Winter Driving Vacation with the Audi RS4

 

For those of you considering getting an Audi RS 4, forget about making an appointment to test drive this race-bred automobile at your favorite Audi dealer. The best way to test drive this car is to spend serious time in the cockpit crossing three countries connected by twisty, picturesque country roads and of course the Autobahn. My RS4 test drive route covered central and southwest Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There is no better place to experience the RS4 than driving through the Altmuehltal Nature Park, the Bavarian Alps, the Black Forest, and of course the German, Austrian and Swiss Autobahnen. Thanks to a pilot program offered at Audi Forum, Ingolstadt, I was able to realize one of my childhood dreams: driving an Audi race car in its birth place.

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This program enables Audi enthusiasts or anyone interested in Audi to experiencing Audi's history, culture, technology, and of course ts products. The program starts with an exciting exploration of the brand at the Audi Forum Ingolstadt, Audi's worldwide headquarters. First on the agenda is a plant tour, which encompasses the complete production process from the very beginning of metal stamping, chassis and body assembling, engine mating and interior installation, to the final finishing touches of readying the car for delivery. After that comes lunch at the Avus restaurant, and then the piece de resistance: you are handed the keys to an A8W12, RS 6 or RS 4 and invited to experience the thrill of driving a sophisticated, well-mannered and extremely quick automobile through the picturesque German countryside.

The Audi Driver's Day program offers different packages depending on the number of days you would like to drive your dream car and where in Germany you would like to drive. The latest information about the packages can be found at www.audi.com/driver. For my dream driving vacation, I signed up for the Driver's Day combined with the Audi Winter Driving Experience in Seefeld, Austria. I also asked for an extension of my German driving experience past the usual two-day Twists and Turns package.

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Behind the Wheel of the RS4

After a fascinating tour of the production plant, paint shop and Audi Museum, it wasn't long before I programmed the RS4's Navigation Plus with the route I would be using from lngolstadt to Regensburg via the Altmuehtal Nature Park. For this segment I avoided the Autobahn since I was interested in seeing the winter beauty of the countryside and enjoying the RS 4 on twisty roads. I went through Kosching, Bettbrunn, Almanstein and Kelheim and ended up in Regensburg, my destination for that day. It was not the quickest route, but it gave me the chance to evaluate this engineering marvel and the opportunity to fall for its charms.

After only a few minutes behind the wheel, I was surprised to find how easy it was to drive this powerful automobile. The six-speed transmission and the clutch were very easy to operate. Acceleration was more than exhilarating: in fact, it was something that can't be described in words. Push the accelerator firmly and one is instantly compressed into the sport bucket Recaro seat, which, by the way, is a bit of a hassle to get in and out of in contrast to the U.S. version S4 Recaro seat, but in return the European-spec seat holds the driver very firmly in place. And as I discovered, once I was seated, I didn't want to get out. The engine note was another aspect of this car that I fully appreciated. Throughout the journey, I rarely turned on the radio because I enjoyed so much listening to the melody of the 4.2 FSI V8.

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I could feel the advantage of the 40/60 Torsen split. Unlike the S4 Avant that I am familiar with, the driving dynamics were better, whisking me through corners with confidence and without any hint of understeer. Braking feel and control were excellent; apparently the cross-drilled large disc brakes are shared with the Lamborghini Gallardo. Yoda had to have applied his Jedi Force to this car. This was the only explanation I could come up with for how the car never strayed off line and cornered effortlessly above what seemed to be the logical cornering limit.

After several hours of driving, I arrived at the ornate and historic Maximilian Hotel which opened in 1891. After an excellent four-course dinner at the hotel, I retired for the night, eagerly looking forward to the next day's drive. The next morning I plotted my way back to Ingolstadt with stopovers in Kelheim, Reidenburg, Deifurt, Beilingries, Kinding, Walting, Eichstatt and Nassenfels. Once back in Ingolstadt, I was ready to enjoy the extra days that I had with RS4 by visiting Fussen, Zurich and Baden-Baden. Roads like those through the Bavarian Alps tell you everything about a car's handling.

No theoretical performance numbers can replace the real-world feel offered through your connectedness with the car and the fearsome mountain passes. Forget about reaching the 250 kph on some straight road; it's the up and down winding roads that proved the RS4's heart and soul and demonstrated its technical and engineering excellence.

Master of City Streets and Snow-Covered Highways

In my RS 4, the Audi Navigation Plus incorporated the Traffic Monitoring Control system. I was surprised to hear the navigation system warning me about traffic congestion near downtown Zurich. It directed me to an alternative, less crowded route. Downtown Zurich during rush hour was the perfect place to validate the handling of this 414 hp four-door sedan in stop-and-go traffic. The Audi engineers didn't want to build a raw muscle car that would only perform well in drag races, but instead, aimed at creating a confidence-inspiring automobile that can actually be driven on city streets but also provides total stability in corners and an insane straight-line speed. Thus, the RS4 has a muted exhaust note when it is operated in the "detuned" mode. At low speeds the car is whisper quit. Nonetheless, the stance of this car drew many onlookers in downtown Zurich who were not quite sure why this particular A4 looked so menacing.

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While I was in Zurich I heard on the radio that a snow storm was expected later that night in the Black Forest area. This was the quattro weather that I was hoping to experience. Quickly I planned my route to go to Baden-Baden from Zurich via Freudenstadt. Since I wanted to have a winter driving experience, I made sure that my route would go through the meandering Black Forest roads. The roads all the way to Baden-Baden were covered with snow and sleet. The outside temperature fluctuated between -3 to +1.5 Celsius.

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This RS4 was also equipped with adaptive headlights. I found this feature very useful when navigating the Black Forest's twisty roads with blind crests and corners. This was the stuff of quattro dreams, even at 10 pm, in pitch darkness and a snow storm. with the On the way back to Ingolstadt, I decided to focus my attention to the "S" button that was in the middle console. As soon as I pressed the "S" button, the RS4 perked up like a startled Doberman. The gas pedal became very sensitive, responsive and fast; the sound of the engine became louder and deeper as, according to the car documentation, some valves in the exhaust system were opened up to release more of the engine's potential and the driver's seat closed in on me to provide better side, upper and lower support. Even in sixth gear, it was quite an experience to feel the G forces as the car accelerated from 120 km/h to 220 km/h. There was very little drama, except for the scenery flying past the window like the view from the Millennium Falcon reaching the speed of light, and the horizon apparently deciding to come and meet the car halfway. This car gathered momentum so quickly that looking at the speedometer became a shocking experience.

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After this RS 4 test drive I am not sure if I still dream of owning a Ferrari. This tame and understated four-door sedan doesn't have an obnoxious badge on the front, and the sleeping giant underneath the hood can be woken up to transform the car into a very ferocious race car by a touch of a button at anytime one desires. I am definitely going to the RS4 Barcelona Track Driving Event in August 2006 to get training on how to control this high performance, yet practical, car on an international race way.