First drive (for me :-) -- A4 2.8 fwd

Fisher, Scott Scott_Fisher at
Sat Jun 30 09:53:46 EDT 2001

> Fisher, Scott writes:
> > First impressions: has Audi's steering really become 
> > progressively softer since 1980, or is my weight-
> > lifting program paying off? :-) 
> Audi steering systems did get lighter beginning the early 90s or so.
> That said, the new A4/A6/A8 models with the virtual-axis 
> geometry steering gives a totally different feel than previous
> Audis in that the total lack of torque steer and kickback makes
> it seem even lighter than it really is.

Audis have always been phenomenal for their absence of torque steer.  I
first read about torque steer back when I had the 4000, and wondered what
the magazines were talking about.  Years later, I rented a Chevy Berretta
with the 2.8L V6 and kicking down the autobox put me in the next lane.

> However, the feel is
> there and once you get used to it, it's actually nice. 

Good timing, Ti -- last night I drove the loaner A4 a couple more times, two
of them in a hurry.  I've always thought that you don't really know a car
till you hurry in it -- not necessarily driving in an autocross or on track,
but just when you're impatient to get somewhere, because any frustration
will highlight its flaws and cause any of the good points to become
invisible.  I didn't catch myself griping about the steering; in fact, I
caught myself wondering what I must have been thinking when I complained
about the steering -- it was just fine.

So I paid special attention to the steering effort at the end of the day,
when I was no longer in a hurry, and, on about the fourth or fifth short
jaunt in the car, I came to the conclusion that it isn't exactly *lighter*
-- but the response, especially in the first couple of inches of hand
movement on the wheel, is VERY different from either the quattro or the CGT;
it is faster, as if the steering ratio or geometry was different in the
initial turn-in response, and this is highlighted by the tires building up
too much slip angle for the ones on the car at the moment to respond to
without complaint.  (It's also COMPLETELY different from my normal daily
driver, the car that Tessie and Joe G. and a few others know me for, but
that's another can of worms altogether... :-)

I also noted that while hurrying, the only two things I grumbled about were
the squeal from the tires when I tried to take corners the way I do in my
daily driver (a 2300-pound open two-seat RWD sports car with a properly
sorted suspension and *very* light rims), and the too-widely-spaced ratios
in the four-speed autobox.  Simple solutions there: order one with a stick,
and upgrade the tires. 

Oh, and now that you brought up torque steer, it reminded me of the last car
I drove with significant torque steer -- the new Volvo LTD, er, whatever.
You know, the big Volvo -- S80? T80?  It wasn't worth learning the
designation.  Some friends have one with the sport/turbo engine, with 17"
rims and 45-series tires stock from the factory.  Great power, but I had
completely forgotten what it was like to have the steering wheel wobble
under your grip when you kick the tranny down.  

> You no longer fight with the steering, but still feel
> in complete connection with what's happening at the wheels.  

I can see that.  I've put, oh, ten or fifteen miles on this car, always with
one or more of my kids in it, so as I say I haven't had the chance to really
put it into a corner hard.  It's different enough from what one expects that
I think it takes a little time to learn to exploit it.  

I'm also now remembering a competition driving school I took in, oh,
1988-89, when I finally "got" the slow-hands concept.  Up till then I'd been
doing this (which is wrong): keeping the car straight till the last possible
instant, then standing on the brakes and yanking the wheel HARD toward the
apex.  My instructor screamed "YOU'RE LATE" at me (well, we were both in
helmets at the time, of course) and took me around the course himself next
time.  He started (which is right) turning the wheel SO MUCH EARLIER than I
did, and moved his hands SO MUCH MORE SMOOTHLY on the wheel, and the car was
just a hell of a lot faster when it exited the corner, and there was none of
the whump-whump-whump I'd been feeling at the front end when I had been
driving it earlier.  That was probably the single biggest improvement in my
driving skill, from decades of reading and screwing around on twisty roads
and years of borderline-competitive autocross driving up to that point.  I
went from mid-pack to consistent podium finishes after that.

It seems as though the new-geometry Audis would REALLY reward attention paid
to that crucial aspect of driving.  I'll go back and see what it's like if I
focus on turning in early and apexing late.

> One thing,
> though, I noticed, is that the steering feel becomes livelier with
> the tire pressure on the high side of the recommended range. 

