By Alisdair Suttie 29 August 2012
Wednesday 28 August 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
It’s not that I cannot see where these cars sit in the market or which rivals they are up against, I just don’t see why anyone would choose an Audi over one of its various rivals.
This doesn’t just apply to the upper end of the scale, where some personal tastes, bias and loyalties come into play rather than simple economics or the restrictions of a company car list. Take the Audi A1 for example: it’s a premium-badged supermini that should have customers deserting MINI showrooms in their droves.
However, the A1 is just not that good a car, in my opinion. It’s expensive when compared to the likes of the Ford Fiesta, which is much better to drive, and the Volkswagen Polo that is a better drive and more comfortable. The A1’s near-rigid ride quality simply shows Audi has not understood this sector the way it thinks it has.
You’ll need a good look to tell it apart from the old model, which is good for residual values of the outgoing car, but not so wonderful if you want to stand out as an early adopter in the company car park.
There’s also the small matter of the BMW 1 Series being a much, and I mean hugely, more enjoyable car to drive. Head up through their respective ranges and the BMW 135i decimates and challenge from the A3. Bring on the S3 soon please, Audi.
It has always been the way, where the A4 puts on a good show but the BMW comes along and makes it look second rate in one seemingly relaxed step.
Given the new 3 Series saloon and Touring estate are not yet fully padded out with every engine and model offering, the omens for the A4 are not good. This should be all the more worrying for Audi given they recently updated the A4 in a bid to compete with its key rival from Bavaria.
Audi gets even more of a stuffing now Mercedes has subtly updated its C-Class for 2013. Mercedes shows Audi how to evolve a car without making it look so similar to the last model, which is the case with the A4, and the A3 and A6 that reside either side of this mainstay of the Audi range.
Speaking of the A6, the latest executive offering from Audi was made almost redundant the moment it was launched when BMW announced its 520d EfficientDynamics model. Why go for the A6 with its good economy and emissions when you can have a 5 Series with superb economy and emissions?
The other bone of contention I have with the A6 is it simply doesn’t impart any sense that you have moved up the corporate ladder. It’s just a bigger A4, with the same niggly ride quality and interior plastics that aren’t quite as substantial or solid as Audi would have you believe.
It’s nothing to do with being an underdog and a British sense of fair play, but much more to do with it being a far better, practical car than the A4 on which it is based. The hatch tailgate makes it so much easier to use the large boot space, and I also think it’s more handsome.
The sporty S5 version of the A5 is a very good car. It’s swift, subtle and rides with greater composure than most cars that come out of Ingolstadt or Neckarsulm with the four-ringed grille badge. As for other high performance models from Audi, the RS4 is not on a par with the BMW M3 despite the RS4 being all new and the M3 about to collect its pension.
The RS5 coupe is a crude device that has none of the panache of a BMW M3, while the S6 and S7 are brisk but lacking in the driving involvement stakes. Look at the BMW M5, Jaguar XFR or Mercedes E63 and you can see Audi needs a new RS6 to get on terms. However, we can only hope Audi doesn’t take its previous V10-motored RS6 as a reference point. Here was a car that didn’t handle or drive with any of the purpose or might that a car housing a detuned Lamborghini engine should. In fact, the last RS6 was a dog.
Higher up the range again comes the Audi A8. Spacious? Yes. Packed with gadgets? Yes. Full of company high flyer feel good factor? Erm, perhaps Sir would like to look at the Mercedes S-Class instead? Or if you want a luxo-limo with stand-out looks and driver appeal, the Jaguar XJ might be more to your taste?
The problem the A8 has is one common to the entire Audi saloon spread: it just looks like another Audi saloon but a different size. Some may like this discreet approach, but for many it’s not discretion but anonymity that Audi is peddling.
I can see why people would flock to buy one, but I can also see why many more would rather have a BMW Z4, Mercedes SLK (which is the best of the bunch from the three main German premium rivals) or the Porsche Boxster. If you want a sports car with open top, the Boxster is just head and shoulders above the rest, though it does come with a price premium.
Then there’s the Audi R8, a car that instantly put itself among the supercar leaders and continues to stay there. It’s not as practical as a Porsche 911, but it’s pretty good and shows Audi knows how to turn on the style when it really puts its mind to the job. Just a shame the R8 is well beyond the means of most company drivers.
Well, the Q3 is too much of a trinket and if you want a trinket SUV, the MINI Countryman does it better.
As for the leviathan Q7, the Range Rover does it all so much better and effortlessly makes the Q7 look like grotesquely over-inflated, under-inspired drive it is. Nope, only the Q5 hits the mark, even if the BMW X3 is better to drive.
So, not much hope for Audi then? Well, no, because Audi sales continue to increase and the company is doing very well for itself, so the opinions of this column are unlikely to unsettle that state of affairs.
Anyway, there is one Audi that I do ‘get’ and covet with some considerable passion. It’s what every Audi should be: subtle, sleek, all-wheel drive and practical. It also occupies a niche it single-handedly created and continues to reside in unchallenged.
If you haven’t already guessed, the Audi I like is the A6 Allroad. It’s more than an A6 Avant with chunky bodywork thanks to some off-road talent and it has no direct rival from BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes. There’s something just very right about the A6 Allroad, a sense of wellbeing that it imparts every time you nestle into its leather armchair.
No wonder Audi says the A6 Allroad attracts the wealthiest of its customers, those seeking something stylish and exclusive without wanting to shout about it. To me, this is what all Audis should convey yet most have lost in the company’s relentless pursuit of sales and plugging every niche and main market known to man.
So, get yourself an A6 Allroad and you will enjoy Audi nirvana. Only problem is if everyone gets an Allroad, I’ll probably stop ‘getting’ it.