CAR OF THE WEEK
BY BRIAN BYRNE
VOLKSWAGEN is, by any standards, a very successful carmaker. But it is arguable that its Audi brand is one of the group’s most successful achievements. And a lesson for any other mass market maker in how to develop a prestige brand.
The most important components of that process are time and patience. Building any car brand is not done overnight, and establishing a prestige one means playing the long game. Volkswagen did.
Audi was established in 1965 after VW acquired the ownership of an automotive group with origins back to 1885. Initially offering Audi cars with higher performance than their VW equivalents, over time the models were given their own body variants and increasingly premium interiors and specifications. Today, Audi is in the same class as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and the much smaller Volvo as aspirational prestige motor cars.
A recent stint with the current A4 reminded me of all that. It’s the fifth generation since the first of the model in 1994, and is already at midlife stage since introduced in 2016. It is wearing its place in the compact executive space very well despite newer equivalent models from its main competitors.
Apart from grilles, which used to seem a little much, but now are restrained in comparison to others, the overall Audi saloon car design ethos of when this came out is understated elegance. There’s a skill in making simple lines exude a premium sense, and they have it here. Though I expect much stronger style in the next iteration, and, in the meantime, there’s some extra chrome detailing around the front.
You feel special in yourself when driving it. It’s the quality interior, in style and materials, which do that. Given that an owner will spend all his or her time with the car inside, it should be an experience that is as untroubled as it is properly operational.
In the current A4, all switches and knobs and instruments are where they should be and not inviting too much fiddling — though you can play with the digital instruments views. All in all, though, offering that unmistakable premium feel.
The review car was powered by a 150hp 2.0 petrol, with automatic transmission, and that meant ease of use was a feature of the powertrain. Certainly not the most powerful engine, but adequate for the kind of motoring an Audi buyer in this segment will be doing.
The car had a sport suspension option which lowered it, but didn’t in any obvious way make the car any harder in ride terms. It was, of course, very highly specc-ed as standard, including leather seats, the front ones heated.
Overall, this A4 gave me a week of a bit more driving than I sometimes manage, without throwing up anything that I could put in the minus box. That’s the real sign that the time and patience Volkswagen have put into this brand has paid off.
What I liked: That I was driving a prestige car which nobody would begrudge me.
Pricing: From €42,850; review car €50,290.