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Posts filed under ‘Audi’

Audi Concepts: The Avus quattro

October 1, 2012 by Matt

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

For me, our new series represents a convergence of interests. It’s no secret I’m an unabashed Audi fan, and as a designer, I’m naturally drawn to the cars that epitomize the most uncompromised expression of Audi’s design philosophy: Their concept cars.

Today’s symphony in polished aluminum, the Avus quattro, was introduced in 1991. Its W12 engine marked the first appearance of the now somewhat-commonplace W-configuration, essentially two narrow-angle V6s joined at the crank. Audi quoted a power figure of 502 hp for the 6.0l engine, but it’s questionable as to whether the engine was ever installed, and the Avus hit the car show circuit with a mockup powerplant under the rear glass.

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

In any event, the Avus was more of a design exercise than a technical showpiece, although it did feature Audi’s signature quattro AWD system and preface the automaker’s pioneering aluminum construction methods. No, the Avus was first and foremost about the curves, with its downright suggestive waistline and delicate wheel bulges. There were connections with the all-conquering pre-war Auto Union racers, too, with the Avus’ wheels pushed out toward the car’s corners, and the cockpit’s location right up front. But overall, as a combination of sensual appeal expressed in a seemingly austere, form-following-function, futuristic wrapper, it’s arguably without peer. It’s that tension between the seductive and sterile that maintains the Avus’ fascination to this day.

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

Audi Avus quattro concept car aluminum W12

If I have any criticism of the design, it’s that the nose treatment appears to be almost an afterthought in light of the drama of the car’s profile and top-view details. The fascia, not coincidentally, is the part of the car which has dated itself most rapidly; with a few changes the rest of the Avus would be quite at home on the modern car show circuit, not so the nose, which would need a full redesign.

But I’m really splitting hairs. The Avus was a showstopper, a bold statement about Audi’s design and technical direction delivered in a shape that could stop traffic. In other words, it was everything a concept car should be.

Image credits:

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series discussing Audi’s rich history of legendary concept cars. Read the other installments here:

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On the Return of Iconic Engine Layouts

September 7, 2012 by Matt

Audi TT RS Engine Motor 07K.3 CEPA

So yeah, it’s sideways. So what? At least there’s a brutally turbocharged 5-cylinder back under the hood of an Audi (the TT RS), where it belongs.

I give Audi a lot of credit for recognizing and acknowledging their engineering legacy, and I’d like to think that it was an intentional engineering decision; in other words, that it was more than just a happy coincidence that 5 cylinders ended up working better than 4 or 6, and Audi decided to capitalize on that fact from a marketing standpoint. Whatever the case, it’s wonderful to hear the distinctive rasp of the 5-cylinder firing order again. With the configuration’s reintroduction, the German automaker establishes a real, tangible connection with their legacy—it’s more than lip service paid to some abstract tuning philosophy; the engine layout that powered their all-conquering Group B rally cars is under the hood of a current offering, in honest-to-goodness cast iron and aluminum. It counts for a lot to be able to touch, hear and experience an automaker’s history in real time.

How incredible would it be if other automakers followed Audi’s lead in fitting a car or two with an engine configuration inspired by their manufacturers’ greatest hits? BMW could roll out a “reimagined” update of their classic “big block” (M30, M88, S38) six. Nissan and Toyota could reintroduce fresh takes on their legendary twin-turbo straight sixes (JZ, L, RB, etc). Volvo could develop a modern version of their vaunted Redblock turbo 4 from the 200- and 700/900-series. Porsche could fit at least a few of their myriad flavors of 911 with an actual air-cooled flat-6, an engine that left with the much-missed 993 generation. And finally, Mazda, whose signature engine, the rotary, has most recently been given the axe, could breathe new life into their stalled 16X program.

