the voice command system extended to at least minimal iPod control, after all a $14,000 Fiesta can do it.

Options and gadgets aside, it’s the drive that the S5 is all about. Audi’s clutch and shifter action is close to my definition of perfect: short shifts and a slightly firm clutch. While straight line performance and handling are not up to M3 standards, the V8 has excellent low-end grunt (something missing from the G37X, 335is and even the S5 cabrio) and epic, pucker-free grip. On my second day with the S5 the heavens opened and my rain gauge recorded 8 inches in 50 hours, this is where the Quattro system in the S5 went from fun to amazing.

There is of course a reason I’m partial to AWD; no matter how many clinics I attend I’m still a moron with RWD in an oh-shit-I-made-my-ass–spin-out-of-control kind of setting. AWD? It’s a cinch. Does that make the S5 a car that you can easily overdrive? Maybe, but that’s between you and your insurance carrier. Of course not all is rosy in Quattro-land, aside from binding in certain tight parking lot maneuvers, the AWD system makes the steering feel heavy and isolated at times. Personally, I think the increased traction is a worthwhile tradeoff but purists are bound to disagree.

A quick web search indicates that many reviews deride the S5 as a nose-heavy porker. While the S5 is undoubtedly nose heavy compared to the balanced 335is, Audi has given this little piggy a new active rear differential. Several reviews imply the general public would not benefit from this new trick torque shifter, but as often happens on TTAC: I beg to differ with the “mainstream press”. A quick trip to the local Audi dealer to wring an S5 with the active diff (our tester was not so equipped) for a quick flog on slippery mountain roads yielded surprising results.

While I would not say it turns the S5 into a tail-happy M3, it certainly does make the S5 a great deal less understeer-prone leading to a surprisingly well balanced personality in slides. This feat is accomplished with a computer controlled hydraulic rear diff that can torque vector, sending power to the outside rear wheel in a turn whenever it pleases. The S5 won’t ever feel like a 3 series, but when you stab the gas it does allow enough tail wagging fun to satisfy most drivers while maintaining epic grip and something of a safety factor. It’s this ratio of grip-to-effort that makes the S5 so rewarding behind the wheel. The M3 may have superior power, but for those of us that aren’t professional drivers, 400+HP and RWD can leave you with this sneaking suspicion that your car is trying to kill you.

At the end of the day the S5 remains something of an expensive niche vehicle. Even if it had an extra 100 horses under the hood, the S5 will really never be M3 competition, it’s just too heavy. If you want balls-out, power sliding performance and the thrill of RWD: the M3 reigns supreme. But if you are interested in something that maintains its driving personality rain or shine, the S5 trumps BMW’s 335is any rainy day. The only fly in the S5’s ointment? The V8. The problem is deeper than just weight and power; with new CAFE numbers looming it’s clear that the cabrio’s supercharged V6 is the right dance partner for the S5 coupe, so if you want a V8 Coupe with AWD to tackle the next snowpocalypse: get one while supplies last, the rest of us will wait for the S5 3.0T coupe.

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

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 2.0 seconds

0-60: 5.2 seconds

Average economy: 18.1MPG overall

Facebook followers. Neal S: If AWD is what you seek, then yes $15K more than a mustang 5.0 is worth it. If you just want fast, get the ‘stang. Kevin F: Yes you can, the price for refinement is at least $15K.Daniel L: Understeer is really not that bad, yes it is there if you REALLY push it, but 99% of drivers will never notice. S curves are fine until the limit, at the limit the active diff helps calm the beast.

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Review: 2011 Audi A8 L 4.2 FSI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-audi-a8l-4-2-fsi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-audi-a8l-4-2-fsi/#comments Wed, 08 Dec 2010 21:20:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=376266

“Didn’t he say they had only one of the new A8s?”

“That’s an A4, Dad.”

Some people will walk away at this point, refusing to even consider spending $85,000+ on a car that can be so easily confused with one costing less than half as much. A similar problem killed GM’s luxury car sales back in the second half of the 1980s. But, by walking away, are these buyers missing out on the best large luxury sedan on the market?

Personally, I’ve long been okay with the “same sausage, different lengths” design philosophy. I don’t expect a size 12 shoe to be styled differently than a size 8, at least not if I like the design. Prefer the agility of a compact? Get the A4. Need the XXL, because you and all of your buddies must duck when walking through standard doorways? The A8 L could well be the car for you.

