The theme for the trip was ice and versatility. Over the course of 24 hours we were scheduled to test out the Audi Driving Experience, an experience which can be bought by customers and consists of driving the new A5, TT RS, and Q5. Our instructor was well-known Swedish racing driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky. Our job is to test these things out and let you, the consumer, know if it’s worth it or not.
Let us start with some impressions from Audi’s (expected) cash cow, the new Q5. Updates include air suspension and we got to drive the car both with and without. If you can afford it – which you probably can if you’re in the market for the new Q5 – make sure to tick it on the options list. The difference is enormous and makes the ride as magical as Harry Potter’s wand. Without the air suspension, the ride is unusually harsh, a critique which we’ve already directed at Audi’s in the past.
The new Q5 feels like an Audi A4 on stilts. Excellent, in other words. The interior is basically identical as is the driving experience despite the extra weight you’re carrying around. If you’re in the market for a comfort-oriented SUV, the Q5 is definitely worth considering.
Another update which one can get in the new Q5 is Quattro Ultra – Audis “new” four-wheel drive system. The difference compared to the old system is merely that the car can disengage the rear wheels to save on fuel and, when required, re-engage them when the computer deems it appropriate. The question one might ask is whether Quattro Ultra is as good as the traditional system with permanent four-wheel drive. Audi let us loose on an off-road trail in order to reach our own conclusion.
The trail consisted of a pendulum, a steep hill, holes and ruts, snow, sloping sides and mud. For a regular estate or sedan, this is (obviously) a recipe for disaster but a SUV should be able to handle it with no problem, which – unsurprisingly – the Q5 did. Nothing managed to hinder my progress with the car in the off-road setting (which raises the Q5 by 2.4 inches with air suspension). So, off-roading, something which doesn’t urge you to drive fast, was no problem for the Quattro ultra system – it handled the trail just as well as the regular Quattro-system would.
Another, perhaps more relevant question, is how Quattro ultra handles sudden changes in the road surface. What happens when a patch of ice suddenly makes the car’s acquaintance? Honestly, I didn’t notice much of a difference. When I decided to truly push the Q5 to its limits I could feel the difference, but that’s a bit like trying to spot a snow owl in the Rocky Mountains. The disadvantages to the Quattro Ultra system are insignificant enough to completely disregard and as one of the instructors pointed out – you will never find yourself in a situation where the system won’t do its job properly.
Driving around in an RS-car with 400 horsepower on ice is exactly as entertaining as it sounds. Unfortunately, I was only given the opportunity to drive on nothing but ice. The special tires would disintegrate both themselves and the road surface if they were to be used on asphalt. With that said, let’s start with the boring aspects of the car. It is a tad too quiet in the TT RS and when tackling a corner with the Swedish sun sitting low on the horizon, completely blinding you, there is one thing missing – an ear-piercing five-cylinder rumble.
The new TT RS is tiny which is one of the best things about it. The size combined with the wonderful chassis makes it easy to place exactly where you want it. Drifting through the corners on the clean ice was a real pleasure. Would I have wanted a manual gearbox? Perhaps, but with regard to the brilliant automatic I’ll hardly lose any sleep over it.
After having spent some time on ice in the TT RS I can admit that I would sacrifice my left foot to do it all again. Is it worth buying? My first impressions say yes but naturally we’ll need to borrow the car closer to summer when the Swedish weather allows for a proper road test. Don’t take my word for it just yet…
On a frozen lake in western Sweden, you will find Audi Driving Experience. An experience which is available world-wide thus also the United States. For a large sum of your hard-earned money you can also sign up for Audi’s rally-inspired driving school where you’re basically taught how to drift properly. A great lesson to learn when you lose control of your car while driving to work. In conclusion, the driving school can be described as a 20-year old’s wet dream – something I can vouch for. Experiencing a car in such extreme situations teaches you how to act when you come across similar, yet less extreme, situations in real life. The fact that it’s fun as hell clearly doesn’t make things any worse.