Audi Quattro, Four RS Models, 4,400 km, 44 passes and twelve stages from Klagenfurt to Monaco and back. That’s what the 4th Audi Tour, the Land of Quattro, is all about. We joined the last two stages from Innsbruck via Kitzbühel to Klagenfurt and had the opportunity to drive four different Audi Quattro cars across some of the most stunning roads in Austria and Italy.
The Land of Quattro Alpen Tour follows three previous tours; an efficiency challenge in the United States in 2008, a European Tour in 2009 and a Audi Q3 Trans China Tour in 2011. The theme for this year was centered around Audi Quattro and the RS creations of Quattro GmbH. The lineup of vehicles includes the brand new Audi RS Q3, Audi RS5 Cabriolet, Audi RS6 and Audi RS7. Audi Tradition also brought along a few classic Audi Ur Quattros and an Audi Sport Quattro that achieved legendary status with their Quattro AWD and many rally successes in the 1980s.
The Tour started on the 23rd of September in Klagenfurt, Austria. From there the daily stages crossed the Alps via Kitzbühel, Innsbruck, Meran (Italy), Interlaken (Switzerland), Megeve (France) until they reached the mid-way point in Monaco. From there the tour continued back the same way it came. The Land of Quattro Alpen Tour conquered many well-known and lesser known passes from the Grossglockner, St Gotthard and Brenner Pass to the Julier Pass and Col de Turini.
Innsbruck to Kitzbühel
Our Land of Quattro Alpen Tour experience started with a flight to Innsbruck, the spectacular approach to the airport alone is worth a trip to this city in Austria. The stunning view of this part of the Alps, with our flight path running through a valley with 2,500m peaks on either side of the plane, was the ultimate warm-up for the Alpen Tour. From Innsbruck airport it was only a short shuttle drive to the Interalpen Hotel where we were greeted by as many Audi RS models as one could wish for.
The Interalpen hotel is build by Liebherr, the manufacturing and mining company. It has a spectacular feat where you can drive your car upon arrival or departure more or less into the lobby at the heart of the hotels massive structure. This allows that you can load and unload your car in pleasant temperatures in winter. Here at the lobby of the Interalpen hotel we can chose the four cars we would like to drive over the next two days.
Our first choice is the Audi Ur Quattro. Build since 1980 it was the first car to feature Audi’s quattro permanent four-wheel drive system and the first car to mate four-wheel drive with a turbocharged engine. The Audi Quattro came with a 2.1 liter 5-inline 10 valve SOHC, with a turbocharger and intercooler. It produced 200hp and torque of 285 Nm at 3500 rpm; taking the Quattro from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.1 seconds and reaching a top speed of over 220 km/h.
Our particular Audi Quattro was build in 1988 and despite its age of 25 years already included many modern gadgets like air-conditioning, electric windows, electronic engine management and LCD displays. In 1988 the Audi Quattro left the factory with a 2.2 liter 5-inline engine that still produced 200hp but had the peak torque available lower in the rev range. Getting behind the wheel of the Audi Quattro provides a great reference for what has changed in the last 25 years.
The Audi Quattro has a 5-gang manual gearbox, clutch, throttle and brake paddle are fairly soft compared to modern standards, the steering wheel is very thin and the seating position is very laid back. Compared to our colleagues who head of in modern day RS machinery we are slow off the line and take it easy towards the Brenner with the rain slamming on the windshield. However the Ur Quattro has a feat that is hard to find in many modern cars; you can really have fun without breaking the speed limit! The sense of speed is amazing, the feel, sound and smell like you only find it in cars of yesteryear.
We drive the first stretch of the route to our lunch stop in the Dolomites on the highway. No matter who we overtake or get overtaken by, plenty of looks and some thumbs up. At the bottom of the Brenner pass we leave the highway and continue on the B-roads towards the pass and into Italy. The ride is surprisingly comfortable and you can feel this car is extremely well looked after by the people at Audi Tradition. With only 70,000 kilometers on the clock this Audi Quattro has clocked less than 3,000 km per year.
Driving a 25 year old car across a pre-planned route also means the use of third-party navigation, in this case a TomTom. We were not a fan of TomToms before but our experience with the TomTom in the Audi Quattro made it even worse. On multiple occasions it urged us to cross through pedestrian areas, leave the main road to drive through residential areas before returning to the main road and the best of all take us across a mountain over a track were even a tractor would struggle.
With a bit of delay but an ever growing smile on our faces we arrived at the lunch checkpoint near Badia in the Italian Dolomites mountains. A stunning area with some of the highest peaks of the Dolomites as backdrop. It was the first time we saw all participating cars together in daylight and it was quite the scene. Here we had to hand over our 1988 Audi Quattro to the next team and after lunch would receive the keys to our next car in the Audi Land of Quattro Tour.
The lunch location was right at the bottom of two famous passes in the Dolomites, the Valparola Pass and the Falzarego Pass. Both are connected to each other near the top and reach a height of 2,168 and 2,105 meter above sea level. The road to the Valparola Pass runs up from the town of La Villa Stern and goes down the other side from the Falzarego Pass to the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo (home of the 1956 Winter Olympics).