The problem, for me: the new Audi A8 doesn’t look enough like the A4. With the latest iterations of the A3, A4, A5, and Q5, Audi seemed to have finally figured out how to attractively incorporate a supersized grille into the face of a car. With these models, the outer thirds of the front fascia extend a little lower than the center section, and a bumper bar splits the grille horizontally, keeping it from appearing too tall. Well, with the new A8 a vastly oversized, unsegmented grille extends all the way to the fascia’s flat bottom edge. And, to make sure no one somehow misses it, Audi affixed eight pairs of chrome strips. Harley Earl would have loved it. Ditto the $1,400 all-LED headlamps. A“because we can” affectation, the hockey stick pattern formed by the LEDs has no relation to the rest of the car’s design.

Then there’s the side view. With the new A4 and A5, Audi located the front differential immediately behind the engine so that the front axle could be shifted forward a half-foot, vastly improving the car’s proportions. They’ve performed no such trickery with the new A8. Combining Audi’s traditional powertrain layout with a hood high enough to meet the latest European pedestrian safety standards yields an unsightly amount of front overhang.

Lastly, the lower bodysides of latest A4 have an upsweeping character line to lend visual interest. In contrast, the bodysides of the new A8 are relatively boring. A pair of character lines do subtly curve towards each other, but this only makes the rear of the car appear undersized and underdeveloped. Only through its sheer sheer size—207.4 inches long, 76.7 inches wide—and that of its glitzy grille does the A8 possibly command the “road presence” expected of this class of sedan. The previous A8 was considerably more attractive.

The 2011 Audi A8s interior design is an evolution of the previous car’s; not a bad thing, since the previous car’s interior was Germany’s most attractive. The Alcantara that now graces the door panels looks better in richer shades than the “as-tested” light beige. The sportily sloping center stack has been further reclined to create space for the MMI (Audi for iDrive) controls ahead of the shifter (they used to be behind it). To avoid obstructing these controls, the new all-electronic shifter is a much lower, fighter jet-inspired T. Knobs continue to be employed for the most basic HVAC and audio system functions.

When not in use, the display screen retracts into the instrument panel. This cleans up the IP—but the display is almost constantly in use. Even the seat adjustments are displayed, which is actually a good thing because they are so numerous. In general, so many adjustments are available for so many things that the average owner will probably never be aware of, much less be able to figure out how to use, 90 percent of them. It’s a high-end cell phone disguised as a large luxury sedan.

Option the new A8 to the hilt and even rear seat passengers can suffer from control overload. But the tested car included a mere $8,400 in options and so lacked power rear seats, dual-zone rear HVAC, and the dual-display entertainment system. Even so, each rear door included four switches and a button to operate four sunshades (overhead, each side window, and the rear window), both power windows, and a venting rear panel in the optional panoramic sunroof.

Oddly, given this car’s mission, seat comfort front and rear is just okay. In the traditional Audi fashion the seats are firm and lacking in contour. Those seeking lateral support should kick in another $2,000 for the Premium Package, which includes power-adjustable bolsters. Roominess, on the other hand, is outstanding. In the extended length L, nearly all of the lengthier wheelbase goes to the rear seat, yielding 42.9 inches of legroom—more than in the front seat. In the Hyundai Equus I complained about the lack of toe space beneath the front seats. In the A8 L my toes couldn’t reach the front seats. Perceived roominess is even better than the specs suggest, partly because Audi hasn’t run with the crowd to adopt ridiculously high beltlines—the windows remain relatively large. Unless you and your buds all play center, or you want to feel like a child again while riding in the back seat, there could even be too much room.

Most luxury car makers have been steadily enlarging the size of their engines. BMW went from a 4.0 to a 4.4 to a 4.8, Mercedes to a 5.5. Both are now downsizing their V8s, but are adding turbos to simultaneously boost power output. Even Hyundai plans to bump its 4.6-liter V8 to a full 5.0 next year. In contrast, Audi has been offering a smallest-in-class unblown 4.2-liter V8 for nearly two decades. The engine has received various tweaks, some of them substantial, along the way. The latest revision yields 372 horsepower, up 22 from last year and nearly 100 from the original. Wringing 372 horsepower from 4.2 liters—Mercedes gets only ten more out of its 5.5—necessarily requires lots of revs, 6,800 in this case. Put another way, there’s less power at low-to-moderate RPM with a smaller engine, and the 4.2’s torque output of 328 pound-feet at 3,500 trails the Mercedes’ 391 at 2,800, much less the turbocharged V8 in the BMW 7.

