In the UK there is an age-old stereotype about Germans and their tendancy to reserve sunbeds with beach towels before other holiday-makers wake up. I guess it’s partly down to traditional Anglo-German rivalry but nonetheless this outdated nugget of humour is still one guaranteed to draw a few sniggers from those whose idea of a culture-rich holiday means trying Paella and buying a bottle of Sangria at duty free.
Maybe the clearest indication that these old stereotypes are dying is the UK car market, where British buyers are lapping up middle-aged Germans like they were some kind of sauerkraut-flavoured catnip! That’s right the #1 premium car brand in the UK is Audi, a manufacturer whose vehicles are mostly reaching pension-drawing age in the car world, but whose popularity in this country seems to be growing steadily every year…maybe it’s something to do with those LED’s?
As a manufacturer Audi actually has a pretty varied and interesting past, but in the last decade they have really pushed hard on the whole ‘leading premium manufacturer’ thing especially as parent company VW intends to become the world’s largest auto manufcaturer by the end of this decade. This momentum push has seen UK sales double in the last 10 years, and even with markets in Europe suffering with the economic downturn global sales continue to grow every year with massive sales in China helping fuel this (in China they sold more long-wheelbase A6 models than Audi UK sold as a whole!). But to my eyes, despite a few recent refreshes, Audi seems to be coasting along on the kudos amassed in the past decade and is in desperate need of upcoming updated models else they risk handing this crown back to BMW or even Mercedes, who really seem to be gunning for a massive increase in global sales. As I’ve done in other recent posts I’ll attempt to give a brief opinion on each car in Audi’s line-up as opposed to a confusing mish mash of paragraphs.
Despite having what I thought was a pretty strong start, Audi’s Polo-based supermini seems to have been content for rivals to steal the limelight in more recent years. Unarguably both 3 and 5 door models still look sharp and have great interiors, but thanks to that familiar Audi face they no longer stand out to many buyers, and they command pretty steep prices even when compared to fresher rivals (the new MINI for example). Both models launched almost simultaneously and it’s surprising that Audi have not seen fit to add some sort of convertible roof, and the rumoured Q1 high-riding version seems to be pretty distant though – VW seldom update the Polo and maybe Audi will be forced to take the same approach here.
The one notable launch in the last 18 months, the A3 has taken the sales chart by storm and somehow ranks well within the top 10 UK sales charts…a few places behind it’s Golf sibling but still comfortably ahead of anything from BMW or Mercedes. I can appreciate the attributes of the A3, with it’s classy looks and premium interior it stands out for those looking for a nice hatchback that’s a notch up from your mainstream brands; the 1 Series is just plain ugly and the A Class is just finding it’s feet amongst buyers after years of being a pensioner’s favourite. Elsewhere the A3 saloon is finding a sweet spot amongst buyers who want a car the size of the old A4, and whilst I suspect rivals will follow suit (the CLA arguably beat Audi to it but is ‘swoopier’), the A3’s sensible look will see it sell well. Given that the A3 has not long been launched I doubt they will change this winning formula anytime soon.
Probably the vehicle in Audi’s line-up which needs updating the most, the A4 is still a big seller after 6 years on the market and although there isn’t a whole lot wrong with the current model it still lags behind immediate rivals in terms of sales, styling and technology. Audi’s styling has always played it safe but the ‘B8’ generation A4 was generally perceived as being too similar to it’s predecessor – LED lights aside the car looks pretty staid even after it’s facelift, and inside whilst modern, the small-ish screen dates things. It’s no secret that the A4 is going to be replaced soon and likely will borrow design aspects from the new TT – but the question is will it be enough to beat the evergreen 3 Series and vastly improved C Class.
Essentially a coupe/convertible version of the A4, the A5 has also been on sale for over 6 years now and in the face of rivals it’s beginning to look outdated. With it’s low slung aggressive looks the A5 is probably more in fitting with the Audi’s classic Quattro than it’s main rival the curvy BMW 4 Series, but aside from this more macho styling the A5 gives little reason for coupe buyers to choose it aside from it’s trendy badge and all-wheel drive. Even the A5 Sportback has had most of it’s thunder stolen by BMW’s much more warmly received 4 Series Gran Coupe.
Actually the newest car in it’s competitive segment, the A6 already seems as if not more dated than the likes of the 5 Series and (admittedly facelifted) E Class, and even the Jaguar XF is more eye catching to the average passer by if truth be told. However the A6 itself has just had a facelifted version launched, and it’s interior is admittedly second-to-none in terms of appearance and arguably tech; Google Maps integration has long been a strong point of Audi’s but when combined with the touchpad MMI controller it vies with the latest iDrive system for the best tech crown. The A6 hasn’t been exciting since 1999 so Audi probably knows what they are doing, conservative styling sells in certain markets (China for example) and I doubt they see much reason to rock the boat.