The sad fact is, though, that in our current regulatory climate, it’s doubtful the reintroduction of any of those configurations would be possible. Ballooning front crumple zones (as well as the marketing allure of the almighty V8) killed the big straight 6, and emissions and efficiency considerations spelled the end for the air-cooled mill and the rotary. Furthermore, part of the character of those classic powerplants is wrapped up in their lo-fi technology, like single overhead cams and distributor ignition systems. With the understanding that those certainly won’t be returning, how far would a prospective “throwback” engine have to go to maintain a connection with its inspiration? In Audi’s case, the recipe was simple—5 cylinders, between 2 and 2.5 liters of displacement, and a turbocharger—but it’s not as cut-and-dried with other automakers. It is fun to think about, say, a lighter, simpler post-F10 BMW M5 with a big, free-revving naturally-aspirated straight six under the hood, but with modern materials and styling. One can dream.

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Thrust: The Audi B5 S4

August 22, 2012 by Matt

Audi B5 S4 Blue 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

Well, I love this car. I love its sleeper quality. And I especially love the audacity of its engineering: As pointed out in my “Audi’s Greatest Hits” post, at a time when performance in the automotive world in general was on the wane, and Audi in particular was still emerging from their stolid, conservative image in the US, the automaker brazenly decided to stuff a pair of turbos into the B5’s cramped engine bay alongside the AWD gear and sell it to the public. You want mechanical density? Here it is, folks.

Audi B5 S4 Silver 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

I can’t think of a single line I’d change on the exterior. I don’t say that about many cars. I even like the stock ride height and 17″ “Avus” wheels. Starting with the already spot-on shape and detailing of its lesser statemate, the A4, Audi added extra grille vents, side skirts and gave the S4 a much more aggressive stance overall—but not overpoweringly so. It represents the quintessential sleeper, its visual prowess deriving not so much from secondary elements as its proportions. The upshot is a much more timeless kind of style, understated but communicated in a way enthusiasts of many different automotive eras can appreciate.

Audi B5 S4 Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock

Audi consistently makes the best interiors in the industry, and the B5 S4’s fits right in with their pattern of excellence. The consummate driving environment, all business yet perfectly tasteful, demonstrating a mastery of materials unrivaled by any other automaker.

Audi B5 S4 Engine Motor Biturbo Twin Turbo 1999 2000 2001 2002 Stock APB AGB AZB

The S4’s “biturbo” 2.7l, 251-hp (in US trim) V6 marked the beginning of a new era for Audi vis-a-vis performance engines. Eschewing the inline-5 that had served them well for nearly 20 years, they began hanging a pair of turbos off the sides of “V” engines, starting with the S4’s and progressing through the later RS6‘s V8, and so on. Another noteworthy detail is the fact that the engine sports 5 valves per cylinder, a configuration adopted only by Audi and Ferrari, and later abandoned by both as not worth the added complexity. The benefits with respect to airflow are undeniable, though, as demonstrated by the fact that the S4’s engine is capable of generating twice its rated horsepower with the simple addition of larger turbos, some enlargement of intake and exhaust paths, and some software tuning. No changes to the engine core whatsoever.

Fitting all that kit under the hood is a masterpiece (or nightmare; take your pick) of packaging, and I stand amazed Audi decided to entrust its buyers with a level of powerplant and driveline complexity more in line with that of high-end race cars. And truth be told, the B5 S4 has developed a bit of a reputation for fragility, but when everything’s working properly under that perfectly-penned bodywork, there are few cars I’d rather own.

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Audi Styling Mistakes

February 25, 2012 by Matt

Yes, they have happened.

Regular readers here may think I’ve adopted an “Audi can do no wrong” mindset, especially after posts like this, this or this. Certainly, when it comes to beautifully tasteful and understated design, Audi is in a class by themselves. They’re perhaps unique among automakers in that, unlike virtually all their competitors, Audi has never released a car that was a styling disaster. So I can’t critique whole cars; if I’m going to pick apart their design missteps, I’ll have to do it piecemeal. Note that what follows isn’t a comprehensive list; they’re simply the three aberrations that came most immediately to mind:

Audi B3 80 90 S2 C-pillar Red

’88-’95 80/90 C-pillar. This issue could just as easily apply to the C3 5000/100/200 as well, but it’s most pronounced on the 80/90, given that car’s more bathtub-ish below-the-beltline shape. The C-pillar is simply far too visually thin—there’s no “return” to the greenhouse that would accentuate the car’s wedge shape in profile. No, the C-pillar just looks flimsy, and the design suffers from its lack of visual strength.

