Under normal circumstances, tuned cars and snow mix together like Nitro and Glycerine, and when we'd driven headlong into a savage Siberian snowstorm the night before, we didn't expect the Oettinger Audi A3 to turn a wheel, which was stupid, really. The whole point of this car is that it can be a full-bore nutcase, an economical highway cruiser, a gentle family wagon, or a detuned car that your kids can drive with the simple use of a laptop and its patented Direct Port Technology. It might look aggressive, but this car had just 150 bhp when we took to the glass-like roads of Frankfurt, and four-wheel drive.
Chip tuning is the blackest art of the motor trade, and soon computers will control everything as drive-by-wire technology takes over modern cars, so this technology will either be out of date next week or the future of the car industry. Managed right, it has a real chance, and VW has already come calling to check out the progress. Now it's common knowledge that most cars have additional maps on the ECU, a dyno mode for instance, and that means available space. Oettinger's idea is blindingly simple, but seriously clever: multi-maps.
This stuff makes the near baffling BMW M5 look about as flexible as a brick wall. In the olden days, chip tuning was done back at base and the owner could be without his car for days on end. As a consequence, they would generally do it just the once to raise the power. Now, any Oettinger dealer with a laptop and a special cable can download maps from a website and offer a world of opportunities in just 30 minutes.
This car is fitted with four maps, and they're all accessible via the cruise control. Yes, you simply flick the cruise control lever, and they'll even fit one, if your VW or Audi didn't come equipped. This is the power to change your car, in the palm of your hand. And the uses are endless. Imagine just a few simple modes: Race, Fast Road, Economy, Children. Yes, you could turn your RS4 into a 100-bhp and confidently hand over the keys knowing the only rubber your first-born will burn that night will be a packet of Trojans, if he's far luckier than we were.
And there's the added security. You can switch off the ECU entirely, so if someone wants to steal your pride and joy, then they'll need to push it. Now, of course, there's room for progression, and it's not hard to envisage a plug-in box loaded with maps covering every eventuality. There's even the potential for individuals to create their own maps, but some bright spark will inevitably melt their engines at the first opportunity so liability issues must be addressed first. But enough of the electronic theory, back to this car. In its most mental mode, this 2.0-liter engine produces 235 bhp, thanks to revamped electronics, the polished stainless steel exhaust with four exit pipes that are, perhaps, a little over the top, and the seductive carbon-fiber airbox feeding the turbo. Under normal circumstances, the tuner reckons that just 50 percent of the air flowing through the engine bay actually achieves anything, but now they have all of it pumping to the car's vital organs. This, apparently, makes itself known at high speed, something we were hardly going to achieve in conditions so bad that polar bears would have most likely built fires.
Torque is up from 205 to 249 lb-ft, too, and the Quattro uses that extra power to devastating effect. On a dry, warm road, this machine will now scoot to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and will now break the 150-mph mark.
And it looks the part, too. The new Audi deep grille is certainly more distinctive than the old lineup, but it can also make the car look like a moronic, gaping mouth-breather-not so with the Oettinger front spoiler, a menacing blend of carbon-fiber-splitter, struts and gaping vents that have been placed with additional oil coolers in mind.
You have to wonder how much it truly affects the front downforce at the speeds an A3 will spend most of its working life, but the spoiler looks absolutely right. The air flows over the carbon tray, which should force the front end to the deck and help the turn-in on flat-out autobahn runs. The side skirts and rear apron merely complete the look, along with those awesome 19-inch, two-piece Type RZ wheels.
Oettinger insists all of its parts are performance oriented and not just for looking good, on the outside at least. Inside, the company has taken Audi's conservative looks to task with a blaze of silver carbon-fiber trim and the almost obligatory drilled aluminum pedals and kickplates. But the most impressive thing about this car, by a long way, is the stuff you can't see. And this Audi A3 might prove one of the tuning world's most significant contributions to the motor industry for a long, long time. Watch this space, folks. Oettinger could be about to hit the big time.