During lunch the sun came out from after the clouds and what better to drive on a sunny afternoon than a convertible? We were in luck and received the keys to an Audi RS5 Cabriolet. The 4.2 liter V8 in the RS5 Convertible produces 450hp, enough for a sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h.
From Ur Quattro to RS5 is like stepping in a time machine. Everything from design, performance, ergonomics, entertainment, comfort and luxury made a huge leap forwards in the last 25 years. Also the ease with which you can steer a car like the RS5 over the Valparola Pass is incredible. For a moment we also regret that the sense of true driving has nearly completely disappeared in the last 25 years. But we have received a lot in return for it, we can travel great distances with ease and comfort like never before.
The RS5 Convertible is completely in its element heading up the Valparola Pass, despite the at some points third-world like streets with put holes, gravel and cracks. Reaching the top is rewarded with some of the most stunning views in this area of the Alps. We stop for some photos and to take in the breathtaking scenery. Despite the bad quality road it is definitely a pass we can recommend!
We continue down the Valzarego Pass towards Cortina d’Ampezzo and soon catch up with another Audi Quattro. The road down the Valzarego Pass is much better quality and other traffic on this Friday is pretty much non-existent. We swing from corner to corner as if it is our private race track, little did we know who was behind the wheel of the Audi Quattro in front of us. Way to soon we reached the outskirts of Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Quattro in front of us, suffering from the same TomTom issues, heading the wrong way on a round about, we follow them to point them in the right direction again.
From Cortina d’Ampezzo we lead the Audi Quattro through various valleys back towards the Austrian border. The Audi RS5 Convertible now properly warmed up rewards us regularly with its great exhaust tunes and backfire. Before we know it we are back in Austria and on our way to the Grossglockner Pass. We put the roof up again because it starts to rain and continues to rain hard until we reach the toll station at the bottom of the Grossglockner. This toll road goes all the way up to 2,506 meter.
Like a miracle the rain stops and we stop for a quick photo with the Audi Quattro and an Audi RS6. Here we realize that the Audi Quattro we have followed and lead from the Valzarego Pass to the Grossglockner is driven by Audi DTM driver Filipe Albuquerque. Filipe recently won the 24 Hours of Daytona and he was invited by Audi to join the Land of Quattro Tour for this stage.
We race Filipe up the wet Grossglockner High Alpine Road all the way to the pass at 2,506 meter. From here we continued up the narrow hairpin road to the Edelweissspitze peak at 2,571 meter from where you have an amazing view of the Grossglockner mountain (with 3,798 meter the highest mountain of Austria). Our timing was perfect once again, the sun came out above the Grossglockner the moment we arrived at the peak. The Grossglockner is not only popular by tourists and car enthusiast but also by car manufacturers who use the spectacular location for photo and video shoots for their commercials. At the moment we were there Volkswagen was shooting a new variant of their Amarok pickup there.
Compared to the Italian passes the Grossglockner is in excellent condition and if you time it right (end of season / end of day) there is hardly any traffic. Again this is a pass to remember and to drive at least once in your life! The last stage from the bottom Grossglockner to our overnight stop in Kitzbühel was a fairly relaxed stretch back to the busy world with more and more traffic. Our photographer Philipp joined Filipe in the Audi Quattro, an experience he will not easily forget!
Kitzbühel to Klagenfurt
The next day we wake up to dense fog, not the ideal driving conditions but we hope that we will soon leave the fog behind us. The first part of the journey we will drive the brand new Audi RS Q3. This is the first Audi SUV that wears the RS badge and in many ways Audi sets a benchmark with the RS Q3. The car comes with Audi’s turbocharged 2.5 liter TFSI engine, which produces 310hp and 420Nm of torque. This allows a sprint from 0-100 km/h in 5.2 seconds and a top speed of 250 km/h. The engine is paired with Audi’s 7-speed S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox.
The first few kilometers we had to get used to the high seating position and some controls that changed position compared to other, and older, cars in the Audi line-up. But it didn’t take long before we familiarized ourselves with the new controls and were able to put the Audi RS Q3 through the test at yet another mountain road. From Kitzbühel we headed via St Johann im Tirol and Saalfelden towards Bischofshofen. The first part of route 164 runs through the valley, but right after Saalfelden the road is also called the Hochkönigstrasse and here the fun starts.
The road climbs and the scenery changes from farms and villages to forests and ski lifts. While we steer the RS Q3 through one corner after the other we wonder if we are really driving a 1730kg SUV. It corners surprisingly flat and direct, and thanks to the Quattro also with very little drama on wet roads. You can feel the car dive slightly to the outside when pushed hard into a corner but this is nowhere near the usual feeling you get when you try to squeeze a SUV around a corner.
Besides its engine and looks its also the RS Q3’s sound that plays an important role in the driving experience. We stood on the side of the road a few times when another RS Q3 drove by and it has a very good sound track for a car in this segment. On the way to our lunch checkpoint in Pichl in the Steiermark we had the opportunity to drive the RS Q3 on the highway as well. On the highway the RS Q3 lets you easily pick up speed and a higher pace, but you can also just relax and cruise to your destination in perfect comfort.