Audi B7 A4 Front Silver Gray Grey

’05-’08 A4/S4/RS4 Fascia. It’s difficult to determine what Audi was thinking when they put this together. Let’s start with the obvious: The nose could just as well belong to a generic Japanese or Korean econobox. It looks completely plastic, there’s nothing distinctive about it, and the grille’s “dip” is very characteristic of lower-end cars’ styling. The bottom edges of the headlights are inexplicably convoluted. And this being Audi’s first attempt at their now-trademark front plate-surrounding grille design, the rest of the car’s lines weren’t yet in harmony with such a strong nose element.

Audi C6 A6 Rear Taillights Trunk Boot

’04-’10 A6/S6/RS6 Rear. I don’t take issue with the shape of the taillights—although their simple square-ish shape is perhaps a bit too safe—so much as the dip in the lower edge of the trunklid. There are no other lines in the car that agree with this one. The trunklid edge is isolated, random, and as such it draws attention to itself and gives the rear of the car an unfinished look—very atypical for Audi.

Interestingly, in most cases, the offending element is gone by the car’s next generation, or even with a mid-cycle refresh; to their credit, Audi seems to quickly recognize where they went wrong and rectify matters post haste. The A6’s taillights were much more integrated with the trunklid after the refresh, and the ’96-’01 A4’s C-pillar was beefed-up considerably in order to strengthen the rear styling. And the A4’s front end came beautifully back into focus with the ’09-present generation; no more awkwardly tortured headlights or irresolute lines.

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Understated Masterpiece: The Audi A5

February 6, 2012 by Matt

2013 Audi A5 S5 Silver

Absolute design perfection. Give me a choice of any production car today (yes, that includes certain Aston Martins) and I’d pick an A5 without hesitation. It defines flawless, understated automotive design.

Inspired by and yet somehow even more attractive than Audi’s Nuvolari quattro concept car, the A5 exemplifies Audi’s position as a style leader in the automotive world. To a casual observer, the ideal proportions, the ready stance, the beautiful C-pillars and character line running down the car’s flanks—these are obvious points of interest. The most remarkable aspect of the A5, though, may be its restraint.

2013 Audi A5 S5 White

Relative to what they could have done, the geegaws and gimicks they could have peppered the exterior with, and especially compared to the manner in which other automakers vying for supremacy in the “personal GT” market niche adorn their cars, the A5 is a model of proportion over decoration—my favorite design refrain. The most immediate relation of the Audi coupe styling-wise may not be a car at all, but one of Apple’s latest creations. Gem-like consumer electronics such as the iPad or iPhone 4 share the A5’s clear focus on detail and shape and generate a similar sort of impression in that they’re initially unremarkable, but possess a sort of transcendent allure that compels and captivates the longer you look, the more you study the object and experience it.

Audi A5 S5 Interior Inside Cockpit Red

Of course, none of this would matter much to the average enthusiast if the car’s mechanicals and underpinnings weren’t in good order. And while the A5’s dynamics aren’t quite a match for those of, say, a BMW 3 Series, Audi has made huge progress preserving the benefits of its quattro AWD system while eliminating the drawbacks in terms of weight distribution, chassis balance and steering feel. It’s no light and nimble corner-carver, but the A5 is not just a cushy boulevardier, either—it can hold its own in the twisty stuff. And the car is available with a number of excellent engine options, from Audi’s direct-injection, turbocharged 1.8l 4-cylinder, all the way up to the range-topping RS5’s 444-hp, 4.2l V8, and a host of diesels in between.

The biggest draw for me, I think, is that it’s the kind of car that represents an ideal image of myself, so to speak. Some cars complement various individual aspects of my personality while ignoring others, but the A5 exudes a sense that it’s the kind of car that would be driven by me at my most successful, most put-together, most magnetic in all the best ways. If that sounds like the sort of pitch that a car salesman would use on a T-bird tire-kicker in the mid-’50s, perhaps it is: “The car for the man who’s arrived.” Times change; human nature doesn’t. But the triteness of my attraction to the A5 doesn’t lessen its appeal, which remains considerable.