Personally, I don’t miss the missing torque in the Audi. The relatively small V8 revs so smoothly, and makes such luscious mechanical noises when doing so, that the need to work it harder might well be the opposite of a problem. The A8 might not launch quite as hard as the others, but once moving feels very quick. The new smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic does its part, always seeming to select the proper gear without delay. But if you do want to shift for yourself, paddles are located on the steering wheel.

Working an engine harder often harms fuel economy, and the Audi engine has been a bit of a guzzler in the past. But the EPA rates the 2011 at 17 city, 27 highway—up from 16/23 last year and impressive numbers for such a large, powerful, all-wheel-drive car. The BMW 750Li xDrive and Mercedes-Benz S500 4Matic do far worse: 14/20 and 14/21, respectively.

Shifting the front axle forward in the A4 and A5 also improved their weight distribution. Even without this change, though, the new A8 plows much less in hard turns than the old one did, and generally feels more agile. Which is not to say agile. The A8 drives a half-size smaller than it actually is, but this is a half-size smaller than XXL. Typical of all-wheel-drive Audi’s, the A8 can feel inflexible on dry pavement. Get on the throttle, get off the throttle, it doesn’t matter: the attitude of the chassis doesn’t change. To dial the handling up another notch or two, lend some rear-drive feel to the quattro drivetrain, and perhaps all but eliminate understeer, spend another $2,300 for “Audi drive select plus,” which includes active steering and an active, torque-vectoring rear differential.

“Audi drive select” (without the “plus”) is standard, so the throttle, steering, suspension (air springs and adaptive struts), and seat belt tensioners (go figure) can each be independently set to Comfort, “Dynamic” (sport), or Auto. With most such systems the differences between settings can be difficult to discern. Not so with Audi’s. Set the steering and suspension to “comfort,” and the car floats and wallows. “Auto” and “Dynamic” should be the only options. Dial both up to “dynamic,” and the steering becomes –if anything– overly firm, while the suspension becomes much tighter. No one else in the segment offers steering nearly this firm—the difference is easily detectable even while driving straight down the freeway. Move the wheel even a fraction of an inch and the car responds immediately. But all is not perfect: like the ultra-firm steering in a 1980s Detroit-issue Audi-fighter, though certainly not to the same extent, the steering’s weightiness feels artificial and doesn’t build progressively as the wheel is turned.

Ride quality suffers a bit in “Dynamic,” but remains very comfortable. A rock-solid, quiver-free body structure helps. Especially on concrete, road noise is more of an issue in any setting. There’s not a lot of it, but some competitors are nearly silent. The tested car did have the optional 20-inch high-performance tires; the standard 19s might be quieter.

Pack a large aluminum body chock full of technology, and the price isn’t going to be low. The 2011 Audi A8 starts at $78,925. The long, with some additional standard equipment: $84,875. Even lightly optioned, as in the case of the tested car, the price tops $94k. Load it up and you’re over $110k. This might seem pricey, but based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool a similarly-equipped BMW 750Li costs about $10,000 more.

The new Audi A8 is easily the sportiest car in the segment. Even BMW has gone soft in comparison, and the new 7 is also considerably more expensive. Not that the new A8 is perfect. The car’s exterior could be both more distinctive (aft of the grille) and more attractive (including the grille). The relatively small V8 doesn’t churn out pavement-rippling torque; with all wheels driven, the chassis could handle far more. Even the car’s technical excellence can seem a little cold—some competitors feel more “natural.” But then no car is perfect. If you’re a driving enthusiast ISO a very large car, the A8 wins by just about any objective measure, and by many subjective measures as well.

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

Lee “Pete” Canupp of Checkered Flag Audi in Virginia Beach, VA, provided the car. Pete can be reached at 757-490-1111.
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Review: Audi A5 Sportback http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-audi-a5-sportback/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/05/review-audi-a5-sportback/#comments Mon, 24 May 2010 09:03:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=357212

Coupe – feminine noun. Cutting; cutting out; cut. According to the Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary at least, this is the definition of a word that always held special promise for car lovers worldwide. But the evocative nature of the term, and the fact that French is no longer the world’s lingua franca, have given today’s automakers license to apply the term to almost anything. If a car’s roof line even remotely resembles a rotten piece of a banana, it’s a coupe. Marketing, after all, is a more powerful force than grammar.

