Day Two: Thursday, January 18, 2001
08:00 There is a briefing at Audi's meeting room in the hotel. Laws of physics, basic principles of driving characteristics and the differences between front-, rear- and quattro driven cars are explained, among other useful subjects, like safety and driving tips.
09:00 It's time for the real thing. When we walk onto the parking lot outside the hotel, the cars are waiting there. The Audi techs on hand have them all running so the interiors of the cars are nice and toasty. It is an impressive view, seeing these new cars together. There is no question of their age, or lack there of, as the average odometer indicates only 150 miles! Our lucky band are truly one of the very first groups to experience the new A4! This warms me up inside already, even though it's freezing out here.
The trip to the driving grounds takes only a couple of minutes. Arriving there, I steal a moment to take a closer look on this totally new car. The backside is now more in line with the A6, although the A4 definitely keeps it's own identity. Then, I notice two large stickers at the bottom left on the rear windows.
The stickers indicate that the tires are equipped with spikes. Lets take a closer look at the tires then. Aha, Nokian snow tires. Sounds reasonable, since we will be driving the next two days on ice only! This might be comparable to a Holiday On Ice show, only slightly different...
At the site, several more new A4's are waiting for us. We split up, so that every car has two drivers. Then, we're following the pace car, towards the first track for our first exercise.
I'm sitting patiently besides my co-driver. We curiously watch an Audi A8 roll past. In fact, there are quite a few of them, spinning around on small circuits. Later, I found out that that same day a professional training was held for chauffeurs for ministries of the German government. They were involved in an anti-pursuit excercise.
The 2.5L, 180bhp TDI V6 engine is hardly noticeable from the inside. Sound insulation has improved overall. The car's increased rigidity over the previous A4 is quite evident. Not even one tick or minor squeak was to be heard in the oncoming days.
The new interior has lifted the A4 up to a higher degree of quality and luxury. For those, myself included, who think that the upgraded interior of the current A4 is top class: yes, it is - but the new A4 is just a little bit better. Ergonomics have improved. For example, the buttons for the side-windows are slightly larger, although I keep opening the rear window instead of the front. That's because the buttons are placed more towards the front now.
One curious new feature are footlights, found not only in the front, but also mounted in the bottom of the front seats for the convenience of the rear passengers.
Speaking of the rear seats, the fact that the new A4 has grown 68mm in length and 34mm in width is noticeable. The A4 is still a small sport sedan, but leg and headroom has improved quite effectively in the back.
Time to drive
The purpose of the first exercise was to get acquainted with the car. Driving slowly on a small circuit, I notice the ease and comfort of the redesigned seats. Adjusting is quite simple, and finding that perfect position was much more readily found than the older A4. The quality of the new seats is much better, but then again, practically everything in the new A4 is redesigned, upgraded or even replaced. For instance, the "eject handle" on the side of the previous A4's front seats to adjust the height have disappeared. Now, a comfortable lever, left of the driver's seat, pumps you up or down to the desired height. The click steps for horizontal adjustment of the front seats have the same higher density as those found in the TT.
The steering wheel feels just the same. In this regard, it is hard to improve upon perfection. Contact with the road is very good. The car communicates quite well through the steering wheel, allowing the driver to seemingly feel every groove. In the past, Audi has been criticized numerously for their very light and incommunicative steering of the model 80 and the early A4's. The new A4 plays a welcome change from past cars in that regard.
To prevent yourself taking the technique of the quattro for granted, our second exercise was to drive a . . . 2000 model A4 quattro? Not quite, the two silver A4's looked quite similar to mine, however, these cars were not what they appeared. In fact, they were, to quote the trainer's words "castrated quattros": the front axles had been removed, so that these two beautiful looking cars were effectively rear-driven cars.
The objective here was to drive around in a circle, create oversteer (hop on the gas pedal) and try to correct. To make the exercise a little more complicated, ESP was disengaged. Although it's fun to intentionally enter into a powerslide around in a controlled circle, in real life I would be a little more cautious when I would have to drive in the same conditions - an icy road.
When you step into the the new A4 quattro after all that, and you drive off to the next circuit with such ease - just like you're on an normal road, you then realize how great quattro really is.
The last exercise before lunch was the ABS test. Ah, the good old "Stump-Stay-Steer" drill! The new A4 is equipped with a Brake Assistant. It works fine, and only when necessary. We were trained to put our full weight on the brake pedal - just stepping on it wasn't good enough. It's good to know that, when you drive on the ice at approximately 65 Km/h and you have to brake AND steer, the new A4 will do exactly as it is told.
After the lunch, there was much of the same anti-collision runs, only with a variation. This time there was no braking allowed. This run was not for the weak of heart. To achieve the best result, a new manner of steering was introduced for me: progressive steering. This technique makes the car more agile at cornering. The car tends to respond more closely to steering commands.
During a coffee break afterwards with all the A4's resting until their next challenge, I take the chance to look more closely at some details of the exterior. The front is impressive, and I especially like the lenses that are in front with the fog lights below the bumper. I'm not too sure that I like chrome trim around the lower grille in the bumper though.
Another pretty sight is the tail of the new A4. Note the tailpipes: the V6 diesel engine has two separate mufflers, not just two exhaust pipes.
Slalom and cornering without ABS and ESP are the final exercises for that day.
Later that evening we all went for a sleigh ride and dined in Austrian style - wines and music included. Not too much liquor of course - the next day we had to get up early again!