Vol. II No. 52 Saturday December 27 2003 - January 2, 2004
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Automania

Audi A8 Quattro

The Audi arm of the huge VW conglomerate has been progressively working its way up the automotive desirability scale. You only have to hearken back to that dreadful bit of tin-ware, the Audi Fox, to see what strides have been taken. These days Audi is a force to be reckoned with, and for the performance driver, Audi has some special motor cars. One of these is the Audi A8 Quattro, which will set you back a cool 13.5 million baht in this country. Thank you so much, keep the change!

However, our Down-Under correspondent John Weinthal has just had one in his keep for a week and says that this car represents huge rewards for the enthusiast driver. Here are the words from Weinthal:

“The first few days with Audi’s AUD 207,000 (about half of what they cost over here) A8 Quattro flagship sedan were notable for a couple of disappointments, two surprise omissions from the standard specification and its commanding road presence. This is a car of great stature. It is also a distinctly feel-good car. I will explain the disappointments later.

“On Day Three we escaped the city for some mountain roads - roads with broken surfaces and enough off-cambers to unsettle almost any car. Here one discovered why the Audi scooped the Australian super-luxury car title in the national motoring organizations’ detailed annual end of year assessments. The award actually went to the almost identical, but AUD 32,000 less expensive, 3.7 litre 206 kW A8, rather than the 4.2 litre 246 kW model under review.

“The aluminium bodied, full time all-wheel drive Audi A8 is presented as the luxury sports sedan supreme among the full size contenders at this heady end of our market. There is no exaggeration in this billing.

“The Audi is a large car. At just over 5 metres it is within millimeters of its prestige competitors - the 210 kW Lexus LS430, 225 kW Mercedes 500SL, 224 kW 4.2 litre Jaguar XJ8 and the 245 kW BMW 745i. Prices range from AUD 176,000 for the Lexus to a whopping AUD 261,000 for the now ageing Mercedes. The Merc and the BMW, and to a lesser extent the Audi, have option lists which can boost these prices substantially.

“The A8 has two stand-out features in this company. These are its all aluminium, but otherwise relatively conventional construction technology, and the constant four-wheel drive, explaining the Quattro part of its name. The Jag introduces an all but revolutionary all aluminium construction technology. This delivers even greater weight savings with similar superior body rigidity to the A8 for greatly enhanced ride control and handling. The Merc and BMW are conventional heavyweights. The Lexus manages to be lighter than this pair, while still using mainly conventional materials. Each of these cars is an exemplar of build quality and refinement, while exuding its own distinctive aura and appeal. But for ultimate driver engagement, even the colossally competent Jag gives best to the A8. For the rest, their designers had other priorities.

“The Audi’s achievement is all the greater because so little compromise is involved in terms of ride comfort and hush even on the standard 19 inch alloy wheels and broad low profile tyres. Believe me, as an enthusiast driver, this would be my choice had I the means or the desire for a truly large and imposing vehicle.

“The A8 utilizes a simpler but similar major function control centre to the much criticized BMW. Radio, TV, satellite navigation, telephone, suspension adjustment and individual climate control settings are all tuned with a combination centre console rotary knob and a set of four press buttons. This even extends to finger print recognition for individual driver’s preferred seating, sound system and mirror settings and keyless starting. It is complex, but probably worth the couple of hours tuition and practice required for true user proficiency.

“Lexus and Jaguar reckon this to be unnecessary. So far, but with experience limited to the BMW 7 and the A8, I think I agree. Some of it does seem to be complexity for its own sake with no clear advantage. I might be wrong - buyers might well love the undoubted degree of additional control it hands to them.

“However, the satellite navigation was simply wrong on many occasions. At one stage it was determined we should do a left turn from a freeway into the Brisbane River; at a familiar must-turn-right T junction the voice control and arrow insisted we turn left; later, both commanded a U Turn when the destination town was clearly sign posted as straight ahead. Only our familiarity with the territory saved us at best some unnecessary deviations and at worst, I guess, becoming hopelessly lost.

“The second flaw was with the cruise control, although this may have been specific to the test car. This fluctuated over a range of up to 12 kph with speed increasing on descents and falling back on even a slight rise. This could easily result in your farewelling your license to continue enjoying this deliciously hushed, luxurious capsule. We tested time and again to ensure it was not some misadventure on our part. Few cars’ cruise control allow speed variations of more than 2kph which is how it must be.