I've already thought of that.  If we had this car for a week, I'd be hooking
up my air compressor.  Heck, I may do that now, as we've got this car for
the weekend (the 100 wasn't quite done at the end of the day).

Oh, I also notice what seems to be some preignition rattle -- my guess is
that the loaner-drivers put the cheapest gas they could into the car, and
that the 2.8L V6 could really use higher octane.  Again, that's not the
car's fault, and since premium is comparatively cheap up here I may top it
off with some 92 octane and see if that helps.

> Also, on
> the A6 cars, disconnecting the servotronic relay makes it all better.

Ah, that's the thing Andrew has talked about.  But it sounds different from
what's going on in this car.

> Also, the feel is model-specific.  The feel on my neu-S4 is 
> quite a bit better than the A4 2.8q I had. 

The neu-S4 is the only A4-chassis car I've ever been in before yesterday,
and that only as a passenger.  Even from the right seat (with apologies to
Phil and Jim and the others from across various oceans, who should interpret
that as "left seat") I can tell there are huge differences in damping, body
roll, and traction.  My first ride in Miq's S4 was the final part of what I
think of as my "quattro epiphany" -- WOW.

And then I think of our 100csq, and how my usual complaints about THAT car
are simply that it needs another 50 bhp and one more gear and it would be
The Perfect Car, and I think about other cars with an S and a 4 in the name.
(The only complaint anyone else in my family has had about the A4 was my
ten-year-old daughter, who thought the back seat was a little cramped
compared to the 100.  I can fit back there, eventually, but gee, you mean
the smaller car doesn't have as much back seat legroom as the bigger one?
How could THAT happen? :-)

For me, as the driver, I like the size of the A4 just fine.  I normally
prefer smaller cars to larger (in fact, I've been waiting for somebody to
say "It's a free country" so I could give the comeback that's been in my
head for a few months: if it really WERE a free country, I could park my S3
next to my wife's 156 Sportwagon...)  If my commute were any longer than it
is (hmmm, twenty, maybe twenty-five steps down the hall and past the
kitchen), the A4 would be on my short list of cars whose tires I'd go kick.
But in fact, one of the constant surprises about our 100csq is that for such
a "big" car, it doesn't feel like one.  Makes it tough to justify not
looking at the big cars, considering that we've got three kids, two of which
are getting pretty tall these days.

> This is partly due to the wheels/tires
> but there is probably a different amount of assist dialed-in 
> on the sportier S4.

I wonder if there are different camber settings too?  The first FWD car that
I fiddled with for competition ('84 VW GTI, SCCA E Stock Solo II) responded
VERY well to a degree and a half of negative camber.  (And it's worth noting
that when I drove that car with those settings, even on the street, the
tires wore flat... when my wife took over that car and I went broke and
insane -- er, concentrated on setting up my EP race car -- the insides of
the tires wore out in record time.)

I'm embarrassed to ask, but what's the front suspension architecture on the
A4 -- struts, most likely?  I'll go take a peek later...

> As to soft handling, the A4 2.8q you drove probably doesn't have the
> factory sport suspension option.  There is a significant difference
> there. 

I can believe that completely.  The basic platform is so good -- solid and
tight, with a pleasing power-to-weight ratio -- that it doesn't need much.
For a daily-driver, especially if I shared it with my wife, I might not even
bother with springs, just a set of Bilsteins and stiffer anti-roll bars to
make whatever tires I put on work better.

> Also, again, much of this is also influenced by the tires.  Some
> of the new Audis are now being equipped from the factory with 
> more decent tires but they are not the most sporting.

And you know... Audi may have some of the most brilliant engineers in the
industry, but I wonder whether they might also have a couple of brilliant
marketers as well.  Consider: we all on this list know what it's like to
have a car you like or love, but even more so how changing a few things on
that car makes it YOURS in a way that signing 48 checks to the finance
company can never come close to equalling.  So here they have produced a car
that CRIES OUT for a little tweaking to take advantage of its inherent
goodness, a car that people like us can take to our hearts and fiddle with a
bit and be completely thrilled by how "we" have brought out the capabilities
that "the factory" didn't.  

Which, of course, is why I'm thinking about a 1.8tq, so I can swap the chip,
put in a K04 and a bigger exhaust, etc. etc. etc. :-)  

(My wife, on the other hand, was trying to talk Sunset Audi into letting us
have a TT as the loaner.  No dice, I'm afraid...)

Thanks, Ti.

--Scott Fisher
  Tualatin, Oregon

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