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My response to Audi’s viral video

Interesting, Others | October 11th, 2008 by 14

It certainly looks like Audi’s viral video, Meet the Beckers, has created some internet buzz these past days and more and more blogs are writting …

It certainly looks like Audi’s viral video, Meet the Beckers, has created some internet buzz these past days and more and more blogs are writting about Audi’s marketing idea. I found this to be a great opportunity for myself to talk a little bit more about the Audi’s vehicles, of course, in compare to BMW.

Audis has always been a bit of an enigma to me. From a aesthetic stand point, they’re well thought-out and attractive cars and have well-appointed interiors. Audis also have an dedication to and abundance of technology and that’s best represented through their Quattro all-wheel-drive system – probably one of the most sophisticated systems on the market – who do you think develops the all-wheel-drive platforms for Lamborghini after all? Yet, I find their cars always disappoint me in the end.

For those reasons, I’ve always gone to test drive the current iteration of it’s base model A4. Why the A4? Because that’s the market segment I find myself in. I’ve driven a A4 (both the 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder variants) from the B6 and B7 ranges and inevitably always ended up back at BMW due to the lack of driver involvement and driving dynamic. When I test drove a B7 A4 3.2 Quattro I nearly understeered right off the side of an off-ramp when the dealer is telling me to push it. It took backing off the throttle completely then a handful of steering to get me back on a good line then jamming the throttle on when I noticed the nose suddenly running very wide- yeah, that’s a fun way to drive a “sporty” handling car. BMW, 1 happy customer; Audi 0 new customers this round. That and every time I sit in a Passat I feel like I’m sitting in what’s basically an Audi interior and vice versa – but that’s my opinion.

So I figured I’d take a crack at the new B8 A4 to see if anything had really improved as the marketing materials implied. It’s the most beautiful Audi of the line up(sans the R8), it has very clean, distinguished lines and is very understated in it’s sporting pretensions. Understated is something I like – why do you think you always see so many Mustangs and Scubby STI’s pulled over? Large wing and spoilers attract both positive and negative attention and I’m a big proponent of the idea that less is more.

After arriving at the dealership, I was granted a test drive in the A4 2.0T Quattro. I liked the styling despite the car lacking the S-Line package( think M Sport package) and the seats were nice and comfy and the dash was wrapped towards the driver( BMW – remember when you did this?!). The things I didn’t like were how incredibly long and almost A6-sized the car was along with just a tremendous feeling of weight in the huge seats and power everything. However, the standard i-Drive-style screen is a nice touch and provides a lot of useful information – the menu screens look like a PC videogames menus though instead of looking hip and interesting so that might be a turn off to some.

Once starting up the push button start, you realize the cabin is very quiet until the engine gets into the higher revs, I’d almost say the 2.0T – which sounds clattery and clunky at idle – is louder and more brutal when going flat out than a BMW 328 – so that’s a plus for the Audi. The dealer encouraged me on a secluded road to start really pushing hard through the corners to see how well Quattro puts the power down in corners and pulls/pushes(thank you torque-splitting system!) you through. If I’m honest, the car really does handle in a terrific way, it can maintain high entry speeds in corners – much more so than my E46 or possibly E90 could dream of Audi and has done a terrific job removing the gobs of understeer present in the last few A4s. Sounds like a good car so far, right? Well it isn’t. At least not from a driving perspective.

But…

Like all Audis, the new A4 is over-engineered. The steer feels very boosted as you aren’t given a option to leave off the speed-variable steering rack – much like BMW’s OPTIONAL Active Steering. As a result, the steering feels very …computerized… and dispassionate towards what the front wheels are doing. Most of my hustling the new A4 through corners was done by aiming and then flinging the wheel around to sort of “see what happens next” with the car to make it go where I wanted. Was the car well-planted and has a punchy torque band? Absolutely! Was it fun to drive? Absolutely not – there’s no drama. period. This was the same experience I had with the latest Audi TT as well – it handles like it’s on rails and gives you about as much feed back as steering a CSX train car.

So this is why I’ve never understood Audi. They can build exquisitely handsome and beautiful cars that look like the exterior of the Gugenheim in Bilbao and I can stand and gawk at them for hours. But as soon as I sit behind the wheel, the 18 inch wheels, lower slung suspension, flared air intakes and sport seats all seem to be for nought. They’re trick cars but still provide a very vanilla driving experience, especially stepping from a BMW to an Audi. While I’m not a big fan of the E90 I can still feel more communication with the wheels compared to the Audi. In the Audi’s defense, I didn’t have a car equipped with the sports package or it’s new, very intriguing adaptive suspension that the driver can change on the fly – that comes on it’s $40,000+ A4 2.0T Prestige model and frankly – that’s too much to be paying in this segment for a 4 cylinder engine – but that’s a whole ‘nother story!

