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.
In 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
“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?
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.
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.
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?
After urbane styling and precise road manners made Audi a real player in the luxury sports sedan market with the late ‘90s A6, the Ingolstadt Werkmeisters took a more conservative route with the third-generation A6. It became larger, more architectural than haute couture, and softer. For 2009, though, Audi decided to give the A6 an adrenaline shot right to the heart: a new engine that transforms this car from wallflower to stealth wildcat.
60 Minutes nearly killed Audi in North America. After “Unintended Acceleration in the Audi 5000” aired in 1986, Audi sales dropped from 74k sales a year in 1986 to less than 12k by 1991. Sales remained constant until 1996, when Audi debuted a car that would finally tackle the BMW 3-series and the Mercedes C-Class head on. With its still unusual all-wheel drive system, classic German styling and interiors that set the industry standard, the A4 single-handedly revived sales in North America. An Audi fan since birth (when I was driven home in an Audi Fox GTI), I viewed them from afar; Roswell’s nearest Audi dealer lay eight hours away in Dallas. So I rejoiced when I signed the paperwork to purchase the first of the 5-valve V6 powered A4 quattros. Little did I know the next year would be filled with Germanic Sturm und Drang.
Most pistonheads view estates, MPVs and SUV's with contempt. Why would anyone love driving a barge? Yes, it takes skill to throw a two-ton-plus behemoth around a bend, but it'll never beat the thrill of driving something designed for the job. If you really must carry more than two people, why not buy a performance saloon, like a Subaru Impreza Turbo or a sporty Golf or, well, anything else? And yet…
Sports car lovers who reproduce inevitably find themselves needing something that can carry the kids and schlep all that 'lifestyle' stuff: groceries, wine boxes, bikes, etc. A saloon is too small and precious for all that clobber (think canine companion). SUVs are too unwieldy. MPVs are equally unstable, and deeply uncool. What's needed is a hardwearing, spacious car that can still carve up a twisting road. Something like… an Audi A6 Avant.
Self-respecting enthusiasts already know the truth: the Audi Avant is the only credible estate for a burgeoning bunch of genetically related petrolheads. Mercedes' E-Class estate looks like an upmarket hearse. Volvos seem specifically designed for antique dealers flogging grandfather clocks. BMW, Ford, Vauxhall, MG – their efforts all look a bit weird, in a 'throw-the-car-on-the-rack Igor' kind of way. The Audi A6 Avant is the sole load lugger with sufficient 'carness' to allow ageing enthusiasts to maintain the illusion that they haven't surrendered to the twin forces of domesticity and middle age. You'd hardly call the shape 'exciting', but it is, um, er, 'purposeful'.
Sit inside an Avant and you instantly realise why Audi leads the world in cabin design, fit and finish. The interior is a perfect blend of high-grade plastics, polished wood and brushed aluminium, crafted with meticulous attention to detail. Creaks and rattles are conspicuous only by their absence. All the switches work with perfectly damped precision. Like BMWs of old, it's also a masterpiece of ergonomics. The Audi's controls are intuitive, easy to reach, and respond with appropriate tactile or visual feedback. The instrumentation tells you everything you need to know, and nothing you don't. There's a fundamental respect for the driver's needs.
Ah, but what of the need for speed? Audi offers a range of A6 Avants, ranging from the mild (the 130bhp 2.0), to the wild (the 340bhp S6), to the criminally insane (the 450bhp RS6). I tested the model in the middle of the mix: the 2.7 T automatic. This variant comes with a twin-turbocharged six-cylinder engine and (standard) lowered sports suspension.
The 2.7 T is frisky enough, powering from zero to 60mph in 7.6 seconds. Although the 'intelligent' Tiptronic makes for more relaxed family outings, it's a full second slower to 60 than its manual cousin. In battle mode, the Tiptronic also has a tendency to get befuddled – which is problematic for an engine that only really shows its determination above 4000rpms. Press-on driving requires a drop into Sport, or a hands-on acquaintance with the wheel-mounted buttons. Fortunately, four-wheel-drive provides unconditional access to as many of the machine's 250 horses as you can summon. It's strictly point and shoot.
When it comes to cornering, the Avant benefits from Audi's attempts to rectify the brand's traditional steering and handling deficiencies. Although the helm still feels lighter than non-alcoholic beer, it's far more satisfying than either the nominal drink or previous Audis. Thanks to a new, speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion set-up, you can place the car on the road with confidence. Parking or loitering is a breeze, yet there's enough feedback through the corners to make things interesting – in a good way.
The aluminium suspension is also an evolution of previous systems. Like Avants of old, like any heavy car, the 2.7 T wallows when entering a bend. But it now swings gently-rather than lurches alarmingly- into its cornering stance. As the 2.7's turbos deliver their best in an almighty whoosh, a judicious right foot is needed to stop the power from asking questions the tyres and suspension can't answer. (Don't worry: Nanny will sort them out.) Get it right, and you can use the car's tenacious grip and predictable poise to negotiate local twisties at significant speeds. Flinging the Avant about isn't 'fun' in the Porsche sense of the word, but it does deliver a certain satisfaction.
The Avant is far more exciting to drive than any SUV or MPV, holds its value better and cossets its occupants in considerable luxury (especially for those who indulge in the extensive options list). Besides, the Avant is 'something for the weekend'. The daily driver? That's another story…