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Bavaria is well known for making iconic sausages as well as luxury vehicles.
Photos: Shutterstock, Audi AG
Does the birthplace of Audi inform the vehicles’ character?
Home. What makes a place home? How does where we come from affect who we are? It’s a question many of us have surely asked ourselves from time to time. On a recent trip to Bavaria, I asked the same questions of Audi. What makes our vehicles the way they are? Is there something intrinsic to the sense of the area that gives Audi a particular quality?
Over the course of three days, without a plan or even an itinerary, I set out to experience Audi in our natural environment, driving through Bavaria in a 2016 Audi A4 to find the connection, if any, between the vehicles and the place—to find the truth in driving home.
For those who have never been to the Audi Forum to attend a show, take a tour or pick up your vehicle through the European Delivery program, it’s located in Ingolstadt, about 40 miles north of Munich, in the heart of Bavaria—which, in many ways, represents the heart of Europe. It became apparent that the geographic location has long informed our thinking and our engineering, which helps us produce the sublime experience of driving our vehicles.
The topography of Bavaria provides a perfect microcosm of terrains—flat fast highways, low sloping hills, and the switchbacked roads of the majestic Alps, all within a short drive of our headquarters. It’s here where quattro® all-wheel drive was inspired, where laser light technology was further developed, where the pure thrill of precise engineering takes on its most euphoric character. The autobahn, the astonishing German Alpine Road and the famed Romantic Road give drivers the chance to experience Bavaria in the same way our engineers, designers and creatives do—taking full advantage of the innovations and driving breakthroughs we’ve developed as part of our company’s automotive terroir.
Salzburg, Austria, offers more than just the sound of music—it’s a beautiful city in which to start a drive.
The drive to Salzburg
After flying into Munich Airport and picking up my reserved Audi A4 there, I drove to Salzburg, Austria. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Munich, right on the Bavarian/Austrian border. It was the perfect place to start my trip. First, it’s a beautiful, cosmopolitan, historic destination. Second, going there gave me an immediate opportunity to jump on the autobahn, the famed German highway system that has stretches without mandatory speed limits.
The A4 drove beautifully. It was my first time driving in Europe, but it wasn’t all that different than driving in the United States—save for the German drivers, who don’t drive in the passing lane unless they are actually passing people, which made driving infinitely less aggravating than the average commute through Los Angeles.
The A4 on the Alpenstraße, near the Austrian border.
The novelty of driving without speed limits faded quickly. There were limits along most of the route, and when there were none, I felt content to cruise at a generous speed with more daring vehicles passing on my left.
The A4’s power distribution was effortless and truly comfortable. In Audi drive select, I worked through the different modes, with Sport being my autobahn mode.
About an hour into the trip, it began to pour, so I slowed considerably and relied on the superior grip and balanced handling of the vehicle. With more than 130 days of rain on average in the Munich area, Audi engineers have designed the handling and the quattro® all-wheel drive systems with such conditions in mind. It was also easy to see the Audi engineers’ sense of intent on the autobahn, how they shaped the vehicle’s controlled aggression, how they crafted a precise grip, all depending on the road and weather conditions.
The pinnacle of driving pleasure
After an evening in Salzburg—walking through the historic Old Town, passing Mozart’s birthplace, following the traditional tourist pedestrian trail on a beautiful off-season night—I got on the road at a reasonable hour the next morning. I was looking forward to driving the Alps.
The German Alpine Road—or Alpenstraße, the mountain road—stretches along the very southernmost border of Bavaria and through, over and around some of the most beautiful alpine country in the world. Turn after turn, vista after vista, the drive revealed jaw-dropping scenery, farms tucked away in pristine valleys, snowcapped peaks providing the Platonic form of mountains, small towns with Bavarian-styled onion-domed Catholic church centerpieces. But it wasn’t simply a showcase for the senses; it was also a showcase of capabilities for my A4.
The autobahn, the astonishing German 
Alpine Road and the famed Romantic Road
give drivers the chance to experience Bavaria in the same way our engineers, designers and creatives do.
The view of the former Hohenzollern dynasty’s land from Neuschwanstein Castle.
The twisting roads outside of Berchtesgaden seemed to cry out for the switch to Sport mode via Audi drive select. Once engaged, I felt the suspension stiffen, and the handling become even more direct. Acceleration felt quicker, which made for easy passing on uphill slopes when necessary.[1] Each turn showed power and control, making the drive even more spectacular than just the relentlessly beautiful setting did.
After several blissful hours trying to get lost—but failing, due to the abundant, easy-to-follow signage and my Audi virtual cockpit—I ended up back on the autobahn. I was en route to Füssen, a Bavarian town close to the Austrian border in far southwestern Bavaria. This small city’s fame is greater than its size, since it sits at the crossroads between the German Alpine Road, the Romantic Road and a town away from two of the most picturesque castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.
Both were homes to “Mad” Ludwig II, the king of Bavaria in the late 19th century. Schloss Hohenschwangau was the longtime home to generations of his Hohenzollern family, while Schloss Neuschwanstein is a beautiful, breathtaking folly on an unimaginable scale. Ludwig lived in the latter for only a few months before his death in 1886. Even today, it remains unfinished—but remarkable nonetheless, perched above the valley and half-ringed by mountains. It has famously served as the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle for a certain mouse-eared amusement park and a symbol for one king’s driving mania.
A very Romantic Road, even solo
There were plenty of moments when I realized this road trip would have been even better if it were shared, like walking up the hill to Neuschwanstein or through the fairytale town of Füssen. As it was, the A4 and I were developing a close relationship, but it wasn’t the same as if I were driving the Romantische Straße with the A4 and a passenger.
The Romantic Road ends (or begins) in Füssen, and I took it north through the hilly, fertile farmland of Bavaria. It passed through small towns, at times difficult to follow as the trail seemed to disappear before I picked it up on the way out of town.
Neuschwanstein Castle was built for King Ludwig II, and it inspired the happiest place on earth, too.
The intellectual and artistic sides of Bavaria are never far from its fun-loving one.
It felt more relaxed and less dramatic than the Alpenstraße, and it could hardly be otherwise. But the towns provided charms, too—places like Landsberg am Lech, a historic river town with a gorgeous center that seemed to be the essence of the kind of place you find around Bavaria: a friendliness that comes out in the hearty laughter of a beer hall, the natural symbiosis between the urban and the natural, the pleasure of simply driving through a gracious part of the country in a well-balanced Audi.
I left the Romantic Road in Augsburg, a large and thriving city about an hour away from Munich and an hour and a half from Ingolstadt.
It was time, I thought, to answer the question posed at the beginning of my road trip: Can a vehicle be informed by where it was conceived, built and designed? Is there something intrinsic to Bavaria in every Audi—the mountains, the beauty, the weather, the design of the ancient towns, the modern centers of its cities, the pleasure derived from the picturesque setting and the limitless stretches on the famed highways? These factors have to inform why an Audi drives the way it drives—it’s a perfect blend of balance and force—because the conditions demand it. It’s a reality that was driven home every mile I drove.