I want to like the Audi A4 so much for so many reasons over a BMW but when I look at it in terms of the satisfaction I want out of my car, BMW ranks so much higher in all the right categories and just checks all of the right boxes while Audi – well, it just doesn’t. And for me, it’s that simple on making a $40,000 decision.

Before I get labeled as an Audi hater – I would take a B5 RS4 wagon in a heartbeat!

  • http://www.carversation.com carversation

    Hey
    I test drove it and it’s only $34k. I must say the body looks nicer than the 3 series and the car is just amazing. The car handles way better than any BMW I’ve tested. The only thing that makes the Audi weak, is the power. The thing is nothing compared to a 335 or any BMW. But the 4 cylinder is geared towards the 328 and the 328 is priced about the same. the 6 cylinder is towards the 335 and so will the s4. I’d take the new s4 over a 335 any day.

  • Hantra

    Very good write-up Andrew. I enjoyed reading your detailed, well thought out comparison of the Audi. I am in the same boat. I want to love Audi, and am a bit vexxed at what BMW is doing these days. Combine the Audi stigma that will not go away in the US for another decade, and the better driving experience BMW offers, and I can’t buy an Audi either. Gorgeous though!

  • http://www.mefeedia.com/entry/naias-2008-bmw-presents-advanced-diesel-blue-performance/5969634/ okeribok

    Audi’s are for audidrivers.

  • Jason

    Exactly! However I do not agree with you that the Audi’s interior is of good quality. Yes, most journalists write that they have the bes interior and blah blah blah. However, have you taken an older (say 1 year) Audi into consideration? What they use is VW parts basically. Yes, you probably thought that the dash looks attractive and that the material colour combination was good. But did you check out the cheap hard plastics of the interior centre console behind the gearstick? Did you notice the cheap VW Polo plastics in the interior door pannels? especially the lower part. This is not something that I expect from a premium segment. Compare that to the BMW e90, which uses soft touch plastic covered with a special fabric. On the exterior side, close the trunk of the new A4 and compare that to the BMW, you will notice that BMW’s quality level is so much better. The Audi A4 trunk metal sheets are so thin you would think you’re closing that of a Fiesta. Another sign of poor quality is the lower side skirt – notice how cheap that side skirt is – it is a piece of thin plastic stuck onto the lower part of teh metal body, just like sticking a plastic lip to those 1989 BMW 3 Series. I’m sorry, but all these don’t sound quality to me, especially when I am paying more than $40K for a car. On another topic: design. Firstly interior: The 3 is more modern, harmonic and stylish. I would think of BMW interior as an art gallery where everything is stylish, glossy materials, marble staircase; whereas Audi is like a neat office. As for exterior design, the front grille of Audi is like a fish’s mouth that’s forever open, worst is that it is on all Audi’s and they look the same. As for the side profile, yes it looks pretty but guess who they took the deisgn from (BMW – so obvious). As for the rear, it is just disguisting – especially the new A4, those lights are just like smudged eyes – giving it a sorry ass look. When I purchase a car, I don’t want to see all these traits from VW because I am spending in a premium segment – I do not want to see (when I open the hood) tubes that’s got 4 brand logos on it (VW, Skoda, Seat, Audi) – that goes for brakes as well or any other part for that matter. Most of all, if audi thinks that they can pose good profits by charging customers premium prices for basically VW quality stuff. I will not be the customer that’s the fool. Yes, Audi cars are understated and that’s for a reason – they are just not as good as BMW and Merc. If you are excellent and leader in your field, you will not be understated and I think people in this segment are professionals, they strive to achieve and therefore we see that they drive the best as well. Hence the significantly lower Audi sales. To try to explain the others who buy Audi, maybe they want to be different. But then again, who want to be different in an inferior way? But we have to thank Audi buyers for keeping Audi alive, or else people wouldn’t realise just how good BMW is. That’s just my opinion.

  • Lance

    Haha, what a post. but true! They may have some power, but handles poorly, what’s the fun then? Boring exterior design though. Interior is getting outdated and boring as well. Quality is VW standard. All in all, who wants an Audi badged VW when they can get a BMW for a little more.

  • Gragop

    To some of the above posters – I do like the Audi for what it does, but for my tastes it’s not what I want. Yes, the absolute base model A4 is around the price of a 328i sedan but if you want a sports package, the trick suspension or any other of the options that make the new A4 marketable then you’re sitting at a $40K 4 cylinder. I’m an accountant and in dollars and cents terms it doesn’t make sense to lose 2 cylinders, lose 30 horsepower and however much torque for more money. Call me cheap but it’s just my perspective. That, and my local dealer told me you cannot get a manual transmission until early 2009 and that’s only on a S-line car – which means you need to be at around $40K in specific options before you are allowed a manual – that’s poor option packaging on Audi’s part.