Short of running out of letters and integers, nothing will stop Audi from launching an assault on the competition’s league of French-illiterates. Its two entries in the world of un-coupes, at least at the moment I type these words, are the soon-to-be-launched Audi A7 and the Audi A5 Sportback.

Audi’s A5 Sportback is supposed to slot between its bestselling A4 and the two door A5, which is a lot like asking for a compromise between a fruit salad and a cheeseburger. Nevertheless, the good folks from Inglostadt are convinced that there is room (got it?) for a coupe-like hatchback with four doors, in the price bracket of its popular sedan. And so, the Sportback is longer by a mere third of an inch than its flat-roof sibling, one inch wider and most importantly, another inch lower.

The ‘real’ A5 Coupe is a rather handsome automobile, and the Sportback gives up nothing to its older sibling. It’s also markedly more handsome in person than in any photo. Audi have done a good job of masking the two extra doors – looking it at certain front-side angles, you’d be hard pressed to even tell they’re there, and you definitely can’t tell that this is actually a five door.

The sloping roof is surprisingly convincing, and the rest of the exteriordesign’s careful attention to detail – like the sculptured rear sides and the twin profile lines flowing over the car – is particularly impressive. The front end is carried over unchanged from the A5 Coupe, and that’s a good thing, even if you don’t find the standard Audi grille an exciting design experiment.

In contrast with the exterior design, the interior is much less exciting. In brand-typical fashion, the inside of this Audi is a well engineered, good quality effort. It’s not the prettiest in the business, but the materials, build quality and general ease of use compensate for the lack of aesthetic adventurousness.

Size-wise, things are distinctively A4 in the back, with headroom that’s surprisingly almost identical to the traditional sedan. Legroom gets a little drop – and that’s not saying much in favor of the Sportback, since the A4 isn’t exactly the roomiest sedan to begin with. Still, two adults average sized adults who haven’t called shotgun on time will find sufficient space in the second row.

Emphasize ‘two’, because there are two only seats. The Sportback is actually wider than the A4, so the omission of the third seat is purely a marketing-driven “coupe” signifier. Good news comes in the form of the trunk (literally), which is 17 cubic feet in size – exactly the same as in the A4 sedan, but with the ease of use of a hatchback.

It’s unusual for automakers to hand out base engine cars for reviews, and yet, there it is: a metallic blue A5 Sportback with a 2.0 turbocharged inline four (TFSI) producing just under a 180 horsepower, front wheel drive (gasp!) and a proper six speed manual box (double gasp!).

Let’s start with the basics: 8.3 seconds to 60 (if you can shift like superman) and a top speed of 138 mph (if you’re brave enough to veer into the left lane of an Autobahn). Not exactly numbers to set the enthusiast’s heart racing, but this is a turbocharged engine – so numbers don’t count. Come 2,000 rpm, the horses come-a-prancing to this Audi’s front wheels and the result is impressive midrange grunt. Performance is only let down by mild torque steer if you’re really, er, pushing things.

The 2.0 liter lump is a rev-happy engine that doesn’t feel anything like economy. With a heavy right foot, this free-spinner makes relentless progress all the way up the rev range, until 6,500 and beyond. The results are better than you’d expect from a four pot midsize, and definitely a more entertaining experience than the 8 second 0-60 time would lead you to believe.

But the rev-over-grunt tuning isn’t just another coupe affectation.  ”Base” now means “green”, so Audi have equipped all manual transmission A5s with a start-stop system and a shift indicator. Stop and put the gearlever into neutral, and the engine automatically shuts down. Press the clutch pedal, and it’s alive again. This sounds good on paper, but it hasn’t quite been executed perfectly. Unlike in, say, a Toyota Prius, you can feel the engine vibrating into life, and the electronics get confused during short stops.

The gearshift indicator constantly urges you to shift upwards. Follow it and you’ll find yourself cruising on less than 1,500 rpm, which is still nighttime in turbocharger country. In-gear acceleration requires great patience as the car gathers pace towards the 2,000 rpm mark and beyond.

There is a healthy payoff to these two not exactly silent passengers: fuel economy. Even while not religiously following the gearshift fairy, I had no problems getting readouts of 33 mpg on a variety of roads and close to that on mildly spirited drives.

