In the prestige German sport sedan market, it seems that Audi cannot get itself out of third place from BMW and Mercedes. Who is number one, well, depends on who you are asking. But that’s another editorial. In North America, Audi wasn’t really imported in any meaningful numbers until the 1970’s. At this time, Mercedes-Benz was considered almost untouchable by its peers. BMW was getting its mojo with the delightful 2002’s, sophisticated 3.0CS and 6-series coupes, and 5 and 7-series sedans.
By comparison, Audi’s Fox was a little pathetic, and their cars offered little more than a step-up from VW. The perception of Audi changed quickly with the introduction of the Quattro Coupe.
This car came into production to satisfy FIA homologation rules so Audi could race this car in the World Rally Championship. Audi’s race car turned rally racing on its head, and left its competition scrambling. The super-desirable SWB Coupe was never imported to the US, but today the Quattro Coupe represents an incredible classic car bargain. With rallying a little-known sport in the US though, the success of this car went largely unrecognized.
Audi caught another break, or so they thought, in the 1984 model year when they introduced the 5000. In an automotive landscape where most sedans at the time were little more than square boxes on wheels, Audi stunned the world with a smooth, ultra-modern, aerodynamic sport sedan that made made its competitors look old and quaint parked side by side.
Audi was, for once, posting good sales numbers in North America. They had a smaller, competent sedan in the 4000, which was also available with Quattro all-wheel drive. We take for granted that BMW and Mercedes offer all-wheel drive cars today, but they waited years to do so. Audi was becoming a huge player in the North American sport sedan market, until….60 Minutes.
There were stories that Audi 5000’s suffered from “unintended acceleration”. A driver would put the car in gear, and for no reason, the car, in drive or reverse (this did not affect 5-speed manual Audi’s), would surge in either direction uncontrollably, wrecking cars, homes, or whatever lay in the car’s path. In 1986, CBS’s 60 minutes did an expose on the Audi 5000. Following the report, the NHTSA launched their own investigation. The reports of unintended acceleration was a result of driver error. North American drivers, used to driving American cars with automatic transmissions and brake pedals the size of a Subway footlong sandwich were “confused” that the Audi’s pedals were somewhat smaller in size.
It later came to light that CBS had actually “rigged” a 5000S to replicate unintended acceleration. CBS offered a partial apology, but the damage had been done. Industry analysts questioned whether Audi would even continue to sell cars in North America. Audi sales tanked, and with $5,000 discounts off of sticker price, no one was buying. Yet, Audi stuck it out.
Audi survived the 1990’s with just OK but not exemplary cars. in 1996, Audi introduced the A4, and the tide turned, finally. Audi had a great design, a decent powertrain, and a price that undercut its rivals. Audi followed with the larger, sexier A6, and the flagship A8-one of the most elegant and graceful large sedan designs seen in some time.
This more or less brings us to the present. The current Audi model line is an impressive one, especially now when you consider the improved TT series, and the awesome R8. My inspiration for this piece was seeing the new Audi A5 in a parking lot. For those of you who do not know, the A5 is a coupe, based on the new A4 structure.
Pictures do not do justice. The car is gorgeous in person. So, despite the A5, and the glorious S and RS models that have come and gone from Audi, the brand seems to be stuck behind M-B and BMW. The media holds their interiors as some of the highest quality and best-designed available, but the fact remains, Audi still lags in consumer appreciation. And it takes no market poll, no survey to know this-Audi resale values pale in comparison to its other German peers.
I am leaving this discussion completely open to The Garage readers. Why can’t Audi’s resale values keep up with the competition? Is Audi still paying for CBS’s story on the 5000? Is the M3 better than the RS4? Finally, why don’t they get as much respect? Talk to us….