On the road

Alternating between big-city backdrops and interstate panoramas, from stop-and-go to smooth flow—a highly networked tour from New York to Boston in an Audi A4.

Birte Mußmann (copy) & Robert Grischek (photo & video)

New York, the city that never sleeps—or as Truman Capote put it, “the only real city-city.” Our road trip kicks off in this legendary metropolis. New York covers a total area of 782 square kilometers, 59 of which belong to Manhattan, its storied beating heart. The Big Apple is home to over 8.5 million residents, who put up with 50 million visitors descending upon their city each year. Celebrated sights such as Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, the 443-meter Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge draw tourists to the city on the Hudson River in droves. No wonder, then, that this place pulses with fast-paced activity. Sandwiched between the skyscrapers, the garish billboards are just as eye-poppingly exaggerated as the rumbling pickups that battle their way through the bustling traffic. During rush hour, convoys of cars slow to a creep along the urban canyons. Depending on what part of town you’re in, the scene is flanked either by acres of sleekly mirrored facades or rows of brick accented with security bars and fire escapes. Mobility rarely means moving quickly here; it more commonly involves lots of waiting and jockeying for position. Brake. Stop. Start. Brake. Stop. Start. Repeat over and over again. Classic yellow cabs squeeze in between the trucks and SUVs. Some 13,200 licensed taxis vie for passengers on New York’s streets. The occasional bicycle messenger shoots ahead between the lanes of traffic. Behind the wheel of every car in the city, honking and gesticulating accompany the running commentary on other drivers’ skills (or the lack thereof). Sirens regularly blare from ambulances as they deftly maneuver through the jams. But even when traffic is at a standstill, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening around the car. Remember all NYC’s amazing attractions? Drivers get just the merest hint of them, if that—and probably only in the rear-view mirror or as a postcard-sized image in the distance. Sightseeing lite, in pass-through mode. The farther you get away from midtown, the more the traffic gains something like a flow. Until then, however, patience is the order of the day. And plenty of it.

The skyscraper canyons give way to dense thickets of housing complexes, a marked contrast to the glamour of Manhattan. But eventually they disappear, replaced by trees, shrubbery and woods sprouting from the poorly-defined edges of the roads. The 230 miles from New York to Boston are traveled most easily on the interstate. Currently spanning 48,000 miles, the U.S. Interstate Highway System was originally initiated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. These highways are marked with blue shields featuring the number in white and a red band announcing “Interstate.” Speed limits vary between 55 and 80 miles per hour, depending on the state. In urban areas with heavy traffic, many interstates feature a special high-occupancy vehicle lane, or HOV lane for short, a.k.a. a carpool lane. Reserved for cars with a predefined number of occupants as indicated on highway signs, these express lanes were introduced by the government in the 1980s to encourage carpooling and reduce congestion. Many interstates are punctuated by toll plazas, with booth after booth lined up in a row—as many as 15 to 20 strung across the highway. Most are manned, while a few are set aside for vehicles with an E-ZPass, the electronic toll collection system. The tolls mean one last hiccup of stop-and- go traffic. After passing through the plaza, it’s time to join the steady flow mainly made up of medium range cars, trucks, SUVs and the odd vintage vehicle. Now and then, a gigantic RV chugs along.

The smart way to get from A to B. The Audi A4 features state-of-the-art infotainment and connectivity. Top-of-the-line high-tech comes in the shape of the optional Audi virtual cockpit, for example. The instrument cluster with its high-resolution 12.3-inch LCD screen depicts a full, diverse range of information. Functions are displayed in the MMI system with a redesigned menu structure. MMI Navigation plus with MMI touch® combines multimedia functions including a navigation system with high-definition 8.3-inch color display, 3D map view, online traffic information, voice command and handwriting recognition. Smartphones can also be fully integrated thanks to the optional Audi smartphone interface, which brings Apple Car Play and Android Auto into the car, thus providing the familiar smartphone environment. When connected, content such as navigation, phone, music and selected third-party apps appear in a separate MMI menu and can be selected via this interface.

New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts—the route to Boston passes through four states. Many of the exits along the way lead to small towns that are a stark contrast to the “only real city-city.” Single-family homes with front yards, a classic domed mailbox by the driveway. Plenty of space and much less traffic. The drive from New York to Boston takes about four hours, not counting breaks. No real demarcation indicates where the interstate ends and the city begins. The limited visibility during the evening hours adds to this impression. Boston is also a major city, but its size and energy are completely different. Measuring 232 square kilometers, the Massachusetts capital is home to some 670,000 people. That means most of the streets are much less hectic than in Manhattan. More green spaces—and parking places—border the roads. To a certain extent, Boston is reminiscent of European cities. Its oldest neighborhood is Beacon Hill, where Federal style houses remain. Gas lamps bathe the narrow streets and their red brick sidewalks in a warm glow. This old-world charm is complemented by a cutting-edge side: Boston is second only to Silicon Valley in the U.S. when it comes to concentrations of top universities, ambitious entrepreneurs and risk-happy investors ready to shape tomorrow’s urban life together. Boston University, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and nearly 100 other universities and colleges are located in the area. Information technology and biotechnology have been the city’s trump cards for decades now. And this visionary quest for knowledge is not just confined to the campuses; Boston is considered a smart city. Networked intelligence is being harnessed to assist residents and local authorities alike in getting a better, safer grip on everyday life in the city. This includes the intelligent allocation of available parking spaces in certain areas, monitored by sensors and communicated to drivers via an app. At the end of the road trip, the Audi A4 finds a free spot in front of the hotel. No need to call on any of the city’s smart technology. After all, it’s just an option, not an obligation.

Further information on official fuel consumption figures and the official specific CO₂ emissions of new passenger cars can be found in the guide “Information on the fuel consumption, CO₂ emissions and electricity consumption of new cars”, which is available free of charge at all sales dealerships and from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Strasse 1, 73760 Ostfildern-Scharnhausen, Germany (www.dat.de).