A huge Alaska storm system was heading our way, due to bring tons of the white stuff to all elevations, including a prediction of the first snowfall to grace Sacramento in more than 30 years.
Buckle down, the forecasters warned, we could be in for a rough week. Good thing I had just acquired a test vehicle that is built specifically for this type of trial. Not only is the 2007 Audi A4 prepared for slick and slippery winter roads, it actually enjoys them. As the forecasters were preaching preparedness and prudence, I could almost feel the Audi emit an ever-so-slight chuckle at the thought that some silly Northern California storm could even come close to testing its true winter mettle.
The Audi, after all, is born of German heritage, produced out of a plant in Ingolstadt, Germany. So what worries could possibly be produced by a freak little snow shower in the foothills of Northern California.
In fact, the snow didn't show, leaving the deep drift testing for another day, but the cold temperatures certainly did. With overnight lows in the 20s, followed by bright, sunny skies, the roads were susceptible to black ice - a glaze that just covers the asphalt and prevents the tires to grim properly. This, in fact, could arguably be labeled a more dangerous situation than a full-on winter storm would have produced because black ice is invisible to the driver's eye. After all, out of sight is out of mind.
So I strapped my family into the snug leather seats of the plush 2007 Audi A-4 2.0 FSI and ventured out on the snowless, yet ice-covered streets of the Sierra Foothills. Our first wish was for heated seats - once considered a luxury for most automakers selling to the California crowd -- but since our test vehicle did not come with bun warmers, we were pleased to find the dual temperature climate system produced plenty of warmth in very quick fashion.
From the outset, it was easy to accept Audi's claim that the A4 "represents a dynamic level of driving delight," because this midsize sedan is a dream to drive. The six-cylinder, 2.0 liter FSI engine produces more than 200 horsepower, which is perfect for climbing hills and passing semi-trucks on the freeway.
Audi's well-known Quattro all-wheel drive system tackles the road with computer-generated responses that keep the vehicle safe and sound on the slippery streets. The system is so good, that Audi claims it was banned at one time from many touring car championships because it was too dominating for opponents to compete against.
The Quattro and other standard safety features earned the A4 and its cousin, the Audi S4, the honor of the "Top Safety Pick - Silver" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for occupant protection in 2005.
Another highly appreciated new-age safety feature in the A-4 is the Bi-Xenon headlights that not only illuminate the area in front of the car, but also swivel in the direction of your turn. Activated at any speeds above 7 mph, the swivel headlights illuminate twists and turns in the road far better than a traditional light system.
This technology proved especially satisfying just after sunset when the foothills deer are on the move and tend not be concerned with the "Look both ways before you cross" rule that their mothers must have taught them. The swiveling headlights are the first to pick up on the road ahead a fraction of a second before your eyes, giving you an extra moment to respond to any road issues the deer or others may produce.
The Audi A4 is an eye-catcher even when parked, with sleek styling and color (ours was Ocean Blue Pearl) that draws attention from passers-by. The striking grille and clear headlights give the A4 an aggressive look, while the body lines subtly produce a sense of comfort and confidence.
Speaking of comfort, the Audi is all that and more. The interior cabin is so insulated that road noise is nearly imperceptible, allowing for easy conversations among the five occupants. This also provides a perfect place to enjoy the Bose, 10-speaker premium sound system featuring the clear quality of Sirius satellite radio as we made our way through the chilly foothills.
Another fun feature offered by the A4 is the Bluetooth-prepared cell phone system, allowing you to program your phone into the vehicle's sound system for hands-free driving.
Earning the IIHS honor didn't come easy. The A4 offers an abundance of safety features to protect driver and passengers, including two full-size front airbags and several side airbag systems. An extensive system of crash sensors ensure that the air bags are launched at exactly the right moment and seat belt tighteners and limiters adjust to protect passengers during the impact of a crash.
For fuel economy, the A4 Quattro's four-cylinder fuel injection engine is rated to achieve 22 miles per gallon and 30 on the highway with an estimated annual fuel coast of $1,710.
The manufacturer's suggested retail price starts at $31,540. The loaded model we drove added Navigation Plus ($2,100), Convenience ($1,900), which includes garage transmitter, auto-dimming mirror with compass, power seats, rain and light sensor and the swivel headlights, Premium ($1,900) sunroof and leather seating, and audio packages ($1,000) to max out at $40,660 including destination charge.