I've been pining for the Audi R8 since I first laid eyes on the "Le Mans" show car five years ago. Last February, I test drove Audi's 911 redo in Vegas (baby). Although I found the R8 lacked some of the the Porsche Turbo's user-friendly OMG WTFitiude, Audi gave their everyday supercar a far more appealing wrapper than the ass-engined Nazi slot car (thank you P.J. O'Rourke). Yes, I knew the movie Ironman would define R8 ownership for non-owners. But I was willing to take the risk of being associated with an actor who's spent more time in rehab than any five celebutantes you can name. So I placed an order and arranged for delivery of my R8 at the Neckarsulm factory.
I drove the Audi TT 2.0T Convertible prepared to hate it. Its wrong-wheel-drive, mandatory two-pedal transmission, extra-chunky-style curb weight and econobox-based platform violates all that I hold sacred in a two-seat drop top. Similar formulas have belched forth such embarrassments as Mercury’s legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Capri. But the topless TT is no Capri. And thank Gott for that.
2008 Audi TT 2.0T Convertible Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
"Nice Audi." Every time I rolled up in the glossy red A5, I heard the same refrain. Young, old, rich, poor– if the onlooker had a tongue, they wagged it at me and my Audi. And there you have it. The people have spoken. I find this curious for two reasons. First, das volk haven't driven it. Second, the A5 is a two-door variant of the new A4. Has anyone other than a nurse or desperate housewife looked at an A4 and exclaimed, "Nice Audi?" Perhaps so, but the ad hoc A5 admiration society still raises an important question: is it a nice Audi?
2008 Audi A5 Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
The fact that we’re even having this discussion tells you how far Audi’s come in the uber-sports sedan sweepstakes. Normally, this comparo would write itself. BMW M3 = driver’s car with super smooth, vicious punch. Audi RS4 = sure-footed supersonic GT with numb tiller. BMW fun. Audi fast. BMW wins. But since this contest was first mooted, The Boys from Bavaria have made the jump to V8 space, while Audi have finally figured-out how to make not dying entertaining. But has anything changed?
Buying an Audi sedan without Quattro all wheel-drive is like dating a Swedish brunette. That said, there’s nothing wrong with the right brunette, Bergman movies notwithstanding. And Audi makes and sells plenty of products where only the front wheels are driven, from economy cars to its aufwendig TT. In fact, Audi’s UK website proudly proclaims “a front-wheel-drive car is in principle more controllable and tracks better than conventional rear-wheel drive.” OK then, in advance of the all-new A4 headed our way in '09, let’s have a look at the Audi A4 2.0T and see if we can get past the FWD thing.
2008 Audi A4 2.0T Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
I really want a Mercedes Black Series AMG. It’s a practical, sharp looking car, and nothing clears my head like Saturn V quality thrust. But my spouse’s desire to share her dotage with yours truly conspires against it. So, after driving a BMW 6-Series and finding it a bit… sclerotic, I wandered over to my local Audi dealer in search of something slinkier and kinkier. And there she was: a brand new S5 coupe on the showroom floor, shooting me come hither glances. So thither I went. Ah, but did I tarry long enough to take possession of Ingolstadt’s two-door Q-ship?
2008 Audi S5 Review Car Review Rating
Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
The last generation Audi TT had more show than go. The German roadster’s dynamics were tarnished by massive turbo lag, an over-eager paddle shift gearbox and an entirely flappable suspension. In fact, the TT’s iconic exterior design and interior quality were its only saving graces. Now that TT 2.0 has arrived, and a decent enough amount of time has passed since Hugh Grant’s loathsome character drove a TT in “About a Boy," is Audi finally ready for a little Boxster bashing? Yes and no.
There I was, having fun, fun auf die autobahn, when nature called. Somewhere southeast of Stuttgart, I took the wrong exit and found myself outside the gates of Audi’s Neckarsulm factory. A large sign proclaimed the brutally Bauhaus industrial complex ground zero for the German automaker’s R8 supercar. I was immediately convinced I was destined to park one in my garage. Of course, by then I’d been chasing R8 ownership for over three years. So, do good things come to those who wait?
Buy a Toyota Prius and you get a backup camera, keyless ignition, iPod integration and travel over 50 miles for every gallon of gas poured therein. Buy an Audi RS4 and you don't even get self-dimming mirrors, and you can only drive 11 miles per gallon of dead dinos (EPA notwithstanding). The Prius will set you back $25k. The RS4 costs three Prii. At freeway speeds, the Toyota is a near silent and comfortable cruiser, whereas the Audi sounds and feels like a volcano making love to an avalanche.
