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.
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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.
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!