Auto blogTue, 15 Jul 2014 10:57:00 EST
The question of whether Audi will morph the next-gen R8 (pictured above, in testing) into a plug-in-hybrid challenger for the BMW i8 may have been answered. CarAdvice, in Australia, is claiming that any plans for a PHV 2016 R8 have been shelved, and that Audi will go ahead with gas-powered or all-electric models, only.
Even then, the electric R8 E-tron (if it ends up being called that) would be built-to-order, and in much smaller quantities than the gas-powered model.
"In the next generation we will have an electric car on behalf of customers' needs, which is only available [upon special order]," Audi product manager Marie Suzanne Ernst told CA. "So it's not a make of series production, but if a customer wants to have it, he can order it."
All-wheel drive has become the norm particularly among German automakers. Mercedes offers its 4Matic system on a broad range of models, BMW counters with its xDrive system, Volkswagen has 4Motion, and the only Porsche you actually can't get with all-wheel traction is the Boxster/Cayman. But before all its competitors got on board with channeling power to all four wheels, Audi was making a name for itself with its Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Now 34 years since the advent of the original Audi Quattro, the House of the Four Rings has built its six millionth vehicle equipped with all-wheel drive - only a year and a half since it hit the five-million mark. In fact these days nearly half of all new Audis are ordered in Quattro spec - more than any other automaker - resulting in a total of 710,095 Quattro-equipped Audis produced last year alone.
The landmark 6,000,000th vehicle was an SQ5 in monsoon gray metallic that rolled off the assembly line on Friday and is bound for a customer right here in the United States.
The Audi A3 is on fire in US showrooms. Not literally of course, that would be horrible, and the situation we're referring to is a good thing indeed, as the Four Rings has a serious hit on its hands with the compact luxury sedan. Looking at just its first three months on the market, the entry-level model is outselling the Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class by nearly two to one.
The CLA was one of the hottest new cars of last year. Mercedes even called it the company's best launch in 20 years, but it sees as if that early sales performance has not been sustainable. According to Bloomberg, the CLA has seen its sales drop year-over-year in seven of the last eight months, and the new A3 came at just the right time to fill that void.
In June, Mercedes shifted 1,658 CLAs in the US, compared to 2,452 for the A3. The Merc has sold more units so far this year but only because the Audi sedan has only been on sale for three full months. With the two cars being relatively comparable as compact, front-wheel-drive, German luxury sedans, it appears buyers prefer the Four Rings over the Mercedes star, so far at least.
A couple weeks ago, J.D. Power released its latest Initial Quality Study, which gave high marks to Porsche, Hyundai and General Motors, with the latter earning more individual IQS awards than any other manufacturer. Now, it's Strategic Vision's turn, and it's doling out its praise not to Porsche, but to Tesla, which wasn't even included in the JD Power IQS.
The Model S was named the best vehicle overall in total quality, while Porsche's corporate brother and endurance-racing rival, Audi, was named the best premium brand, alongside Jaguar. Strategic Vision cited the Q5 and the ancient Q7 for individual segment awards, as well as the A5, which was a mere point off the top of its segment. SV also handed out compliments for the Audi's interior work. The win for the German brand is a nice improvement over its IQS score, with which it landed above the industry average, but solidly mid-pack.
Jaguar was without a segment winner, although SV did say that the Indian-owned English brand had a number of vehicles very near the top of their segments. This is the second significant win for Jag in two weeks, after it finished second overall on the JD Power IQS a few weeks ago.
It's not particularly unusual to see cheap cars in China, or those with designs stolen from foreign competitors, but increasingly the best-selling vehicles there would be very recognizable to just about any auto enthusiast. There appears to be one fact of life whether looking at car buyers in Sacramento, Stuttgart or Shanghai: People who can afford to buy premium cars often look first at the Germans.
Honda recently thought that it could challenge this perceived wisdom by including a premium Accord in the ninth-generation sedan's Chinese launch last year. The market-exclusive version was priced against the Audi A4. The venture failed, miserably.
According to Automotive News China, sales for the new Accord in China are down 37 percent through May of this year. Honda's overall sales are actually up by about 11 percent there on the strength of smaller, less profitable models. However, the company is still off its forecast 19-percent rise.
It appears that there was a pent up demand for compact, front-wheel drive German luxury sedans that no one really knew about. Not only has the Mercedes CLA-Class been a success in the US with its Hungarian factory running three shifts to keep up, but the Audi A3 Sedan is doing quite well, too, after just three full months on the market.
Audi of America recently announced that the compact sedan shifted 2,452 vehicles in June and 7,735 units of the A3 since the beginning of the year. Not only are they selling; it's the people buying them that's important. According to Audi USA spokesperson John Schilling speaking to Autoblog, "A little over 25 percent of A3 buyers in April were 30 years or under." That's compared to about 18 percent for the A4, he said. Company executives also recently told Edmunds that many of those new customers are brand conquests turning in Honda or Toyota models. We gently mocked Audi when it held A3 Sedan launch parties aimed at hipsters that served craft beer and played indie music, but the marketing worked, apparently.