I’m a not-so-well-known writer for a not-so-well-known car mag and an equally obscure website. I’m standing, jet-lagged and a little smelly, in the courtyard of a hotel I can't afford in front of a new SUV that costs more than my state college education. I’m here on Audi's dime. Come, Constant Reader, and join me for the auto writer's Holy of Holies: the press launch. A gaggle of my fellow egomaniacs and I are here to drive the brand new Audi Q7 SUV.
Anyone who looks at the new Audi A3 3.2 DSG and sees an overpriced economy car should not be allowed to play with Rottweiler puppies. While Ingolstadt's diminutive four-door may seem like a hatchback for badge snobs willing to sacrifice size for breeding, it's actually a four-wheeled fiend, a beast born and bred to take a bite out of the time – space continuum. Everything else about the A3– the foot on the Audi ownership ladder thing, the four-wheel-drive peace-of-mind shtick– is nothing more than a glossy coat on a vicious little monster. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
The A3's aesthetic dissonance should tip off neophytes that something wikkid this way driveth. Calling the little Audi "ungainly" is like saying a Saab stretch limo lacks a certain finesse. The unconscionable gaping maw that is Audi's house snout never looked as hideous as it does here, attached to a car whose creators seems to have given up around the halfway mark. I presume the A3's sloping rear roofline was designed to distance Audi's $35k 'entry level' hatchback from the traditional econobox. At best, the A3 looks like a dwarf station wagon. At worst, it joins Mercedes' SLK as another petite whip suffering from Peter North syndrome.
You gotta love Audi. Despite its rivals' explosive growth, The Boys from Ingolstadt have resisted the lure of sudden intended niche acceleration. While questions about reliability and resale value have shadowed the brand's progress like a pack of predatory wolves, Audi keeps on plugging away with a limited line of luxury limos, waiting for their turn to fill US owners' heated garages. As always, the A4 is both the point man and the mainstay of Audi's long march. Does the latest evolution finally signal the beginning of the end of the beginning?
From a sheet metal standpoint, the A4 is perfectly positioned to enjoy a rare window of unopposed conservatism. BMW's once-staid products have been turning Japanese (I really think so), Mercedes has renounced their discreet design heritage, Jaguar has overexploited theirs, Cadillac continues to live on the edge and the Asian brands are stuck in Pasticheland (save Infiniti). Aside from its inappropriately voracious snout– perfectly designed to make US license plates look ugly and stupid– the A4 is the ideal choice for drivers who believe discretion is the better part of showing off. It's old money on wheels.
An Italian tailor once told me that the best men's clothing is invisible. A well-made suit flatters its owner, not the tailor. And so it is with the Audi S4 Avant. Despite the company's decision to slather the press car in Crayola yellow, and their unconscionable policy of inflicting their gauche grill across the entire model range, the S4 Avant is an entirely restrained machine. It's completely devoid of the aesthetic fripperies that announce a heavily modified car's sporting aspirations. The S4 Avant is all about the driver, not the manufacturer.
The bias is obvious the second you enter the belly of the beast. As the S4 Avant's door thunks shut with startling finality, you're captivated by an interior that is as dour as it is functional; a dark plastic and leather cabin that feels more like an operating room than an automotive cockpit. Every human interface– from the clicking HVAC controls to the steering wheel's tiny thumbwheel controllers– reacts with perfectly measured tactility. Even the in-dash MMI (Multi-Media Interface) works with chilling precision. The car's single-minded minimalism raises your driving game on the subconscious level.
The Audi A8L W12 goes like Hell. Kick the gearbox in the sides a couple of times, mash the gas and the long-wheelbase leviathan transforms itself into a car-sized guided missile, punching through the air with terrifying resolve. And so it should. The W12 in question– two V6 powerplants connected at the crankshaft in a 'W' formation– generates 450hp. That's enough power to propel Audi's flagship from zero to sixty in five seconds dead, or accelerate from any speed to its 130mph V-max with stupendous, seamless, seductive shove.
