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Reader Test: Audi 500 Turbo A/T

2007-06-22 08:01

Cobus Potgieter, Centurion

The Audi 500 Turbo was never going to sell in droves. Considering its era, it was simply too eccentric. The Mercedes and BMW fraternity would simply not have considered a front-wheel drive, 5-cylinder, turbocharged, automatic Audi.

The interior would be mightily impressive even in a 2007 model. Wood and leather abound and there is not a cheap switch or surface in sight.

It's not all moonshine and roses: the footwell is only just big enough on the automatic Turbo model; it must be positively cramped in the manual cars if the driver wears size 10s. The radio is down low and the oil temperature gauge is partly obscured by the steering wheel, but at least there is one! There is even a volt meter and an oil pressure gauge.

Split personality oldie

The engine idles with a vibey 5-cylinder throb. Pull-away is leisurely and although the engine has a lovely beat, very little happens at low revs in that tall first gear. Only after a good four seconds have elapsed does the turbo start boosting, and suddenly a few other characteristics become clear. The car squats appreciably on its soft suspension, there is a trace of torque steer and the five-cylinder's note hardens to a delightful howl as the once-lumbering giant is suddenly transformed, the engine plunging the big body down the road in an effortless rush of turbo boost.

It reaches a ridiculous 90km/h in first gear and then bridges an enormous gap to second, but with the turbo on song, this is dispatched with a rapid and amazingly smooth shift. On to third at 160km/h (!) and we are in top gear: there are only three... The speedo needle swings around the dial and comes to rest at an indicated 230km/h.

It is amazingly smooth and quiet at this speed, too. But the gearbox is lazily set up and needs prodding to kick down or hold the revs. This can be frustrating in traffic, when one if often caught under the boost zone.

Play your cards right

The Audi's disposition does not invite an enthusiastic driving style, so the dynamic abilities of the chassis initially come as quite a shock. But you need to work up to those limits: if you?re less than smooth it will pitch and roll on its soft springs, ably assisted by super-sensitive steering and brakes.

Get it right and it will lean, settle, and blast through a corner without a trace of understeer until its very high limits are reached. Lift off suddenly and it tightens the line enthusiastically, but the tail is always a doddle to catch with the fast steering.

The Audi 500 Turbo is not the default choice and some would not be willing to live with its idiosyncrasies. However, it offers a combination of space, comfort, superb cruising ability and surprising performance and handling (once the necessary skills are mastered) that could be hard to resist. It's certainly not a me-too car.


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