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The Ones That Got Away, Part VIII

January 25, 2012 by Matt

1991 Audi 200 Avant White quattro Turbo 200q20v

This one unfolded before your very eyes, as it were.

It started in mid-September last year. On a whim, one idle Tuesday afternoon, I checked a site I hadn’t in a while,, the hub for most transactions involving older Audis. It was innocent enough; I just wanted to do some window shopping, but as often happens, a seed got planted in my brain during the process.

It burrowed into fertile ground—I have an enduring affection for older 5-cylinder Audis; I owned an ’86 4000 quattro for a couple of years and was very interested in purchasing a ’90 200 Turbo quattro in the process that ultimately resulted in the acquisition of my BMW 525.

So the gears started turning, and I discussed my ruminations with my wife. She wasn’t very keen on the idea—she loves the BMW—but was willing to go along with it in the spirit of compromise, with the understanding that she did have to be at least okay with whatever vehicle I settled on.

1991 Audi 200 Avant White quattro Turbo 200q20v

With her half-blessing, I resumed my participation on the Audi 200 e-mail list and put out a feeler for anyone looking to sell. I knew exactly what I wanted: The 20-valve, turbocharged iteration of the Audi 200, a flavor imported to the US for only one year: ’91. I love the engine, the bodystyle and its non-conformist cool, among many other attributes. The 200q20v, as it’s known, is rare, comfortable, well-appointed, equipped with a manual gearbox, attractive in an understated way and capable of a startling turn of speed with a few basic bolt-ons. It was The One, sellers were coming out of the woodwork; the stage was set for a fast pick up.

Only…it wasn’t quite so simple. One wrench in the works was my BMW. It had never excited me in the way a 200q20v would, but it remained an excellent car, reliable, capable and an absolute dream to drive, so fluid and sure-footed in all its movements. Whatever I acquired would have had to at least match it in terms of overall condition, a tall order for the crop of 20-year-old cars I was investigating.

And not only was the 525 a tough act to follow, its previous—and first—owner is a neighbor of my parents, a good friend and very “interested” in my ownership of the car in the sense that I pledged to keep it for some time and take good care of it. Now, I know fundamentally that the car is in my name, and I’m autonomous, but there had been some car transactions in years past that had left a very poor taste in my parents’ mouth, and selling the BMW after having owned it for less than two years would have been very, shall we say, frustrating for them. I’m an independent agent, but my decisions do affect others, I agonized quite a bit over whether it was worth disappointing my parents and their neighbor in pursuit of a car whose purchase I really couldn’t rationally justify.

1991 Audi 200 Avant quattro Turbo 200q20v Interior Inside Cockpit

In the meantime, I started narrowing down my leads. The one I was most drawn to is the example pictured in this post: an Alpine White ’91 200 Turbo quattro Avant (Audi’s word for a wagon). It was in pristine shape for its age, and had had every possible wear item replaced recently—and in many cases not just replaced, but upgraded with a higher-quality piece. The interior (including the headliner) was in fantastic shape, compression and power were dyno-checked and factory-spec, and the car was completely rust-free. It was on the other side of the country—admittedly an issue—but the seller’s price was eminently fair, and he would include boxes and boxes of spares he had accumulated over the years. It was a great deal.

My only reservations about the car were its color and bodystyle. My wife hates white cars, and I’m not the biggest fan of the color either, especially on a mid-’80s-to-early-’90s car with the fashionable large black trim strips running down its flanks. And while I remain a fan of the Audi 200’s sedan shape, try as I might (and I tried), I never could warm up to the wagon shape. The angle of the tailgate was unique, and I liked that, but the rear overhang really was excessive, and the rearward extension of the roof killed the sedan’s appealing “wedge” profile. I just couldn’t get used to either attribute, but was willing to live with them given the car’s other qualities.