One downside of the RS Q3 compared to other, high-end, RS models is the limited number of settings you have. For ride, sound, performance etc there are only three general settings (Comfort, Auto or Dynamic) which set everything at the same time. Having the suspension in comfort but the exhaust in dynamic (read: Loud) is therefor not possible. Its either everything Dynamic or everything Comfort. This obviously also reflects the price segment the RS Q3 is in and despite our desire to have more options in regards to vehicle setup it is still an impressive package.
The Land of Quattro Alpen Tour had set Almwelt in Pichl as location for the last lunch of the tour. A little village of several typical Austrian chalets surrounded by ski slopes. A great setting for the group of RS Q3s that participated in the Land of Quattro Tour. We are confident we will see many RS Q3s in ski resorts around the world in the upcoming years. Traditionally Audi is well represented in the Alpen region thanks to its Quattro All-wheel drive system.
For the last leg of the tour we switch cars yet again, and we can honestly say we saved best for last! Only a few months ago we drove the 2014 Audi RS6, but we had already forgotten how brutally fast it is!
We leave Pichl and the ski slopes of the Reiteralm behind us and head in the direction of Klagenfurt. Little did we know that Audi also saved the best for last. First in a series of highlights was the Sölk Pass, with 1,790 meter far from the highest pass on our journey, but an amazing combination of quiet and fast straights through the valley’s fields and forests leading up to the actual pass makes it worth a visit. The view from the top of the pass is also not as spectacular as the Grossglockner or mountain passes in the Dolomites, but the sheer load of fun makes more than up for it.
Going down the other side of the pass leads a narrow road with numerous hairpins after which the road straightens out and widens. During our morning briefing we were already warned to keep our eyes open for cows on the road and it was exactly here that a group of cows being guided back to the farm after a summer in the mountains blocked the road. One at a time cars were encouraged to pass and of course right when we were about to overtake the cows, one of them turned around and ran our way. A stand-off ensued in which one of the farmers managed to convince the cow he stood no change against our 560 horses.
With the cows behind us we arrived in the heart of the Austrian province of Steiermark, home to some of the worst drivers in Austria. So we decided not to stick around and steered the RS6 towards the next pass: the Turracher Höhe. The pass with a height of 1,763 meter lies on the border between Steiermark and Kärnten. The road leading up to Turracher Höhe starts in a narrow valley with steep rock walls on either side, from there it climbs with fast sweeping bends towards the resort. The RS6 was extremely in its element on this stretch of road and its smooth fast bends and long straights.
From the top of Turracher Höhe the road continues down with some of the highest gradient we have come across on a regular road in the Alps, 23% is the descent over 600 meters. The Turracher Höhe was once one of Austria’s steepest and most demanding mountain roads. It was also used as a venue for various motorsports.
Halfway down the Turracher Höhe on the South side the road connects to yet another spectacular mountain road: the Nockalm Road. The Nockalm road leads up to 2,049 meter and includes 52 hairpins. Forget Stelvio, if you like hairpins this is the place to be! The Nockalm road is much narrower as the Turracher Höhe and with all the hairpins the Audi RS6 was not as at home as on other passes. Driving the RS6 up the Nockalm was a lot of fun nonetheless. Meanwhile it had started to rain hard again and on the exits of the hairpins it was easy to trigger a fun bit of oversteer with the throttle.
We caught up with another Audi RS6 from the Tour and together made our way to the top. On top of the Nockalm the view was completely covered by the clouds and rain, but that was not our only problem we had at the Nockalm. Due to sheer fun we had been having with the Audi RS6 the fuel tank was near empty and a petrol station not directly around the corner. We cruised down the Nockalm on the other side and followed the navigation to the nearest petrol station about 40 kilometers from the pass. We just a few kilometers of range left we pulled in to the only petrol station in a small village where time seemed to have stood still.
A very friendly pump attendant refueled the RS6 while our thoughts went back to the 1980s when self-service petrol stations were as rare as an Audi Sport Quattro today. With a new tank filled of fun we turned back on to the road when an Audi RS7 drove by. The Audi RS7 shares a lot with the RS6, from engine and gearbox to performance figures. The perfect match to drive the last hundred kilometers to the finish in Klagenfurt. The RS7 was certainly not taking it easy and displayed with what ease these both cars can make their way through the landscape.
We pass more villages, fields and lakes the RS6 acting like a chameleon from comfortable travel car in traffic to supercar like rocket as soon as the road cleared. At the Wörthersee near Klagenfurt our journey and the Audi Land of Quattro Alpen Tour 2013 comes to an end. The cars are brought back to Audi in Germany and the participants fly home.
We are very happy we saved best for last, the RS6 is really the best and most all-round car Audi currently has to offer. But it was not just the RS6 that left a lasting memory, our drive in the Audi Quattro – a legend, chasing DTM-driver Filipe up the Grossglockner, driving the RS Q3 up a ski slope and the amazing passes and roads!