Judging a car’s ride on smooth Bavarian tarmac is about as objective as judging a pacifist in a pillbox, but strangely this Audi demonstrated an unsettling, harsh ride. Pretty surprising, considering the GT-riding nature of the Coupe. The blame is on the S-line package and the added benefits of a sporty suspension and 245/40R18 tires. This is one option you should definitely skip, because an unsettling ride on German roads is intolerable on others.

Other than the ride, the A5 is a great cruiser on a smooth autobahn. Wind noises aren’t apparent until speeds north of 90 mph. And even then, you really feel like you’re doing about half that speed. The engine is also well silenced while cruising at high speeds, but the raspy engine note does penetrate the cabin when you’re clearly into acceleration.

I now realize I haven’t said a word about handling. That’s because there isn’t much to write home about. Even without Quattro, you could still describe the A5 Sportback with adjectives such as ‘planted’, ‘safe’ and ‘predictable’ – it can certainly take turns at high speeds, but without much vigor. Technically, most everything is sound – there’s minimal body roll and chassis responses are good. But somehow, it just doesn’t work out into a sports-sedan. The nicely weighted steering stiffens suddenly and artificially on turn in, making it hard to judge exactly where the wheels are. The dreadfully long clutch and gearbox don’t exactly make shifts a joy, either. The two exiled driving wheels are missed when you lose your manners. This is when the Quattro-less Audi will gently understeer you back into reality, reminding you of your rightful place in the Bavarian food chain.

The Sportback is not a perfect car, and definitely not the greatest Audi of the past few years. It’s not the most exciting car to drive (though the same is true for the A5 Coupe… and several other Audis), neither does it remarkably cosset its driver or passengers. Its stronger points are a quality feel, excellent powertrain and a healthy dose of style. The positive and negative bits blend into a likeable car, but it just doesn’t offer many technical advantages over its sedate sibling. Unless style is your definition of premium. In which case, you’ll have no problem calling the Sportback a coupe.

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

This review brought to you by icar.co.il

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Review: Audi TT-S http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/review-audi-tt-s/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/review-audi-tt-s/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2009 16:24:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=335279 DSC_0637

It is said of Frank Lloyd Wright that he was an unbelievably annoying and offensive man; worse than that, every home he ever built ended up with a leaky roof. More than eight years ago, the first major gathering of North American TT owners took place, not at a racetrack or in the banal confines of a convention-center parking lot, but in the shadow of Wright’s residential masterpiece, Fallingwater. It was an apt choice for an automobile which has chosen form over function since its introduction. Among the quartet of small German sportsters — Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, BMW Z, and Mercedes SLK — only the TT is a transverse-engined front-driver, only the TT is currently supplied in North America with a four-cylinder engine, and only the TT features rear seats, improbable as they may be. Those of us who remember the Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like The Other” will have no trouble picking out the Audi as the one which, indeed, is not like the others.

DSC_0544It is your author’s humble opinion that the TT, like most design-centric products, is most satisfying taken in basic form. The standard front-wheel-drive, DSG-shifted two-liter turbo TT costs approximately $39,000. It is usefully lighter and more nimble than the Volkswagen GTI with which it shares a powertrain, and it is absent any of the hypermacho German posturing which would ill-suit a tidy little sporting hatchback of this type. Naturally, not everyone will agree, and for those people Audi supplies this fifty-two-thousand-dollar, Haldex-driven TT-S model, complete with an extra sixty-five horsepower from a strengthened variant of the base engine.

This would be a TT to take to a track rather than to Fallingwater, so we packed it up in company with my 2009 Audi S5 and a borrowed 2009 Audi R8 “R.tronic” and went to the iconic but diminutive Waterford Hills Road Course near metro Detroit. Of the three cars, only the TT-S truly felt at home; the S5 was plagued by understeer around Waterford’s many sharp turns and the R8 was obviously too big and fast for such a small track. Which is not to say the TT-S was the fastest; both of the V8 Audis handily pulled out of sight within a lap or two. But it was the happiest and most pleasant to drive.

VW/Audi’s DSG gearbox is very probably the best mass-market self-shifter available. Around town, it’s cheerful and relaxed, slurring shifts and offering the proper gear rather more often than DSC_0634any torque-converter automatic. At the track, it’s a revelation. The rather peaky turbo four stays on the boil thanks to instantaneous, rev-matched swaps up and down. Adding a CG-Lock seatbelt clincher to the TT-S makes it possible to left-foot brake all the way around the racetrack, which is always an aid to going quickly. The instant change in revs every time the twin clutches trade places has to be heard to be believed and it’s very, very Formula Unnnn.