1991 Audi 200 Avant quattro Turbo 200q20v Engine 3B Motor

And then the brainstorm rolled through. All my internal conflict, all my hand-wringing over the potential response of my parents and their neighbor and the fact that I felt like I was being pulled inexorably toward the Audi’s purchase, and I could never feel satisfied with my BMW—it all came into focus. I finally understood what was driving me against my good sense to make a poor decision: It was the tension between my need to turn a wrench and the fact that the restoration of my Datsun 240Z project car seemed like an unobtainable goal, detailed in this post. It was a revelation.

With my newfound clarity, I decided to forgo the Audi 200 purchase. It was difficult—I still have a great deal of affection for the car—but I wrote the seller and explained the situation as best I could. He was keen on selling it, so I do hope he was able to use some of the information and photos he passed on to me in service of a sale to another worthy owner.

Who knows; I may own one yet. But the Z comes first.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series relating stories of cars I almost acquired, whether though purchase or trade. Read the other installments here:

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FWD Champions: The Audi Coupe GT

December 8, 2011 by Matt

Audi Coupe GT Type 85 Silver

The Audi Coupe GT is a seemingly humdrum FWD variant of the car that put its automaker on the map in the modern era, the Quattro. Their respective values in the used car marketplace illustrate the disparity between the two cars: The significance, performance and rarity of the latter model means its prices can top $10K for a good copy, even today, while a clean Coupe GT can be had for less than $2K.

As alluded to, the difference in value arises from a combination of attributes possessed uniquely by the Quattro: its turbocharged engine, pioneering AWD, exclusivity (only 664 were imported to the US) and rally-style boxy fender flares, among other minor cosmetic touches. If the Quattro is the ne plus ultra of Audis in the ’80s, then, is there anything to like about the Coupe GT? What more is it than an attempt to cash in on the performance variant’s image by offering a car that mimicked its overall shape but was fitted with vastly inferior running gear?

Audi Coupe GT Type 85

Well, be that as it may, a closer look reveals quite a bit to like about the lesser car. For one thing, the absence of the extra differentials and driveshafts required by AWD lowers the Coupe GT’s weight by roughly 400 lbs compared to the Quattro’s 2,800 lbs. The Coupe GT’s 2.2l SOHC 5-cylinder may only develop 115 hp versus the Quattro’s 160, but it has proportionally less car to haul around. The engine’s location out over the front axle is unchanged, so the without the extra tackle in the rear, the Coupe GT’s weight distribution actually suffers relative to its sibling, but the overall car’s relative lack of mass pays dividends when it comes to chassis response. Light weight is the gift that keeps on giving.

Audi Coupe GT Type 85 Interior Inside Cockpit Console

Not only that, but Audi seems to have taken a page from Volkswagen’s GTI playbook and invested the Coupe GT with healthy dose of grin-inducing playfulness. Its lightness certainly plays a role, and the rear beam axle (same design as the GTI’s), rack-and-pinion steering and general suspension tuning seal the deal. It’s a testament to the Coupe GT’s handling quality and tunability that it’s relatively frequent participant in certain classes of road racing. And a pre-facelift (< ’85) fitted with slightly larger wheels, Euro headlights and lowered is a very handsome car, without the box flares arguably even more sleek than its big brother. Far from being a cynical spinoff of the Quattro, Audi had the good sense to infuse the Coupe GT with its own identity, one that makes it a FWD car I could happily live with.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:

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Bauhaus Bolide: A New Audi TT?

November 28, 2011 by Matt

Audi TT RS TTRS White

No, that’s not the new Audi TT; it’s the top gun of the outgoing model, the brutally fast TT RS. Able to launch from a standstill to 60 mph in a cornea-flattening 3.6 seconds (when equipped with the DSG dual-clutch gearbox), the TT RS is evidence Audi has managed to wring every last drop of performance out of the current TT platform. It’s not unexpected, then, that Motor Authority reports Audi may unveil a redesigned TT at the upcoming Tokyo Motor Show.

