Sunday, December 19, 2010

Defining the Differences

Having spent nearly all my working life around cars I am fascinated by different approaches taken by car companies in Europe and America. Two cars stand out as complete contrast in both design and engineering.

I was able to spend some time in the all-wheel-drive Cadillac STS-V, in its pre-production phase. Whilst it is clearly an American-designed car for American buyers, it's trying desperately to be an American approach to a European concept. However, despite this, it never delivered quite the right 'balance'. 

Driving hard, the calibration of the power split, between front and rear made the car 'edgy' and unpredictable. The ride was too stiff, and the brakes were just not up to the task of taming the available power and performance. Good try, but not up to the same standard you would expect if this package was developed by a company like Audi or BMW.

The Audi A6 V8 (with Quattro AWD) is a good example of getting the balance right. The primary and secondary ride is outstanding, the precision of the steering is exemplary and the smooth delivery of power from the 4.2L V8 via the quattro transmission is very refined and confidence-boosting. When you drive this car hard there are no histrionics, it just does everything you ask of it, without any fuss at all.

If you had the chance to drive the A6 over the Stelvio Pass in Italy, it would take a week to wipe the grin off your face. Doing the same drive in an STS-V you would probably be grateful you stayed on the road. However, I suppose you could say that all the Audi's refinement is wasted on a U.S. freeway. You might be happy to pay a bit less for the Cadillac, and a badge that still earns some respect in America.

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