    In terms of the interior, I took out a line before submitting this article that stated that “sitting in an A4 felt like sitting in a Passat and vice versa.” The A4 interior looks like it would be very interesting made of much higher quality than the BMW 3’s or Lexus. But in truth, sitting in there it feels the exact same. The switches and knobs look just like a Jetta – the interior just doesn’t feel substantial and dependable. The interior feels as if the screen is there to distract you from the over-abundance of scattering switches and knobs around the interior. I found myself looking for buttons more than I did looking at the road.

    Why can’t European carmakers allow Americans to option up their car individually? In Europe you can tell them what radio, interior, aero package, sunroof, transmission, lights, wheels, security system – everything that you want. Why not us?! All I want is a 328i sedan with the M Sport package, 18 inch wheels xenons and an iPod adaptor. BMW packages options well in the US and I think Audi’s inability to package options how people want them is what will hurt there sales more than marketing, competition or anything else. Audi still doesn’t know exactly what people want.

  • Gragop

    @Jason:

    I do disagree with the understated vs. being a leader in their segment point. Look at the original E28 M5 – it was the first of it’s kind and you car barely tell them apart from a standard E28 518i. The same can be said of the Merc. 500E – very subdued.

    Most car makers think they can still built a Q car thats very understated but then put on huge flared wheel arches, grill work, big rims and brighter paint jobs – it loses the essence of understatement. I think Audi can still provide this as the RS4 is a much more subdued car than the E90 M3 and especially the C63 AMG. Most modern “Q cars” really aren’t that anymore. See the Audi B5 RS4 Wagon – who would ever expect a wagon to be twin-turbo’d and capable of a sub-5 second dash? It’s fantastic!

  • Gragop

    @carversation:

    Enjoy the new S4 then – It’s handsome but it will be a sedan that still starts at nearly $10k more than the base price of the 335i sedan and will deliver the same driving experience. The way the current Audi vs. BMW A4/3 Series is staggered doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Suddenly the top, non-M car 3 Series is equivalent to what was the top of the line A4 vehicle, the S4 and the M3 now competes with the RS4 – a car that was originally a one-off from the Quattro GmbH(Audi’s sportscar/racing division).

    This whole part of the car segment befuddles me right now in what it’s doing/ heading.

  • Freude

    Audi for fools as they are being milked premium money for VW quality stuff. Does it not bother you that they try so hard to be like BMW – it’s because they are currently miles behind! BMW is the true independent company, original stuff for the true car enthusiasts. get it? Case Closed.

  • whatever

    ^^^Not in orange county its not. people drive them to be seen, not as an enthusiast. And someone said Audi used cheap plastic last year?? No, they had soft touch interior.

  • whatever

    and you all compare stock cars. throw on some coilovers and rear sways and you virtually removed all sense of understeer. And the 328 being N/A theres not very much potential. Take the 2.0T for instance and you can throw in some valves/springs/rods/pistons/FMIC/big turbo and easily get 400hp out of it. its the potential, not what it is oem.

  • Gragop

    @whatever:

    I agree with you on the potential. All-wheel drive is a much more attractive platform to operate on the higher your horsepower climbs. However, I’m not looking to go drop $40K on a premium car only to have to spent another $5K in upgrades just to sort it out. I tend to hang on to my cars for more than 3 years and I’d rather not void a factory warranty on the engine. Suspension and wheels/tire combos are one thing but not the heart of the car.

    In terms of tuning cars though – wouldn’t that make the 335i a more attractive car instead? it costs around the same as an A4 3.2 Quattro would but provides more tuning ability due to the turbo setup?

    As I mentioned in the article and I still maintain – I didn’t have the opportunity to drive an A4 with the adaptive suspension or with the 18 inch tires. I intend to drive one in January when the manuals are available. I drove an 2008 Audi TT with the magnetic ride suspension and I wish BMW had something in it’s bag of tricks like that – it’s a great system. But, I will reserve my judgement for the S-line package until the first of the year.

    I also agree with your earlier point that most vehicles in this segment are bought for badge not performance. However, it’s very unrealistic to think that isn’t the case for any luxury/near luxury vehicles – Audi, BMW, Merc, Lex alike – they all suffer from snobs buying it to show everyone how much they earn.

  • whatever

    ABSOLUTELY! the 335 is an enthusiasts dream. i would opt for the 135 though.

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    One of my friends drives a 2006 Audi A4, so about a month ago, I decided to give him my 335i for a drive. After a few hours, he was absolutely impressed by the handling, engine power and pleasure to drive. Exactly what BMW stands for.

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