This is an article I wrote while at the Designory for Audi Magazine, a lifestyle and branding magazine sent to Audi owners.
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DRIVEN TO THE EXTREME
We drive a pair of roads that will put advanced Audi technology to the ultimate test.
The US may not have any tarmac as scary as Bolivia’s infamous North Yungas Road—that single-lane, guardrail-free, 2,000-foot-dropoff stretch of winding dirt known locally as El Camino de la Muerte (literally “Death Road”)—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of great drives that promise white knuckle thrills and vertigo-inducing views.
Picking which of these worthy roads to highlight here wasn’t easy. What was easy? Using advanced Audi technology to safely navigate even the twistiest bits of asphalt. To see how these latest advancements fared on two of the most challenging roads in America, keep reading.
INDEPENDENCE PASS (HWY 82) – ASPEN, CO
There are some roads that simply aren’t for the feint of heart. This just happens to be one of the most extreme examples. At its highest point, Highway 82 reaches a staggering 12,100 feet above sea level—that’s over two miles up into thin air—while offering enough challenges to put any driver to the test: including steep drop-offs, hairpin curves and single-lane stretches that make you pray there isn’t oncoming traffic. It’s the kind of drive where you never want to take your eyes off the road, which is why it’s the ideal place to test the Audi virtual cockpit.
A first-of-its-kind technology that replaces traditional gauges with a 12.3-inch TFT digital display, Audi virtual cockpit packs MMI® navigation along with a full range of traditional instruments into its 1440×540-pixel screen. By placing pertinent driving data—including road information and turn-by-turn directions—in view directly in front of the driver, Audi virtual cockpit minimizes the time you’ll need to look away from the road so you can focus more on the drive ahead.
Now back to Highway 82. Despite (or perhaps because of) the degree of difficulty in navigating this high-country terrain, this stretch of highway tempts drivers with a white-knuckled experience few roads in North America can match. But I have the latest Audi technology on my side, so keeping an eye out for the hairiest of hairpin turns is now quicker and easier—just a quick glance at the hi-res MMI® display right in front of me, and my eyes dart back to the road ahead just in time for the sharp 180° turn coming up fast.
But as fun and as stimulating as this road can be, I eventually weary of doing my best Stirling Moss impression in trying to nail the apex on every turn. So again I turn to the Audi virtual cockpit, only this time to find a less challenging distraction—a side trip to the nearby Royal Gorge Bridge. Though it’s only a footbridge (no cars allowed), perhaps it could better be described as the footbridge. That’s because its 955 foot plunge to the raging Arkansas River below makes it the highest suspension bridge in the US. One thing’s for sure though, crossing this bridge isn’t for those with a fear of heights.
With a new respect for gravity firmly planted in my mind, it’s time to head back to my room and rest for the night, so I can reflect back on the kind of day I wish everyday could be.
“TAIL OF THE DRAGON” (US 129) – DEALS GAP, NC
There are curvy roads, and then there’s this: an 11-mile stretch of ribbon artfully draped across the undulating hills surrounding the North Carolina/Tennessee border. Seemingly designed as a playground for those with a penchant for four wheels (or two, as the many motorcycles on the route confirmed), “surviving” the Tail of the Dragon is a sort of rite of passage for driving enthusiasts among these parts.
Beginning in Deals Gap, North Carolina and heading northwest across the Tennessee state line, the Tail throws a reputed 318 curves at you—many of them in quick successions of switchbacks—without the usual occurrence of driveways or intersecting roads that can take some of the fun out of many otherwise worthwhile drives. And to give you an idea of what kind of curves we’re talking about here, just check out some of the names the locals have given them: Pearly Gates, Gravity Cavity, Beginner’s End, and Brake or Bust Bend, just to name a few. Folks around here sure take their curves seriously.
In other words, it’s the perfect place to put Audi’s sport differential to the ultimate real-world test.
Designed for high speed cornering stability, the sport differential uses an alchemist’s blend of torque vectoring and mechanical torque applied to the outside rear wheel to make cornering feel more precise. Or at least so I’m told. Frankly, I don’t care how it works, as long as it gets the job done. And that, my friend, is exactly what I’m here to find out…
(I’ve hit the 5000-character limit, so I can’t post the rest)