| 14.6°C Dublin

A car to lust over -- Audi's A7

THE snow, the freeze and the thaw all had their own challenges, which were met for the most part by the public transport system but woefully failed by many drivers and their cars. We are going to have to take this situation very seriously and start planning for more extreme weather conditions, as they do abroad, where it is the norm to change to winter tyres for the whole season.

Many businesses and an awful lot of householders seemed to fall down on the job of taking on some responsibility for keeping the pavements safe. Surely it is not too much to ask able-bodied people that they clear the snow and ice off the pavements in front of their own homes and then do the same for any incapacitated neighbours?

It is a very basic part of being a citizen that you look out for other people and don't expect the "authorities" to do everything for you. I was totally shocked at how many people shirked their obligations. This in turn forced pedestrians to walk on roads and made hazardous driving even more dangerous for all concerned.

Anyway, that's enough sermonising. My Christmas delight was made extra special when I phoned my old friend Evelyn on Christmas Day. She lives in deepest Cavan and had to travel to Ballinasloe to stay with friends. Once again, her trusty 11-year-old Subaru Forester rose to the occasion when many around failed.

The car had passed its NCT without a blemish shortly before the holiday, and so its all-wheel drive and low centre-of-gravity boxer engine could give all the grip and stability that would ensure that Evelyn could travel with absolute confidence and safety.

Subarus are without doubt the best cars I have ever driven during poor conditions, whether that entails mud or snow. I hope that people really take note of the small but very professional Japanese marque, which produces some of the best-engineered cars in the world. It's where my money would go if I were living in an area where I was totally dependant on my car.

During an almost magical Christmas morning walk in Phoenix Park, where there was great camaraderie in helping other families whose cars were stuck in the snow, we were passed by a Subaru Outback estate that glided by as effortlessly as if it were out for a June Sunday afternoon drive.

Much of my planned car testing was severely curtailed in the weeks leading up to Christmas, so it isn't really fair to review cars on the basis of just a few trips on ice-encrusted surfaces. However the all-wheel Quattro system in the very special Audi A7 four-door, four-seater coupe gave me a lot confidence to get through a couple of atrocious days in the city.

It is a beautifully built car and lovely to look at. On paper and in my limited time behind the wheel of the A7 Sportback, I feel it could be the finest production car to be launched in 2010.

Its three-litre diesel engine is immensely powerful and will take you to 100km in 6.3 seconds, but amazingly, for such a thoroughbred, it only has emissions of 158, which puts it in the €447 road-tax band. While prices for the A7 range start at €62,010, the massively well-equipped 3.0TDi 245 Quattro with S-Tronic automatic box came in at €87,250 with some €20,350 worth of options on board.

It is a car to lust over and to spend lottery money on. My flexibility isn't what it was, so I found it just that bit too low for getting in and out of. My mutton head had a number of collisions with the door frame at the front. When I got in the back it demanded even more dexterity. There is absolutely mammoth room in the sweeping rear hatch.

Its very low profile makes it very much an urban car, so I won't be suggesting that Evelyn swaps her Forester for it.

Sunday Independent