Road Ahead

Quattro Saves The Day

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All-wheel-drive on the Audi A6 would prove essential in piloting me safely into and out of Traverse City during a brutal snowstorm that caused power outages and dumped nearly 20 ins. of snow on Traverse City, MI, last weekend.

The Audi press fleet managers were fine with me taking an A6 for a winter weekend in northern Michigan with some buddies. I noted that the car would come equipped with quattro all-wheel drive and figured that might be handy for the first weekend in March.

Little did I know quattro would prove essential in piloting me safely into and out of Traverse City during a brutal snowstorm that packed 55 mph winds, toppled trees, caused spectacular and prolonged lightning, left nearly 150,000 customers without power, stranded motorists and dumped nearly 20 ins. of snow on this tourist destination.

The snow in northern Michigan started last Friday afternoon, March 2, and we arrived at a friend’s home on Arbutus Lake in the early evening as huge, wet flakes were pelting the windshield and making a snowy mess of a narrow dirt road that winds its way through the woods.

I’d never been to this house before. It’s on a beautiful peninsula that juts into the lake, and the only way to the house is down a straight, pot-holed driveway that’s as steep as a toboggan run and probably 250 ft. (76 m) long.

At its narrowest point are two enormous trees standing as pillars on either side of the road. The thought of sliding into one or both of these trees in a $67,430 luxury car gave me pause at the top of the hill. I put the automatic transmission in first gear and crept down with no problem.

For the next several hours, snow blanketed everything. The wind picked up, snapping huge limbs that sagged under the heavy snow. Inside was the safest place to be. About 10 p.m., everything went dark. We’d be without power, heat and water for the next two days.

The contracted snow plow arrived in the middle of the night and plowed halfway down the hill before getting stuck. The driver came to the house and stayed indoors until the sun came up. He called a tow truck to come rescue the plow.

The 19,000-lb. (8,618-kg) tow truck arrived about 7 a.m., got stuck twice and needed the winch to get free. Eventually, the driver positioned the tow truck on a flat spot atop the hill and ran the winch line to the snow plow and pulled it up. They left.

There were four of us with vehicles at the bottom of the hill, and we decided to move them uphill and park them in a neighbor’s driveway before more snow complicated matters. We’d cleared a lot of snow by then, and it was time to mobilize.

Besides the A6 at the bottom of the hill were two fullsize GM trucks and a Ford F-150 pickup. All of them, thankfully, had 4-wheel drive.

First up was a GMC Sierra, whose driver took it slow and cautiously, for fear or sliding into one of the trees. He got up the hill without much trouble.

The F-150 was next. The driver, a Ford employee, was eager to show the truck’s true capability, so he backed up as far as he could, gunned it and shot up the hill like a Pikes Peak racer.

The owner of the house drove his Chevy Tahoe to the top without a problem. For the record, the F-150 was the fastest, not that we were actually timing.

So all my friends were standing at the top of the hill, looking down into a wintery abyss, wondering if German engineering could handle a northern Michigan blizzard.

I backed up the Audi A6, put it in first gear, said a little prayer and hit the gas. Speed was no priority – I just wanted to get to the top of the hill. The A6 was sure-footed as it approached the base of the toboggan-run driveway, its 19-in. Michelin Pilot Alpin tires providing all the traction I needed.

The car ascended the hill like a hungry mountain goat, and a crowd of middle-aged dudes at the top stood slack-jawed as the $1,400 LED headlamps drew near.  “That was unbelievable,” one of them muttered.

I parked the car in a neighbor’s driveway, and we drove the Tahoe into town for something to eat. The quattro A6 had conquered the slippery trek with as much ease – and way more style – than the 4-wheel-drive trucks.

We drove home the next day without incident, grateful to be in the right car at the right time.

Discuss this Blog Entry 9

on Mar 12, 2012

You're a braver man than I am Tom for attempting that drive, in that weather, in that region of the state, on that night. Kudos on your triumphant victory against the weather.

on Mar 13, 2012

I had faith in German engineering. I was more concerned about going down the hill than going up, even though there was a lot more snow on the ascent.

on Mar 13, 2012

A great story, testimony and a thank you to Germany engineering about the powertrain. Although, there are a lot of places up in that area that would be an impass for even the mightiest 4 wheel drives. Break out the tractors w/chains and snowmobiles at that point.

on Mar 14, 2012

Winter is always fun, but, frankly, having owned numerous 4WD and AWD vehicles, it really is the tires, and front-rear weight balance, that make the difference in snow hill climbing. 2WD pickups are worthless in the snow for the weight balance reason. If the snow is deep enough, ground clearance makes a huge difference. One irrefutable truth is that AWD or 4WD can definitely get you stuck better.

on Mar 14, 2012

Definitely right about the tires and weight distribution. 2WD trucks are useless from between November through March in the midwest, even longer up north. 4WD/AWD can absolutely get you stuck quicker if you aren't careful with it. Physics: thou art a heartless mistress.

on Mar 14, 2012

Yea, I sure was glad to have the Michelin Alpin Pilots on the A6. And you're right, I was definitely concerned about bottoming out on all that snow. Hence the shoveling, plowing and snow blowing of the driveway. It all worked out.

on Mar 16, 2012

I bet you had a few flashbacks to Winter Test '08 -- what is it with you and driving Up North in foul weather?

on Mar 16, 2012

I do love it Up North, Scott, and driving in snow holds a certain appeal, with the right vehicle and gear. Of course, driving north on I-75 through an ice storm in the dark of night and across the Mackinac Bridge, to boot, takes courage and a bit of stupidity.

on Jul 16, 2012

I never questioned German Engineering to its cars! Audi is just one of the cars that has superior reliability and handling. These cars are made for extreme weather conditions that in any way it would be easy to drive. The safety features includes hazard lights and extra traction with its all wheel drive feature.

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Drew Winter is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto World magazine and a Senior Editor at WardsAuto.com. He was won numerous awards for his work in both print and digital media and has been...

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Tom Murphy is executive editor of WardsAuto World magazine, with an emphasis on technology and suppliers. He leads selection of the Ward’s 10 Best Engines and Ward’s 10 Best Interiors...
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