Stylistically, Audi had a tough act to follow when they decided to update the groundbreaking first-generation TT. One of the few niche cars with slight retro overtones to justify a sequel, the original TT made the transition from show car to production vehicle almost unchanged, and its looks exemplified Audi’s beautiful, Apple-like attention to detail while giving a nod to the automaker’s stylistic heritage. On a personal note, I have a great deal of respect for the car’s design in that (among other highlights) it’s one of the most prominent vehicles to use the wheel arches as a design element. Rather than arbitrarily punching holes in the bodywork—as it seems happens with far too many designs—Audi’s stylists curved the TT’s fascia and rump to echo the arc of the wheel surrounds, giving the wheels a strong context and producing an exceptionally integrated and tidy package.

In any case, as they did with the second generation car, I hope Audi has the good sense to offer us a cleanly-penned, sleekly-tasteful update on the qualities that made the first two TTs a success. And for heaven’s sake, I hope Audi retains the masterstroke of reintroducing their awesome 5-cylinder turbo engine. I’ll be keeping tabs on the Tokyo show as it unfolds starting Wednesday.

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Vorsprung Durch Technik:
Audi’s Greatest Hits

November 22, 2011 by Matt

Audi quattro System Diagram Cutaway Line Art Schematic

No, not cars—engineering innovations. Granted, they weren’t first with all of these, but more than any other company, Audi put them on the map.

  • Full-time passenger car AWD (1980). Undoubtedly the advance they’re best known for, Audi’s quattro AWD system has been their cars’ key point of distinction since the introduction of the original Audi Quattro. The Jensen FF may have been the first “mainstream” car to use AWD, but Audi pioneered a compact, durable, efficient layout and extended it throughout their model range. In so doing, they established themselves as an innovative automaker.
  • Aerodynamic styling (1982). The first-generation Ford Taurus gets all the credit for introducing wind-cheating, rounded styling to family sedans, but the C3 Audi 5000 preceded it by several years. In a time when most bread and butter cars were chromed-up boxes, the 5000 was a bolt from the blue.
  • Reintroduction of twin-turbo technology (1997). Previously reserved for gadget-laden, high-end Japanese sports cars, Audi’s B5 S4 bought dual turbochargers to sports sedans with its 2.7l, 261 hp “biturbo” V6. At the time, twin turbos were seen as a bit of a fad on the wane, but Audi ignored the trends and made a practical decision in order to compete with the BMW M3. In so doing, they created a wonderfully compelling rocket sled. BMW would introduce its own twin-turbo N54 engine a few years later.
  • Direct injection (2000). Mitsubishi, Toyota and Renault preceded the Ingolstadt automaker by a few years, but Audi was the first to introduce direct injection on our shores with their FSI 2.0l turbo engine. Additionally, with their Volkswagen connections, Audi was able to popularize the efficiency-enhancing technology very rapidly, fitting several of its sister marque’s cars with the engine. Today, a large percentage of performance (and non-performance) engines use direct injection.
  • Dual-clutch transmissions (2003). Developed by Porsche and Audi together in the ’80s for their race cars, the DSG dual-clutch gearbox was rolled out simultaneously in two passenger cars: The Audi TT and VW Golf R32, both using the VR6 engine. The transmission revolutionized “flappy paddle gearboxes” and has even began to replace automatics in many cases.
  • LED driving lights and headlights (2008). First seen on the 2008 Audi A6 refresh, distinctively-shaped LED driving lights are now a must-have for any luxury nameplate to be taken seriously. They exemplify Audi’s leadership in terms of style as well as engineering, and represent a wonderful convergence of the two. With their new R8 models, Audi has began to use LEDs for primary headlights as well, improving longevity and power consumption over traditional bulbs. Of course, as with everything else on this list, it’s only a matter of time before other automakers imitate another of the automaker’s breakthroughs.

Full disclosure: I am an Audi fan. The list featured in this post substantiates my fandom, though; it’s not a blind allegiance. I’m a nut for creative, forward-thinking technology, but I’m even more impressed when that technology sticks, and compels other automakers to follow. From my vantage point, in the past 30 years, when it comes to innovation, Audi has a win/loss record that’s second to none.

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Audi’s Greatest Hits