That said, if you're in the market for an A3, you might have not be able to get one immediately. According to Edmunds, some customers are on a waiting list for the compact luxury sedan. Although, Schilling said that's because Audi is still stocking dealers. "It's a little leaner than other models, but that's mainly because it's new and still ramping up," he said.
Much to the dismay of many - but apparently not enough - there's a whole category of power wagons available overseas that we just can't get our hands on. While the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Estate and Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon are both available Stateside, the recently revised Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG Shooting Brake, the Jaguar XFR-S Sportbrake we recently drove at the Nürburgring and the Audi RS6 Avant remain out of reach for American buyers. They all stand on more-or-less equal footing, with forced-induction V8s producing around 550 horsepower. But Audi is apparently taking things over and above with a new RS6 Plus.
Revealed ahead of schedule on a British dealer's website (which leaked details accompanied by a stock photo of the existing model), the RS6 Avant Plus will apparently keep the same 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, but upgrade from 560 hp to a nice, round 600 to put it ahead of the competition and in league with supercars. Considering that the existing RS6 Avant is already capable of cracking the four-second barrier to 60 and tops out at over 190 miles per hour, we're sure the Plus version will positively annihilate the Autobahn, all while bringing your whole family along for the ride.
Unfortunately it doesn't look any more likely that Quattro GmbH's latest Plus model will make the transatlantic journey to American showrooms, but we can hope that maybe Audi will perform similar modifications on the RS7 Sportback we do get here.
We are on the cusp of the next generation of semi-autonomous driving technology becoming affordable. Adaptive cruise control is already trickling down to the mass market, and the more sophisticated systems found on vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class are clearly coming, as well. If you're a little adventurous, live in California and drive an Audi, you might be able to upgrade to the next stage of driverless tech even sooner. A San Francisco start-up called Cruise Automation is launching an aftermarket autopilot system called the RP1 for $10,000, with deliveries starting in 2015.
The RP1 is designed for 2012 and newer Audi A4 and S4 models. Although, Cruise CEO Kyle Vogt told Autoblog in an email: "There's no reason we can't expand to other cars, and we will." The system includes a sensor pod on the roof containing cameras, radar and other sensors to scan the road ahead. It then sends data to a small computer mounted on the side of the trunk. The desired inputs are then made by actuators for the steering, brakes and throttle to control the car. A button in the cabin activates the autopilot and controls the desired speed. Not completely unlike Audi's own, developmental, semiautonomous system.
At this point, the RP1 is somewhere between an adaptive cruise control system and an autonomous vehicle. It can control all of the cars inputs and even bring it down to a complete stop and then accelerate again. However, it only works on select highways in California. "We use geofencing to limit the areas of operation to segments of highway in which we've collected enough data to ensure our customers' safety," said Vogt to Autoblog.
For years, the concept of an electric turbocharger was essentially a joke sold on eBay to boost power in your slammed Civic, but in the last five years it has moved from an idea on a piece of paper to a feasible reality. Audi has already toyed with a showcase of the cutting-edge tech in road cars with the RS5 TDI concept. Now, reports suggest an electric turbo may make it to the streets as soon as next year in the next-gen Q7 (spy shot pictured above).
"I can confirm we are working on the development of the e-boost definitely," said Ulrich Weiss, Audi's diesel engine boss, to Australia-based Drive. He didn't give an exact timeframe but hinted at sometime next year, possibly in the Q7. He also suggested the chance of an RS-branded diesel model in the vein of the RS5 TDI concept on the horizon, as well.
This tech isn't entirely new for the folks in Ingolstadt. Audi's R18 endurance racer already uses such a system to capture waste heat from the engine, converting it to electric power to further power the hybrid car. The RS5 TDI concept employs a similar idea with a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 with an electric supercharger to make up for the turbo lag. It's able to pump out 385 horsepower and 553 pound-feet of torque and allegedly sprint to 62 miles per hour in four seconds.
Audi has released the official pricing info for the all-new A3 TDI Sedan, A3 Cabriolet and the S3 Sedan, and the news appears pretty good all around. As usual, none of the following prices include Audi's unspecified-for-now destination charges.
The big news is the S3, complete with 292 horsepower, a six-speed dual-clutch transmission and Quattro all-wheel drive. Prices start at just $41,100, which is a decent savings over the more powerful, 355-hp Mercedes-Benz CLA45 AMG.
The new A3 TDI sedan, meanwhile, has a starting price of just $32,600. While you'll be certain to save some money on fuel, you'll be doing so without Quattro all-wheel drive. Still, the improved economy of the 2.0-liter, turbodiesel four-cylinder isn't priced too steeply, relative to the gas-powered A3's $29,900 starting price.