Northen Norway’s desolate whiteness will drive perfectly sane men to poetry or drink. Or both. Its monochromatic landscape is astoundingly beautiful and dismally bleak at the same time. You want to embrace and escape it all at once.
Shoreless peninsulas where mountains soar straight out from the sea. Massive bays lay claim to land scooped away by ancient glaciers. There are so many of these here that the old Norwegian word for it – fjord – is adopted worldwide. Elsewhere, the horizon fades as whitened plains blend seamlessly with foamy clouds.
It is in this frozen backdrop that Audi chose to introduce its flagship Q model to a select group of customers and journalists.
The SQ7 is a steroidal SUV powered by a 4-litre diesel V8 force-fed by two turbochargers and one supercharger. It has 435bhp and a heady 900Nm of torque from just 1000rpm. The big (5069mm long, 1968mm wide and 1741mm high) all-wheel-drive vehicle with an 8-speed autobox will deliver the 0-100km/h dash in 4.8 seconds where the terrain allows.
Alas, the terrain here does not allow. Firstly, the speed limit on most roads here is 80km/h, with some stretches allowing 100km/h. Secondly, the road is usually coated by snow, ice or both. Folks from the tropics are not accustomed to driving on such surfaces, even if the car they are piloting has intelligent all-wheel-drive and special, metal-studded 20-inch tyres.
It is here that a car like the SQ7 can be both an asset and a liability. Its massive torque makes it skid-happy should your right foot show the slightest sign of enthusiasm. Its massive stature makes it a little hard to correct should either end lose traction.
Between the start point of Kittila and Kilpisjarvi, a village in the north- westernmost point of Finland, three cars in the entourage go off-road – involuntarily. The snowbound tarmac is narrow and two-way, with no run-off but a snow-concealed drop of half a metre or more.
The next stop is the northern Norwegian town of Tromso. Just before a ferry crossing to Tromso, the fourth SQ7 topples to the side – mine.
The incidents, however, also demonstrate the toughness of the SQ7. The vehicles escape the tumble with nary a scratch, and none of the occupants are injured.
In the hostile environment which punishes the chassis and encases the exterior of the car, especially the tailgate, in a thick layer of ice after just 50 kilometres of driving, the interior is toasty and surprisingly insulated from the pitted permafrost which used to be the road.
Second-row passengers are more cushioned than front occupants as they are a little farther from the overworked dampers.
Where every bit of traction counts, the Audi’s coasting function is less appreciated than in Singapore. Already, the car’s steering feels light because of the tenuous traction in the snow, especially freshly fallen snow. Thanks to a blizzard on the return leg, there is plenty of that. If that is not enough, visibility is further hampered by fading light.
But if you keep your wits about you, and be gentle on the throttle, brakes and steering, as well as keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front and the invisible kerb, a drive in the frosty wonderland is extremely rewarding.