Although the TT-S carries a “quattro” badge, it’s not the traditional longitudinal engine and Torsen center differential found in other Audis. Instead, there’s a more Rube Goldbergesque arrangement that transfers power just a beat or two behind the moment when it’s needed. As a consequence, there are no tail-out antics to be had in a TT. In fact, antics of any kind are in short supply. To get the most out of a TT-S, simply floor the throttle on the straight, brake at the ABS threshold to the turn-in point using your left foot while squeezing the left paddle five or six times (it will not select too low of a gear) and then floor the throttle again as you pass the apex. The drivetrain will sort it all out and you will fire out the other side of the corner with a rather satisfying “blat” as the ignition cuts out between shifts. The brakes are not spectacular but they are sufficient, which is more than can be said for the stoppers on my S5.

audittsintAfter about twenty laps in the little coupe, I parked it in favor of its mid-engined big brother, which can be hooned around a racetrack in tail-out fashion and which offers an even more satisfying engine note. It wasn’t until the evening that I drove the TT-S again, this time down the freeway to Ohio.

Here the Audi truly satisfies. It’s rapid enough on the street, the sound system is outstanding, the seats are good, the steering wheel is very sporting and serious. It’s a handsome car, even if it’s missing some of the original TT’s purity, and it’s built exceptionally well. Of course, all of this is also true of the considerably more affordable base model.

Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly once asked a tall guest to leave one of his houses because the man’s height was “ruining the architecture”. The base TT is a splendid little car, but the boy-racer bodykit, extra power, Haldex lag, and staggering markup associated with the TT-S goes a long way towards spoiling the architecture. It would take more than 265 horsepower to make this car keep up with a base Cayman around a road course, and the TT-S is actually priced head-to-head with the outrageously stickered Porsche coupe. When it comes to Audi’s little architectural coupe, simpler is better.

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Review: 2010 Audi S4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/review-audi-s4/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2009/11/review-audi-s4/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2009 16:15:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=334566 audis4

Once upon a time, S was for Audis what M was for BMWs. A decade ago Audi took an A4, added a pair of turbos to the V6, stiffened the suspension, plus-oned the alloys, and tagged the result the S4. A special driving experience that became more special (if less moddable) when the 250-horsepower turbo V6 was replaced by a 340-horsepower V8 a few years later. The A4 was redesigned for 2009, and this year there’s a new S4. The V8 has been tossed in favor of a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that kicks out 333 horsepower. Is the resulting car worthy of the S?

With the B8 A4, Audi rearranged the drivetrain bits to shift the front axle forward four inches. The primary goal: lose the nose-heavy feel that has long plagued Audis. But this change also improved the car’s proportions—having the front wheel opening just a couple inches from the front door cut is never pretty. Other changes included some BMW-influenced (but more tastefully done) “flame surfacing” on the lower bodysides. Even with these changes, the current A4 looks much like the previous one at a glance. It’s a handsome car. But the closely related A5 coupe is stunning.

audis4sideThe new Audi S4 looks nearly identical to the A4 on which it is based. The wheel design is unique, but such a subtle difference will be lost on all but the most ardent Audi fans. The fascias might also be tweaked, but I couldn’t tell. I literally checked the badges prior to entry to verify that I was indeed getting into an S4 rather than an A4.

The S4′s stealth act continues in the interior. Good thing then, that Audi has led the industry in interior design and construction for at least the last decade. While the S4’s cabin is largely up to snuff, some bits seem cheaper than in the previous car, most notably the silver plastic trim plate across the top half of the instrument panel face and the hard plastic door pulls. Other manufacturers wrap the latter, a key touch point, in leather, and it feels good. Why doesn’t “the interior design leader?”

The new S4, like the A4 on which it is based, is 4.6 inches longer and 2.1 inches wider than the old one. This larger exterior translates to a larger interior. In the front seat, you sit a bit lower behind a more imposing instrument panel than before and the cabin feels noticeably wider. These changes, together with the longer wheelbase, lend the B8 an almost midsize feel. This can be good or bad. Buying a compact sedan only because it costs less? Then good. Buying a compact sedan because you like the more agile, more intimate feel of a smaller car? Not so good. audis4int

The S4 does have standard sport buckets. The prominent side bolsters provide excellent lateral support, but are just short of uncomfortably tight for me–and I have a fairly slim build. Larger people might find these seats unbearable. My seat recalls the old S4’s Recaro buckets much more fondly.

