Road impressions: Audi

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Gordon Cruickshank

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Eifel Tour

What we needed was a car to carry two people and photographic gear for a brief weekend sprint from London to the Nurburgring. Since this distance would have to be accomplished in the shortest practicable time, our mount would have to be fast, relaxing to drive, reasonably roomy, capable of shrugging off bad weather, and have above average range between fuel stops. With the last two in particular in mind, a high performance four-wheel-drive machine seemed indicated, and Audi conveniently had a Coupe quattro free just when we wanted it.

This angular machine, with what used to be called a “fastback” body style, is now in its last year, based as it is on the old 80 floorpan, and there have been detail and equipment changes since we last drove one. Like most car models reaching this stage of their market life, the items which used to be extras have now become absorbed into the standard specification. But whereas most cars become better and better bargains in their last phase, currency fluctuations have carried the Audi coupes up beyond their immediate rivals — the quattro we loaded onto the ferry costs £17,645.

Of course, if two driven wheels are enough for you, it is possible to save £4684 and go for the GT 1.8 coupe, offering 112 bhp and 117 mph with the same body and trim, but it is a fairly hefty body for the four-cylinder block to propel. It really needs the 2.2-litre five, which puts 136 bhp under the right foot and endows the Audi with some of the appetite for autobahns which any car claiming the initials GT ought to have.

Due to the extra weight of the prop-shaft, two extra diffs, and rear driveshafts, the Coupe quattro (not to be confused with the bulkier and brawnier Quattro coupe) takes a whisker longer to reach the same maximum 126 mph than does its 2WD sibling with the same engine, but the enhanced safety margin of four driven wheels with ABS, now standard on the quattro, makes the car a good choice in unpleasant weather — and having battled through France in torrential rains driving a mid-engined turbocar only a few weeks previously, I wanted relaxed security.

Needless to say, the demands of Standard House meant a later than intended start on Friday afternoon, but after the depressing crawl down the South London part of the A2, it was less than 90 minutes later that we surged up the clattering ramps into the hold of the ferry, locked the car, and ran upstairs to the restaurant. Townsend Thoresen may take 15 minutes longer to get there, but the chance to sit down in a waiter-service restaurant and have dinner out of the way by the time the boat docks is a boon — if you are quick enough to grab some of the limited accommodation.

Fed and slightly rested, we tackled yet again that dreary suburban drag out of Calais docks through ruined block houses and gravel pits, a pot-holed byway which is quite inadequate to be the gateway to a prosperous country, noting that the Audi rode uncomplainingly over the bumps. That night we were heading not for the ‘Ring itself, but the town of Bad Neuenahr near Bonn, which meant our route was autobahn for all bar the last few miles, and it was not long before we had settled into a steady cruise which was into three figures on clear stretches.

With French francs and Deutschmarks in our pockets, but no Belgian cash, we did not want to have to refuel in that country. So the 15.4-gallon tank of the quattro was a comfort as we passed the huge concrete pillar which marks the Belgian border. From here the only excitement was trying to comprehend the unhelpful signposting, particularly around Liege. At the same time I was becoming aware that I did not fit the Audi’s sport seat, despite its height adjustment; I altered everything at different times, but I never managed to ease the discomfort.

Monotonous it may be, but the motorway enabled us to reach our hotel a little after midnight, and with half a day’s work under our belts too. I felt stiff from the firm seats, though my colleague found them perfectly restful, but we agreed that in its blend of easy speed and relative quiet this was a relaxing car. I had reservations about the degree of roll, which I felt were confirmed the following morning as we wound through steep river valleys on the way to the circuit. It tilts a little too much, and it does it a little too sharply to be comfortable on snaking bends; and the wheel demands a lot of movement too. Thankfully it is powerassisted.

Understeer is the rule, and you are wasting time to try and kill it with acceleration; a fistful of lock and a steady throttle is the key. Remember that and the car will cling faithfully to your chosen course.

Frustratingly, the only time we had a moment to try to fit in a lap of the old ‘Ring, we were told that BMW had booked it for the entire afternoon; but there was compensation in our return route after a weekend of historic racing. Leaving Nurburg at 5.45pm on Sunday evening and aiming for an 11.30 ferry, we travelled west by B-roads, gradually exchanging the narrow defiles of the Eifel mountains for more rolling views towards Malmedy and Spa. On these tight roads (even with a RHD car as long as driver and co-driver have established a system for assessing overtaking opportunities) the five-cylinder unit can wind the coupe up very smartly to pass slower traffic and keep the average up. Audi’s press garage had thoughtfully fitted the necessary converter masks to the lamps before despatching the car, which often reduces the output, but the lamps did a good job nevertheless.

In darkness we joined the circuit at Spa-Francorchamps, streaked down the hill to pass the pits going in the wrong direction, and up again into the town itself, from where, the fun over, we rejoined the motorway.

Yet again trying to find the route out of Liege was the only snag to the return journey, and once established in the ferry restaurant, it was gratifying to compare notes with another car-load of British journalists who had left 30 minutes later by the all-motorway route; they had only saved 10 minutes over us on our back roads. Undoubtedly the Audi’s long range was a factor: we had to stop only once for fuel, averaging about 24 mpg, with a best stretch of 27.6.

Were it a proper hatchback this five-seater would truly be the dual-purpose car Audi claims; as it is the narrow boot opening is a disappointment, and of course the quattro version has a slightly smaller boot in any case. Electric extras proliferate (windows, mirrors and locks) and alloy wheels are standard.

I really did not get on with the driving position, because of the hard seats and the altitude of the wheel, but my biggest complaint in a packed weekend was about the electric rad fan: it is so noisy that it woke my neighbours when we finally made it back to Fulham at 2.30am. GC

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