The Audi press fleet managers were fine with me taking an A6 for a winter weekend in northern Michigan with some buddies. I noted that the car would come equipped with quattro all-wheel drive and figured that might be handy for the first weekend in March.
Little did I know quattro would prove essential in piloting me safely into and out of Traverse City during a brutal snowstorm that packed 55 mph winds, toppled trees, caused spectacular and prolonged lightning, left nearly 150,000 customers without power, stranded motorists and dumped nearly 20 ins. of snow on this tourist destination.
The snow in northern Michigan started last Friday afternoon, March 2, and we arrived at a friend’s home on Arbutus Lake in the early evening as huge, wet flakes were pelting the windshield and making a snowy mess of a narrow dirt road that winds its way through the woods.
I’d never been to this house before. It’s on a beautiful peninsula that juts into the lake, and the only way to the house is down a straight, pot-holed driveway that’s as steep as a toboggan run and probably 250 ft. (76 m) long.
At its narrowest point are two enormous trees standing as pillars on either side of the road. The thought of sliding into one or both of these trees in a $67,430 luxury car gave me pause at the top of the hill. I put the automatic transmission in first gear and crept down with no problem.
For the next several hours, snow blanketed everything. The wind picked up, snapping huge limbs that sagged under the heavy snow. Inside was the safest place to be. About 10 p.m., everything went dark. We’d be without power, heat and water for the next two days.
The contracted snow plow arrived in the middle of the night and plowed halfway down the hill before getting stuck. The driver came to the house and stayed indoors until the sun came up. He called a tow truck to come rescue the plow.
The 19,000-lb. (8,618-kg) tow truck arrived about 7 a.m., got stuck twice and needed the winch to get free. Eventually, the driver positioned the tow truck on a flat spot atop the hill and ran the winch line to the snow plow and pulled it up. They left.
There were four of us with vehicles at the bottom of the hill, and we decided to move them uphill and park them in a neighbor’s driveway before more snow complicated matters. We’d cleared a lot of snow by then, and it was time to mobilize.
Besides the A6 at the bottom of the hill were two fullsize GM trucks and a Ford F-150 pickup. All of them, thankfully, had 4-wheel drive.
First up was a GMC Sierra, whose driver took it slow and cautiously, for fear or sliding into one of the trees. He got up the hill without much trouble.
The F-150 was next. The driver, a Ford employee, was eager to show the truck’s true capability, so he backed up as far as he could, gunned it and shot up the hill like a Pikes Peak racer.
The owner of the house drove his Chevy Tahoe to the top without a problem. For the record, the F-150 was the fastest, not that we were actually timing.
So all my friends were standing at the top of the hill, looking down into a wintery abyss, wondering if German engineering could handle a northern Michigan blizzard.
I backed up the Audi A6, put it in first gear, said a little prayer and hit the gas. Speed was no priority – I just wanted to get to the top of the hill. The A6 was sure-footed as it approached the base of the toboggan-run driveway, its 19-in. Michelin Pilot Alpin tires providing all the traction I needed.
The car ascended the hill like a hungry mountain goat, and a crowd of middle-aged dudes at the top stood slack-jawed as the $1,400 LED headlamps drew near. “That was unbelievable,” one of them muttered.
I parked the car in a neighbor’s driveway, and we drove the Tahoe into town for something to eat. The quattro A6 had conquered the slippery trek with as much ease – and way more style – than the 4-wheel-drive trucks.
We drove home the next day without incident, grateful to be in the right car at the right time.