Buyers bored with the A6’s styling would do well to look to the A7 as the champion of Audi design, as it presents probably the most intriguing styling since the TT in terms of stop-and-stare looks…in terms of mainstream vehicles anyway (the R8 doesn’t count!). In concept a hatchback version of the A6, the A7 has a svelter front end and eye-catching rear to give a car look which differs quite a lot from similar cars like Mercedes’ CLS and BMW’s 6 Gran Coupe, but despite being notably cheaper than either I still don’t see that many on UK roads. Maybe the upcoming facelift will help matters somewhat, but the presence of the A5 Sportback doesn’t really assist the A7 in it’s mission to become niche-king.
The A8 used to be well regarded for it’s classy but subtle looks, innovative use of aluminium and impressive build quality. The current model does indeed share all of those traits with it’s predecessors, but no longer is it unique in these traits and as such has seen relatively disappointing sales figures. It’s a compliment when your compact saloon is compared to your flagship saloon (a la Mercedes C/S Class) , however when the opposite happens as with the A8 and A4 it can be a little embarrasing. Of course the A8 is still a wonderful car but when you look at the new Mercedes S Class or even the Jaguar XJ, most people would probably prefer a car that looks premium .
Finally a success story I can get behind! Maybe it’s just been the case of the right vehicle at the right time but the Q3 has definitely made an impact on Audi’s sales both in the UK and on the global market. The styling is admittedly a little dull but it is in keeping with the brand’s styling whilst managing to look different from it’s older brothers (just about anyway), and compared to the awkward X1 and tame GLA it looks relatively rugged and less car like. The Q3 also has a better range of diesel options than the GLA, and it’s interior is miles ahead of the aging X1, so no wonder that the car has been so popular that it’s only just been properly launched in North America (where it arguably has most potential). The only potential problem with the Q3 is the fact that BMW are readying an all-new X1 based on their new front-wheel-drive platform…priced (and styled) right the Beemer could blow the Q3 out of the water…best out of a bad bunch doesn’t cut it anymore.
The Q5 is another vehicle which has done very well globally for Audi, but in my opinion it is starting to lag quite badly behind in the face of rivals from all over the shop – BMW’s well-recieved X3 has been launched and subsequently facelifted, Mercedes are readying a new GLK, Lexus have launched the NX (sure to be a hit in the states regardless of that styling) and even the like of Volvo and Lincoln have their own impressive crossovers – all of these vehicles have launched since the Q5 and yet all Audi have really done is change the front lights! That said it is still a pretty attractive vehicle from most angles and it sells well, it’s just that if the new Q5 is still 2 years away (quite possible) it will end up being thoroughly out classed.
The oldest vehicle in Audi’s stable, the Q7’s lack of development has always struck me as rather odd considering the importance of the vehicle to it’s global sales, but then Audi seem to have done just enough to keep the current model viable for as long as possible. Based on an extended version of the original Touareg/Cayenne platform, the Q7 debuted in 2005 and was clearly aimed at the American market. In the UK the car got off to a slow start, but as the Audi brand got more ‘cool’ so did the Q7, and the 2010 facelift (which included sorting the car’s tyre issues, more efficient engines and LED lights(!)) saw it become a fixture of the school run, in white of course. In other markets Q7 sales have slowed down dramatically – I mean this is a car that is now 8 years old – but I guess engineering a replacement on the second generation Touareg/Cayenne platform didn’t seem financially necessary when the old one was making profits still, and instead a new Q7 will debut very soon on a brand new third generation platform.
Audi have just launched a brand new TT after 8 years on sale…and despite being a totally new car (based on Golf underpinnings as normal) it has managed to end up looking pretty much identical to it’s predecessor on the outside less the different placement of the Audi logo (more R8 than A8). Unfortunately this relatively timid shell hides an interior which heralds a new age for Audi interiors, with an all LCD instrument panel which goes far beyond those offered by other manufacturers, being fully personalisable and less rigid. The lack of a dash-mounted LCD screen may be off putting at first, but Audi’s layout will mean the driver is more in tune with the vehicle…even if it is a tarted up VW Golf.
Audi’s sporting flagship made some massive waves when it was quite unexpectedly launched back in 2006, and heralded the brand’s entrance to the top tier of premium car manufacturers in many respects. Without a doubt the R8 still cuts a striking figure but after 7 years on the market it is starting to look like a forgotten oversight in Audi’s range, and although there are rumours of an even hotter swansong R8 it still seems that shy of a new model that attention will continue to shift away from this former showstopper.
I had always thought that Audi was a little too keen on niche vehicles and preferred to follow rather than innovate in many ways…of course the brand’s fans will cite past examples and defend it’s honour vigorously but I’m leaving this blog post a little more confused than when I started it. Maybe in a year or two’s time it will be Audi who once again emerge on top with loads of new models versus a range of outdated BMW’s and Mercedes’, but more than either rival Audi seem to group their product launches together rather than spacing them out to garner constant interest…maybe that’s an oversight by them but equally it seems to be a strategy which is working so who am I to judge?