Ah, you noticed that did you? One-three-oh is plenty fast compared to say, a Toyota Corolla, but we're talking about a top-of-the-line limo from the makers of the S4 and RS6, two cars that clearly believe that life begins at 140. You'd be forgiven for assuming Audi built the W12 to mix it with big-engined Mercs and Bimmers tear-assing up and down Germany's unrestricted Autobahns, knocking on the door of the double ton. At the very least, the W12 should top-out at 155mph, in accordance with the Fatherland's so-called "gentleman's agreement".
The Audi TT isn't so much a sports car as a handbag on wheels. I'm not saying TT drivers are girly men. The difference between a dignified brief case and an adorable handbag is style, not utility. But let's face it: the TT is a fashion statement first, a car second. Admirers are less likely to ask "What'll she do?" than "Do I detect a hint of Bauhaus in the design?"
You do. Eighty five years ago, artists trained at The Bauhaus School created some of the world's first "modern" art. Their work still looks avant-garde– which is a fancy way of saying it's cold, stark and a bit spooky. Audi's bulbous sports car fits this description to a TT. Its push-me, pull-you symmetry and lack of ornamentation are about as emotionally engaging as a leather and chrome church pew.
The fact that the test car was a roadster in retina-searing yellow didn't ease my back-to-the-future shock. Luckily, the TT's all-black interior provided the usual Audi Zen, upholding the company's reputation for ergonomic excellence, quality materials and faultless build. Grabbing the perfectly formed steering wheel, nestling into the sports seat (complete with baseball glove-style stitching), I could just about forget that I had "style victim" tattooed on my forehead.
The demo TT came equipped with four-wheel-drive and the manufacturer's latest engine and drivetrain combo: a 3.2-liter six-cylinder powerplant married to a hi-tech DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox). Until the heavily revamped, all-aluminum TT arrives in '06, this iteration is as good, well, as fast, as it gets. When taking the 3.2 DSG TT out for a romp, there are three ways to engage the engine. Stick the autobox in Drive, pull the lever down a notch for Sport, or shove it sideways and play with the wheel-mounted paddles. It's a mission critical decision.
'D' is the least satisfying option. Whether you're asserting your masculinity at a traffic light or establishing your accelerative dominance with a little in-gear passing action, the TT in "Drive" is not exactly what I'd call responsive. Give the go-pedal a proper pasting and you're confronted by what the Germans describe as a gedenkminute ("thinking pause"). The engine hunts for horses and the front tires scrabble for purchase. Once the four-wheel-drive system kicks in and the revs ascend, you're off and away. Thank God.
"S" cures the problem– and how. In Sport mode, the autobox held my gear so long I begin to wonder about the TT's mechanical warranty. It's Audi's way to get enthusiastic drivers to max power (250hp arrives just a toe flex away from redline, at 6300rpms). You pay for your on-demand thrust with constant engine scream and head-snapping throttle response. Only the most committed speed merchant would use the Sport setting on anything other than a wide-open country road.
Last, but by no means least, you can swap cogs by employing the mechanical meisterwerk that is Audi's DSG. Here, finally, is a paddle shift system you can use without the slightest regard to speed, rpms or common sense. To change up a gear, pull the right flipper. To change down a cog, pull the left. No matter when you do the deed, no matter how many times you tap the downshift paddle, the gearbox sorts it all out for you. There's no possibility of over-revving the engine or getting bogged down as the electronics try to execute your commands. No other sports car offers such a fast and effective paddle shift system. If the TT's V6 had more bottom end torque, if the engine could pick-up speed from lower revs, the DSG system would be nothing short of a revelation. But it doesn't, so we're talking about a car that drives like a motorcycle with a button shifter.
Oh well. Never mind. The TT's handling just about makes up for it. It's hard to believe the TT was once slated as a death car (which accounts for the late addition of a Bauhaus-perverting, downforce-inducing rear wing). Short of closing your eyes and putting your hands on your head, there's virtually no way to lose control of a four-wheel-drive TT. Go around a bend too fast and the tires squeal, the chassis does a superbly coordinated four-wheel-drift, you lose speed and… that's it.
Audi claims the 3.2 TT sprints to sixty in 5.7 seconds. But it's the TT's ability to carry its speed through the corners that makes it such a nippy little beast. The operative word here being "little"; the 3.2 TT lacks the grown-up, unstressed feel of its natural rival: the Porsche Boxster. Still, if you're an urban aesthete who owns (but never uses) a designer chair, the TT is your perfect set of wheels. Just order it with the 225hp four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual gearbox. Anything more is needless affectation.