THE WEEK THAT WAS: Audi 101 - so many cars, so little time
Wake up to Audi. Where to start? Redesigned A3, as it happened...
Highlight of my week was reacquaintance, after a long break, with Audi products, lots and lots and lots of Audi products.
Normally this only happens at the UK auto industry's annual speed-dating event in May, better known as SMMT Test Day, run by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders which limits each automaker to six cars and us to about 10 minutes each on closed circuits, if you want to get through enough vehicles.
Some automakers run a product day or two for regional motoring writer groups but mine wouldn't let me join as I don't go to enough other industry events to get to know enough of them to be asked to join, which is apparently Rule One.
But, lately, I've noticed a small trend starting to develop - manufacturers doing their own product-fest days. Tata Motors' Jaguar Land Rover runs a regular one on a Friday at their Gaydon HQ which is not far away but is on the wrong day for me so, despite invites, I've not yet made one.
And then came Audi which this week booked a stately pile-turned hotel just 15 minutes from home and laid out, hang on while I count the list, 36 different variations of soup-to-nuts (A1 to S8) and let us loose on what, for me, are local roads. Bliss.
Maybe a decade ago, with Audi starting to do interesting things with transmissions, like bolt CVT to turbodiesel (this was pre the twin clutch era), I recall having the temerity to ask for a press fleet car and being grudgingly granted a weekend, rather than the usual week, and never asking again.
So, I wondered, is this comparatively new trend, a way of accommodating 'trade' website oiks like me who don't do the full road test schtick but would still like a bit of product familiarity once in a while?
Nope, said the chief PR running the event. There's been 12 model launches this year, many of the writers would not have been able to attend all and this is their catch-up opportunity. It was also conceded that it was also for those not in the press car loan category but that was secondary. Certainly, there was a strong attendance from those representing many major enthusiast websites and magazines and a long queue for the sole new A1 quattro and a TTC RS Plus.
Audi UK is on a roll this year. Its October sales alone were up almost 22% to 9,232 and for 2012 so far, up 11% to 110,622. In Europe, in the third quarter, it was the only brand to see a rise - 6% - thanks to the new A1, A6 and Q3.
The UK is running third behind China and the US which surely means a high place at the product planning table when right hand drive is being discussed.
One of the PRs there I've known for years reckoned the model count has jumped from around 17 when he started to about 42 today and he, who once prided himself on knowing things like the power output of every engine, now needs electronic assistance.
I also got a bit more background on why you usually see the stars exiting posh Audis at equally posh Leicester Square movie premieres (hard graft promotion both within and without the company) and the British royal family driving Audis (apparently the brand was recommended to Prince Charles for its four wheel drive by an innkeeper at the Swiss resort of Klosters).
And I got to sample the new A3 with 122PS 1.4TFSI engine (little lacking in low-end torque, would like more feel in the power steering), try the little A1 Sportback (5-door) 1.6TDI Sport (little car with a surprising amount of interior room and a very free-spinning diesel), Q5 2.0TFSI quattro SE tiptronic (personal real-world pick of the day familymobile with a great engine and very responsive eight-speed ZF auto, Audi not being quite as committed to twin clutches as I'd thought) and a Q3 2.0TDI quattro S line (like the Q5, a worthy competitor to the BMWs with wider availability of petrol engines).
Next came reacquaintance with the A6 (redesigned since I last drove one) in 3.0BiTDI quattro S line Tiptronic sedan trim (a sporty diesel rocket ship with lots of cabin technology) and the 245PS version of the 3.0TDI allroad with S tronic transmission (higher ground clearance and four wheel drive are great in gloopy country conditions and you can give way in confidence on one-lane roads).
And finally rounded the day off by discovering - oh joy - Audi still does V8s in the form of the RS4 Avant with 450PS and S tronic (the way it blips the throttle as it downshifts in Sport mode just encourages driving with the windows down to hear the exhaust note) and the 450PS S8 4.0TFSI quattro flagship sedan which was separately described in exquisite detail this week on j-a.
Overall impression also included very high build quality and cabin materials and, despite great new technology (Google Earth satnav anyone?), intuitive control layouts that encourage early familiarity.
Audi, which had gone to great trouble to 'brand' the hotel for its event, right down to guest bathroom glass paper coasters, rounded off the attention to detail with a follow-up email to each attendee, detailing each model driven and providing a spec sheet.
This sort of event makes a lot of sense and, though not cheap to stage, is surely a cost-effective way of getting lots of product out to an appreciative audience.
Other automakers, please emulate.
Have a nice weekend.
Deputy/News Editor, just-auto.com
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