“The A8 does not have automatic wipers or auto on-off for its brilliant bi-xenon headlamps. Both are available on under $50,000 cars today. One soon gets used to their convenience.

“The fact that one loses much of the large glovebox to the six-stacker CD carrier is probably inevitable because of the space occupied by the control centre display. However, in-dash six stackers are much appreciated even by ordinary vehicle drivers today. Most of these cars also have much simpler steering wheel mounted buttons for the cruise control rather than the Audi’s lever hidden behind the left spoke.

“Let me emphasize, this is a hugely rewarding driver’s car. It is fast, it rides uncannily flat through all manner of bends without disturbing the passengers’ conversation. The brakes always feel right and they perform superbly. The steering is nicely weighted and ensures true communication with the road surface.

“Yet, with all these driving attributes, the A8 is never less than a five star commodious cocoon for five - preferably four - extremely lucky folk. No enthusiast driver will disagree with the Australian Motoring Associations’ professional judges rating this as Australia’s outstanding large luxury car of the year.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I mentioned that rallies have usually always been run in engine capacity classes, but one famous international rally began with price classes instead. I asked what was the name of this rally which began in the 1950’s? The correct answer was The East African Coronation Safari of 1953, which became the East African Safari.

So to this week. We are all used to the pit stops that occur in F1 racing these days. In fact it seems like the only place some of these turkeys can actually pass each other is in the pits, but that is another story! The mechanical attrition these days is such that a fair percentage of cars don’t make it to the finish line either. Then the drivers seem to like trying the crash barriers too. However, there was once a World Championship F1 Grand Prix where no cars retired and the drivers had no pit stops. 15 cars started and 15 finished, with 8 on the same lap as the winner. What was this GP? I want the GP, the year and the winning driver. Clue - he was German.

For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected] mai-mail.com

Good luck!

The Thai Road Toll

We are all aware that Thailand has a horrendous tally of road deaths. The 600 or so souls that rush off to line up for reincarnation during and after Songkran should be enough to convince anyone of this fact. The real situation is that Thailand has ten times the death rate on the roads compared to Japan, for example. However, the road toll is not something that the PM can fix with draconian decrees, as extra-judicial killings for perpetrators of road traffic offences are counter-productive!

Road safety is always a vexed question, however. We could reduce road deaths to zero overnight by simply banning all forms of vehicular transport. (I hope the legislators who are considering closing the pubs at 10 p.m. to preserve the virginity of pubescent Thai girls, aren’t reading this!)

Once the concept of reducing the road toll becomes political, we are then presented with the usual hyperbole and hysterical knee-jerk reactions that include “Speed Kills”, and ban booze. Along comes enforced speed limits, speed guns and increased police revenue (directly or indirectly). Then we have limits being placed on liquor outlets and then breathalyzers outside the pubs. Next up is mandatory jail sentences and loss of licenses. This will sound very familiar to anyone from the western world. By this stage everyone has forgotten why all these restrictions were introduced, and the name of the game is maintaining and increasing restrictions. And the government’s revenue, before you forget!

What is wrong with all this, is the fact that these restrictions become written in stone without looking at which group is being killed. In this country it is motorcyclists, bouncing down the road on their helmetless heads. That is around 90 percent of the deaths.

So how do we fix this? Retrain all motorcyclists? Ban all two wheeled devices? Enforce 20 kph limits for motor bikes? All a total waste of time or totally impractical.

But there’s alcohol involved too! Ban motorcyclists from drinking booze - that’s the answer. Like hell it is! Attempting to change the customs of societies takes three to four generations - we haven’t got that length of time.

There is, however, a simple and very effective ‘partial’ solution, which does not involve new laws, statutes, decrees, suppressions or extra-judicial killings. Motorcycle riders are supposed to wear helmets. Enforce it. Everyone on the motorcycle, including the three pillion passengers. Everyone! Including the police officers (the soft brown peaked hat is not good at protecting skull fractures)! Perhaps one small piece of legislation could be introduced to ensure that the helmets meet an international standard, and they must be worn done up.

The end result would see the death rate fall by around 60-70 percent. But then, who’s listening and who cares?


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