Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Audi Range Review

Audi overtaking Mercedes-Benz is no surprise. Before the end of the year Audi will be second in world sales of premium cars behind BMW. It’s no reflection on Mercedes-Benz, the most aspirational brand after Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Its medium and high-priced cars are beyond reproach but it has failed to match the smaller Audis or mid-range and Mini BMWs. Audis are so well made, the range so wide and so professionally presented to seem unstoppable.
Executive spaceship: Audi A8 L
My classic-in-the-garage is a BMW – I like rear wheel drive and there is nothing like a straight-six for perfect smoothness – but an Audi range review this week was a revelation. I have driven Audi press cars for years, invariably complaining about road noise. This time the cars had winter tyres and were decibels quieter. You could appreciate all their finer points without getting irritated about low-profile tyres that are only fitted to look better in pictures.

Mercedes-Benz sold 1,136,525 of its splendid first-rate cars in the first 11 months. This was up 7 per cent and in November better than Audi. Sales of Audis rose 18 per cent to 1,190,110, and it looks as though it will end the year on 1.3 million against Mercedes’ 1.27 million. However BMW, including Mini and a handful of Rolls-Royces, has sold more than either. In the 11 months it has done 1,510,862, more than in the whole of 2010.

Audi is best in breadth. It has no weak models. Mercedes’ smaller cars don’t do well and although the BMW 1-series is doing better now it was disappointing on launch. Audi’s A1 is more than a match for anything; so much so that we have thought about replacing Ruth’s Puma with one if she thinks it worth the premium over a VW.

Accordingly I tried two A1s, a 1.4 TFSI, 185PS S line S tronic, not quite the base 99g/km one we could use without paying the London Congestion Charge, but we have been tempted by some good dealer deals. This A1 had a technology package at £1375, DAB radio at £305, a Comfort Package with acoustic parking and cruise control at £605, BOSE surround sound £690 and fancy alloys at £410. With delivery at £590 it looks a lot at £25,160.

A 1.6 TDI S Line of 99g/km costs a basic £17,220, but once again it was so laden with extras that it came out at £22,545. There is no Road Fund licence and it did have the feel of a much larger car but it isn’t quite bargain basement. Ruth’s jury is still out.

Audi makes changes subtly. The newest ones don’t look a lot different from the old ones. Cosmetic changes have been kept to a minimum, a corner tweak on the grille, different LED patterns on the headlights, grey instrument dials with white pointers and you can get some sat-nav refinements such as Google Earth that works in 3D or aerial photographs. Powertrains are usually carried over, which means seamless gearshifts and quiet engines. I usually ignore paddle-shifts. They’re pure affectation. S-tronic gears almost always does the job better than I can, and since I brake automatics with the left foot I drive more precisely than I would pretending to be snatching pole ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Audi interiors are well proportioned and superior. There is no faux woodiness. I used to love walnut veneers and suchlike but now I guess it looks pretentious unless done with real craft skills at Crewe or Goodwood. Nobody can match it and everything else risks looking ostentatious. Revel instead in comfort and security. Tried an A8; a touch gloomy inside but what space. I could happily live with an A7 or S5 Sportback now that they have refinement and quietude to match their good balance and swiftness.

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