Driven: Long Distance Running in H&R’s Audi A4 SEMA Car

There’s a dirty little secret about SEMA cars. They’re fantasy for the most part… for the most part impossible. Tires and wheels are impossibly big, suspension impossibly low, trick paint impossible to maintain, and the cost is impossibly high. Of course, this isn’t always the case though, so when we had a chance to log a nearly 1800 mile round trip run to the Audi Club’s Wisconsin headquarters last month in H&R’s B9 Audi A4, we were curious to see just how we’d fare.

The car in question is a 2016 Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro, effectively an early B9 sedan. The team at H&R is big on having the latest offerings from German manufacturers on their SEMA stand, and the B9 represented one of the newest available Audis at the time of the event in November 2016.

As SEMA show cars go, this Florett Silver A4 sedan was refreshingly understated and what they call OEM plus, appearing much as if the factory could have built it by combining rare or upgraded OE parts with subtle aftermarket pieces to augment the overall project. The car’s exterior was kept very clean, retrofitting black optics pieces such as window trim and grille well before they were available in American cars. The dark look continues with Mythos Black painted sill rocker blades and carbon fiber decklid spoiler with matching mirror caps sourced from Audi Accessories.

The car also sits lower, fitted with H&R’s Street Performance coilover kit. For the show, this car wore a set of touring car racer-looking OZ Racing wheels running Pirelli tires, though it was fitted with a set of black and machined finish 19×8 ½ inch Audi Accessories V-spoke Summer alloys with ET40 offset plus Bridgestone Potenzas in 245 35 19 sizing for our long-distance trip.

Inside, the tasteful use of the best from Audi’s parts bin continues. A full set of carbon fiber interior trim from the new S4 was sourced, along with a perforated leather European S-line flat-bottom steering wheel, matching perforated leather shift knob and a red-trimmed S4 starter button.

If you were going to pick a SEMA Show car for a long distance runner, you would be hard pressed to do better than this particular A4. Initial impressions came from a range of state-run turnpikes and toll roads. Long sweeping curves dotted with tunnels through Pennsylvania gave way to flat autobahn-like straights across Ohio. Indiana’s beat up interstate revealed the coilover setup’s flexibility in dealing with harshness, continuing on through Illinois’ Chicago metro area, then across refreshingly well-maintained tarmac of Wisconsin on our way to metro Milwaukee.

There’s no doubt that this latest generation A4 is made for high efficiency. Even with upgraded wheels and tires and combined with speeds well above optimum cruising efficiency, we still easily managed over 30 mpg.

Complaints were few. The B9’s cup holder placement ahead of the shifter is a challenge with the sorts of Venti Starbucks cups one might consider on a long drive such as this. Populate it with two and you’ll also be lamenting the lack of placement for an iPhone running Waze in order to keep abreast of traffic, speed traps and road hazards every time you go to take a sip. Choose a bottled beverage and you can stash it in the door bin though, leaving the phone propped against your Starbucks empties. Of course these are minor complaints, but worth noting as part of the overall long-distance experience.

Hugely welcome is the new Audi Virtual Cockpit. Managing navigation and entertainment option duties across its full-binnacle-width screen of the virtual cockpit and the secondary large screen in the center dashboard were incredibly helpful. Having Apple Carplay was also convenient… at least when we weren’t running the aforementioned Waze that’s not offered in Apple’s infotainment integration system.

Upon return from our 1,800-mile run to Wisconsin, a few days of local use of the A4 were logged in order to get a more varied impression of it. Fuel economy remained impressively high in more day-to-day driving, while runs down local back roads allowed for a better assessment of the coilover configuration.

Outwardly, the ride height appears just slightly lower than a European sport suspension from the factory. To our eye, that’s just about aesthetically perfect, aggressive and yet not slammed or risking undercarriage components when travelling over speed bumps or manhole covers.

Driving dynamics are also much improved. It’s not that the standard A4 is a slouch by any means, but this configuration was flat and progressively firm on tight back roads or on ramps, though critically not harsh under quick compression in situations such as the rough roads encountered while driving through Indiana.

All told, we logged over 2,000 miles on this 2016 SEMA Show car and couldn’t have been more impressed. Okay, so it may be a little subtle as compared to the usual nuttiness that generally finds its way into SEMA, but that’s just about perfect by our measure. The A4 proved subtly handsome enough on the interstates to invite compliments at gas fuel stops, though understated enough to net zero speeding infractions thanks to Waze and subtle silver paint.