The holiday had been planned for some time. South West France, French Riviera and then Tuscany. The route home, for which I had allowed only 36 hours, would take in the Stelvio Pass which I anticipated would be the highlight of my journey.
I asked much of the S4: family hold-all, transcontinental-GT, Alpine hoodlum and (rather unnervingly) off-roader.
It was not all good news: I curbed an alloy badly before I had even escaped London and, on the recommendation of a motoring journalist, I raised the tyre pressures a few pounds for the trip from Calais to Toulouse – a disaster in terms of both comfort and high speed stability. Also, I was horrified to find that shutting the boot with my hand on the steel just below the rear screen left a hand shaped dent in the metal.
There was however, so much that impressed. Most significantly, my Tuscan accommodation was high in the hills accessed along a 3km track. The track had been described in the brochure as a “beautiful white Tuscan road” – it was not white, beautiful or a road! I was appalled and convinced the Audi would be damaged by the daily trips up and down the unmade track. However, the Audi took it in its stride and is none the worse for its Italian adventure.
Similarly on the terrifying Florence –Siena dual carriage way and other poorly surfaced Italian roads, the Audi’s precise steering and fantastic body control enabled reasonable progress to be maintained.
Once the tyre pressures were returned to Audi’s recommended levels, the Audi was close to perfect whether on motorway or back road or anything in between. It is, of course, a heavy car, and in the bends struggles at times to hide both its weight and its nose heavy weight distribution. However, despite this, it’s an entertaining car to drive on a winding road with a staggering amount of lateral grip, even in the wet. In addition, whilst the performance and the noise both continue to be utterly seductive, less obvious benefits like the awesomely comfortable seats, the super-powerful air-con and superb Bose Symphony stereo also made long journeys across Europe all the more bearable (although the stereo could not prevent my daughter’s Tellytubbies album from sounding ghastly).
The highlight of the trip was, of course, the time I spent in the Alps with the Audi and my mate Sam (the family had wisely decided to fly home). Other than the spectacular scenery, which would make the trip worthwhile even in my Fiat Panda, the Audi was the perfect car for the job: fabulous grip both in the turns and out of them and explosive, low-down power for hauling from one hairpin to the next with that magical bellow from the exhausts bouncing off the cliff face. Even at high altitude, the Audi felt stunningly quick and when called on to dispatch convoys of caravans or coaches, it did so with ease.
The final section of the trip was a 550 mile drive from Austria to Calais. We arrived on the Austrian motorway network at midday already six hours in to our journey, fearing we’d miss our 8:30pm ferry. We rolled into Calais, the Audi coated thick with insects at 6pm, having stopped for lunch and feeling relaxed and ache free. The ease with which the Audi consumed both distance and fuel was spectacular. Every two hours, almost on the dot, the warning light would come on and the car would demand another €70 of super-unleaded. Ouch! We may have achieved 21mpg overall but for the last blast across France the computer showed only 18mpg.
At the last stop for fuel, we met an old British Gentleman in a Bentley Continental GT. We admired each other’s cars then headed out together for one last glorious blast to Calais before returning to the frustrations of driving in England. Even in such exalted company, the Audi was not disgraced.
Since returning, I have now moved from London to the Kent/Sussex border and find the Audi to be even better company now that my driving no longer consists only of London and motorways. The Audi has now done 10,500 miles and is feeling very nicely run in. Experimenting with fuel has also been interesting, with super-plus proving noticeably better to standard unleaded and Shell V-Power being better still. The Audi therefore is not only thirsty but fussy too!
So am I a life-long convert to Audi? Maybe, but if BMW UK decides to import the 6-speed manual M5 that’s available in the USA, I’d spend many sleepless nights agonising over whether I should desert my wonderful Audi for Munich’s finest saloon…