At a Glance
Top-notch interior, that signature "new Audi" smell, brand-new UHP rubber to burn
Now that we've got even more grip, it could use some sportier seats
We were about 160 miles northeast of Los Angeles when I hit the rock. A colleague and I were driving through the southern Sierra Nevadas, dicing with our long-term BMW 335d and Audi A5, and playing with a new camera setup we recently acquired in the interest of bringing you high-def driving footage for the website. I strayed to the edge of the road on one blind corner, trying to neatly clip its apex, and uncovered a rock nested in a small pothole. If the noise of the impact wasn't telling, the vehicle's tire pressure monitoring system alert definitely was: immediate loss of pressure. I pulled to the side of the road to discover the most astounding tire failure I've experienced, a one-inch gash on the tire's shoulder where the sidewall met the tread. This tire was toast.
That wouldn't have been so bad, but the rock hadn't been cleared off the road by the initial impact; it decided to stick around and glance off the rear tire as well, raising an ugly blister on the sidewall and pretty much blowing our canyon carving session to hell in one fell swoop.
I spent the rest of the day limping home in a severely lamed A5. Few experiences outside crawling along the interstate at 45 mph, as fully laden 18-wheelers go thundering past, are as humbling.
Everything considered, it was the longest and most tedious day of driving in my life.
But at the very least, it gave me a little downtime to really look at my surroundings-and really begin to appreciate the Audi driving environment. If there's one way to really quantify what an Audi is all about, it's the quality of the interior. The materials are top-notch, but the overall scheme of things speaks volumes about the company's build philosophy.
There were a couple things I hadn't really considered, consciously at least, before an Audi North America event I recently attended, where North American President Johann de Nysschen spoke to members of the press. I always knew Audi brass was adamant about the company's quality control standards, and most can appreciate the solid thunk of a well-insulated door closing, or material quality and tactility as you settle into the interior. But de Nysschen made a couple other points, one of which was the "new Audi" smell. The company employs a cadre of "scent engineers" whose job it is to make sure every component that goes into the vehicle smells correct. And damn it if he wasn't right; I never really thought about it before, but every Audi I've been in smells like, well, an Audi.
He also cited uniform operating resistance on all buttons and switches, where great care is taken to ensure each type of switch is actuated like all the rest. If it's a button, it requires the same amount of pressing force to engage as the other buttons in the cabin. Same for rotary knobs like the volume control or MMI master dial. Again, something you don't ordinarily think about, but he's right, and it points to the totally anal-retentive nature of Audi interior design-a good thing in our estimation.
Speaking of MMI, it continues to be probably the most intuitive multimedia control consolidation in the industry. If BMW's iDrive introduced the concept, you could say that Audi MMI perfected it. And in fact, BMW perfected its own system by taking a page out of the MMI book of tricks: buttons that correspond to on-screen menus for instantaneous navigation among the various levels rather than having to rely on the rotary knob for everything.
Eventually I made it home, spare donut, blistered rear tire and all. The latter managed to hold pressure all the way back, but there was little doubt I was going to new a new complement of rubber-not terribly heartbreaking, since we'd been plotting to replace the whiny OEM all-seasons since we took delivery. It so happened that our friends from Toyo Tires were paying us an office call the very next day, and they offered up a set of ultra-high-performance Proxes T1Rs.
The T1Rs are just what this car needed. Gone are the squealing complaints from the all-season tires if you happen to hit a freeway onramp or dive into a corner a little too hot. They do ride a bit noisier than the stock rubber, but go a long way in assisting the car in holding its composure in a bend, or on the corner exit when powering out of it.
We've just nearly ticked over 8,000 miles on this long-termer; now we're all set for a few thousand more.