Audi and BMW have been at each other’s throats since Audi tried to compete with the 2002 by fitting a juiced up Volkswagen engine into its Fox/80 in 1978 to create the GTI/GTE. Now that BWM has trotted out the 335d to supplicate the masses of Americans clamoring for an oil-burning wunder-mobile just like za Germans drive auf der autobahn, Audi has rumored they might bring over something to tempt image conscious yuppies (who still have a job). After sampling the cheapest of the diesels offered in the A4 platform, I can honestly tell Audi, don’t waste your time.
To most of the Americans I talk to, Audi leads BMW in one key area in their minds: price. Forget quattro, wonderful interiors, and all that other stuff. To most Americans, its all about the badge, and a lot are willing to take a smidge less snob appeal in order to save $35 on their monthly payment. An Audi will generally undercut its BMW competitor by a few thousand. For Audi to undercut the 335d and start cornering the emerging high-end diesel market, they will have to bring in their lower-powered 4-cylinder diesels, instead of the über-expensive 3.0 TDI bristling with the latest technology showcased by the R10 TDI Le Mans racer. Or they could just take a cut on their profit margins.
Which brings us back to my current car in the garage, the 2010 Audi A4 2.0 TDI with a manual. With only 147 bhp on tap, the A4 makes for a sprightly drive, perfect for around town and adequate for the autobahn. However, Americans (and, being one, I know) will hate it. Americans equate a German badge to speed and more speed. They want that image of being able to hurtle down the autobahn at speeds aircraft lift off the ground. The A4 fails to deliver on this most important of aspects. It’s slow. It’s noisy. It makes unpleasant noises and the shifter feels a bit vague.
You have to plan your merges and learn how to downshift at appropriate times in order to maximize the power you have, something Germans are taught to do, but Americans seem to not want to do, favoring automatics to do it for them. When this engine mates to the R-tronic automatic, it gets a bit smoother, but even slower, more expensive and less economical.
At least the A4 still boasts the best interior in its class, world-leading handling, flawless ergonomics and an MMI system that gets better with each evolution.
Verdict? Perfect for Deutschland. Miserable for America.