Audi recently cemented the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) title at its first attempt. The might of Volvo, Ford, BMW, Nissan, Renault and Honda, were unable to prevent the Inglostadt manufacturer taking the laurels with its four-wheel drive Audi A4. You would be forgiven for thinking the four-wheel drive offered a substantial advantage, particularly in the wet. But it should be noted the Audis were lumbered with a hefty weight penalty, making them 45 kilograms heavier than the rear-wheel drive BMWs and a staggering 90 kg heavier - that is like carrying a male passenger throughout the race - than all the other front-wheel drive entries. Audi's successful driver was Germany's Frank Biela, who raced in Macau in 1988, when he finished fourth. Biela's 1996 BTCC success sits well with his 1991 German and 1993 French touring car titles. Touring cars are obviously his forte, but the 32-year-old German admits hankering after a top drive, either in Formula One or Indy cars. As well as the British title, Audi has captured the German and South African series and currently has a wide margin at the top of the Spanish championship. The latest addition to the line-up is the 1.8 litre turbocharged A4, although for the British racing series, a normally aspirated, highly effective, two-litre version was chosen. The 1.8-litre engine car also features five valves per cylinder - three inlet and two exhaust - for improved efficiency. If there is any surprise attached to this model, it is in its modest performance claims. With the 20-valve set-up and a turbocharger, a 0-100 km/h time of 9.5 seconds is distinctly tardy. Audi claims a maximum power output of 150 bhp at 5,700 rpm, which is not exactly earth-shattering, but where the turbo A4 does score is in its impressive torque output, achieved pretty well throughout the rev range, of 210 Nm. A broad torque spread means excellent driveability, particularly in the congested conditions which prevail in Hong Kong. The body shell of the A4 is galvanised steel which ensures its longevity. While the top-of-the-range Audi A8 is built of aluminium - the only volume production car in the world to use such material - the smaller A4 could not use this lightweight construction due to cost constraints. And although the A8 is undoubtedly a superb machine, it is rumoured that every one is sold at a loss. The interior of the A4 is leather and the sports front seats can be adjusted for height as well as lumbar support. Twin air bags are fitted. The five-speed automatic transmission features Audi's unique dynamic shift programme, pioneered on the A8, which identifies the driver's style and adapts accordingly. Safety is taken care of with ABS, side-impact beams and pre-tensioner seat belts, while there is an optional electric, glass sunroof, priced at a reasonable $12,100 including tax. No other options are offered. Audi has long offered solid engineering in its cars, combined with innovative ideas. It was the first manufacturer to recognise that the inherent imbalance of a five-cylinder engine could be successfully ironed out, giving, as its advertisements of the time put it, 'the smoothness of a six [cylinder] with the economy of a four'. In next year's BTCC, Audi may have to consider using one of its other models to contest the championship, as all-wheel drives may well be banned by the series' organisers. Audi is well-known for its 'quattro' cars and, from a marketing point of view, running a front-wheel drive vehicle in such a prestigious series would not make a great deal of sense. Biela has already declared he wants to return to Britain in 1997 to defend his title, but whether Audi will allow that remains under discussion. In Hong Kong, the A4 1.8T sells for $367,100 with the optional sunroof.