In the back seat, knees have about an inch more space, which is significant since many adults couldn’t quite fit into the back of the old S4. As in nearly every competitor, the rear seat remains too low to the floor to provide adults with thigh support. As before, the rear seat folds in two parts to enlarge the trunk. Try finding that in a Japanese competitor.

The new Audi S4 is available with two transmissions, a six-speed conventional manual and a seven-speed automated dual clutch manual (“DSG” in VW-speak, “S tronic” in Audiese). I drove the former. Start up the new S4 and get going, and the first thing you’ll notice is that the shift lever is a too tall for comfort. First mod? Otherwise, the new car’s shifter feels smoother than that in any other Audi I’ve cogswapped.

The next thing you notice is that, when driving the new Audi S4 casually, there isn’t much to notice. In the old V8-powered S4, a sporty burble reminded you at all times that you were driving something special. In the new one, noise from all sources, including the engine, is low. In some supercharged engines (Ford’s V8 comes to mind), the blower assaults the eardrums. With this one, my ears failed to notice it.

audis4engineIs the new S4 quick? Absolutely. The supercharged engine doesn’t pack the now-off-now-on wallop I recall in the old biturbo V6—power builds more linearly and without a lag—but it does pull very strongly. You’re at sixty-plus before your senses have time to process the (non) experience. Fuel economy benefits from the engine swap: EPA ratings go from 13/19 to 18/27—goodbye gas guzzler tax. The benefits don’t end here—Audi has also cut the price by a few thousand to reflect the lower manufacturing cost of this engine. And yet, something is also lost. As Baruth noted in his drive of the A6 3.0T, the supercharged V6 verges on characterless. It has none of the spine-tingling soul of the V8.

Like the new A4, the new S4 has more communicative steering and more balanced handling than the old one. The nose no longer seeks the outside curb in hard turns. Any curve taken at semi-sane speeds is carved without complaint. And yet the edge that marks the best performance sedans is absent. The driver gives orders, and the car faithfully executes them, but the two don’t meld. On the flip side, the ride is surprisingly absorbent.

A couple of performance-oriented options were absent from the “stripper” S4 I drove. An $1,100 active rear differential should lend the S4 more of the feel of a rear-wheel drive car, with (hopefully) throttle-induced oversteer on demand. Spend an extra $3,950 for the Audi Drive Select Package, and this audis4rearactive differential is joined by active steering, ultra-quick electrically-adjustable shocks, and a switch to alter the calibrations of both. The adjustable steering and shocks get stellar reviews in every Audi in which they’re offered. With them, the latest S4 might be the most thrilling yet.

Problem is, without them the new Audi S4 feels much like a regular A4, just with 50 percent more power. If Audi had called the car I drove an A4 3.0T, as it does when the A6 is fitted with this engine, then I’d have no complaints. But an S4 should be more special. As it is, it’s just a very quick and very competent but otherwise normal-feeling car.

My suggestion: give the car I drove the regular A4’s more accommodating buckets and rename it the A4 3.0T. The S4 nameplate should be reserved for a car with a more thrilling engine note, the trick suspension and steering, and tuning that thoroughly engages the driver in the experience. Otherwise, the S badge seems like little more than a marketing afterthought.

[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, a provider of car reliability and real-world gas mileage information]

Performance: 5/5
By any objective standard, the supercharged six is strong. Just soulless.
Ride: 4/5
The biggest pleasant surprise–the ride doesn’t suck. Tar strips? What tar strips?
Handling: 4/5
More balanced and communicative, but (at least without the optional trick shocks are rear end) it lacks a sporty edge.
Exterior: 4/5
A handsome car. But why is it so hard to distinguish from the A4. And why can’t it look more like the A5?
Interior: 3/5
Less special without the B7′s Recaros and with the additional hard plastic.
Fit and finish: 3/5
The bits fit together well. But have I mentioned the hard plastic door pulls?
Toys: 2/5
Nothing special on the base S4.
Desirability: 4/5
Those who buy based on stats will want one. Those seeking a passionate romance…will keep waiting for a car company to remember that it’s not all about the stats.
Price as tested: $47,200.
Overall rating: 4/5
Highly competent. Now just needs a soul.
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