Heaven on Earth and 2009 Audi A4
Have you ever felt that you have been called? It is the unexplainable calling from within you. If you try to explain this calling to your families and friends, they will think you have lost it. The Alps that span across Switzerland and Italy are not as colossal as the inspirational but deadly K-2 in Tibet. But once you witness the grandiose view before me, you too will hear that calling from within you.
It was just after midnight and the full moon lit these vast valleys and the gigantic white capped mountains. I had both car windows fully opened. The fresh pristine Alpine spring air filled the interior of the car I was driving at that time. For a moment, I thought I could smell the ancient glaciers that shone brightly. The mountains here glow auras.
I pulled over at some non-descript exit of A13 near the San Bernardino valley. It was very quiet, not eerie, but peaceful. I could hear a distant waterfall. I could see sharply every contour of the mountains. With no other soul near me, I didn’t feel alone or lonely. I felt something that I rarely experience; the feeling of peace, the feeling of being in the now. I didn’t have to rush to any places, I didn’t have to complete any tasks, and I didn’t have to think about any problems to solve. I didn’t even remember who I was. I was just there, to be.
I wanted to drive up to these mountains that called me, but the access roads were still closed due to the snow and avalanche danger. I reluctantly climbed back into the car and continued my driving to Lake Como. I said to myself that I would come back in the summer.
I still could not believe what I was seeing even after I had been staring at the spaghetti road draped on an Alps before me for a long time. I was awed by this Photoshoped-like view. I thought the view like this existed only in the land of Harry Potters and Lord of the Ring. I was not hallucinating due to the thin air of the 2,113 meter elevation. I had to make sure that my digital camera was working because I needed a proof that I was here.
Earlier in the morning, my co-driver and I started climbing the access road from Splügen village just off A13 in southeastern Switzerland before the famous San Bernardino tunnel. This road was originally a trail established by the Roman. In the medieval time, it was used as a merchant line connecting Italy to the important commercial centers in the upper-Rhine and Danube territories.
This time, we were equipped with the new 2009 Audi A4 2.0 TDI for this mission. The whopping 258 lbs. ft torque of the diesel engine, available at below 2500 rpm, provided us with such a great ease and fun when we serpentined through hundreds of very tight hairpins of this spaghetti road. The car had the 6-speed manual transmission which made the trip much more fun. I shifted from three to two and trail braked to reduce the momentum of the car as I entered the hairpins. I rarely needed to shift to one to accelerate out the hairpin and climb up the Alps without any hesitation. This legendary Le Mans Audi R10 inspired engine was mysteriously quiet too when it accelerated.
The images of the famous Michèle Mouton, World Rally Championship (WRC) winner, in the Ur Quattro came to my mind. I imagined she would perform heel-to-toe technique and swiftly shift the gear to ensure the most optimum power delivery as her car devoured the tight right turn hairpin. Just as quickly she would enter and exit this right hand turn hairpin, she would start the same syncopation to devour the next opposite turn hairpin. The car would have barely had a chance to go in a straight before it would start drifting in the other direction.
This new A4 is the descendant of the winning Ur Quattro. The new reinforced steel technology and the Audi Space Frame construction enabled the car to handle the hairpin with uneven elevation change on each side as if it were turning on an airport runway. I crossed my arms back and forth to maintain the nine and three o’clock position on the steering wheel as I was going in and out of hairpins with an ear-to-ear smile on my face.
The nine and three o’clock steering technique taught at the Audi Driving Experience program was very instrumental in my enjoyment of driving through this fun-generating spaghetti road. This technique provides continuous feedback to the driver as to where the front wheels are pointing to, even when the car is drifting. This information is very crucial to the driver so he can make minute adjustments to maintain the car in a controlled drift.
One hairpin after another, mile after mile dreamy perfection; this road is built to test brake, steering, power, handling, and driving skill. The A4 transferred the road feel into pleasurable tingling sensation up my arms and my spine. Thousands of hours of Grand Turismo experience could not replace the heavenly feeling of driving through this road. If there was a road to eternal bliss, could this be it?
When we reached the top, we hiked for a little. We sat for a long time at the high ground that had the best vantage point of the vast valley, the spaghetti road, and the magnificent mountains surrounding this region. We didn’t want to leave this place. The sun was getting lower and I knew we had to leave soon. We still had a few more mountain passes to visit in this region.
A few days earlier, in addition to visiting the Bavarian favorites; Munich, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Füssen (Neuschwanstein Castle), we visited the medieval fortified town of Rothenburg o.d.T. The medieval walls and the coble stone roads and alleys ooze a thousand years of history. The archaic architectures of this town emanate the dreamy antiquity. The history the 30-year war created an Indiana-Jones-like mystery complete with the underground passages and dark dungeons.
Like a sorcerer, the Audi Drive Select made the ancient coble stone disappeared. The new damper regulation system has sensors at twelve points measuring road holding, steering motions, and the loading of the car. The data is used to calculate the millisecond adjustment on the dampers to maximize comfort driving or dynamic driving or both.
The Rathaus at the Marktplatz has two structures, one that has the Renaissance style and the other has the Gothic style. Climbing the Rathaus clock tower was a worthwhile experience. Not only we had to climb the never ending spiraling and zig zaging stair steps, we also had to go through various crevices through the ceilings of many floors. Once we arrived at the top, about 165 ft. above the ground, we were rewarded by a panoramic view of the fort town, the new outer city, and the lush Bavarian rolling hills all the way to the horizon.
The sinuous LED eyes of this A4 attracted some visitors of this ancient town. The gentle curve of the roof and the sloping line that connects the rear bumper to the front lower spoiler give the feeling of movement even when the car stands still. The bold hood lines and broad shoulder give the sporty stance.
Heaven on Earth
Towards the end of our driving vacation, heading back to Ingolstadt from Milan, I sat on the passenger side enjoying the picturesque A22 near the border of Italy and Austria. We had climbed from 59 meter elevation at Verona to 1370 m elevation at the Brenner Pass. The on-board computer indicated that my co-driver had been driving at the average speed of 130 km/h (~81 mph) and this tiny but powerful diesel engine was consuming only 6.6 liter/100 km (~35.6 mpg). This fact convinced me even more that my next Audi would be a TDI.
As far as my eyes could see, Goliath-size lush mountains of the Italian Alps weaved each other. Farming villages dot the steep slopes of the mountains in this region. At some distant in front of us, a curtain of rain was drenching a village. The sun played an orchestra of light by producing a very bright rainbow that spanned over several mountains. It was a mesmerizing view.
I day dreamed back to my experience at Splügen pass. The grandiose view, the pristine air, and the stillness of life heightened my sense of being, nothing less and nothing more. If there is such thing as Heaven on Earth, Splügen pass is definitely it, at least for me.
And if there was a thing that I could bring home to remind me the feeling of being at Splügen pass, the new A4 would definitely be the right keep sake. The confidence of its driving, the emotion that instilled by its form, and the comfort of the what-has-become the-world-standard of car interior heighten the driver’s sense of being. I will always treasure this trip and I hope that you will get to experience it as well.