The new Audi A4 “compact executive” saloon is due out early next year. Already the blurbs are appearing in the car magazines about how it will have a “drastically improved driving experience” aimed at “seizing the BMW 3-series’ crown” as “best car to drive” in the class.
I have to wonder at Audi’s PR team. Why would they allow such a thing to be written in advance of the launch of the model? Why are they prioritising “driving experience” when its main rival has been accepted as the “ultimate driving machine” for at least two decades (i.e. as long as the typical target buyer has been driving)? Because here is the thing: even if Audi were to produce a model which was clearly a better drive than the BMW equivalent, no one would believe it!
This is the power of branding – it builds on a perception which once had justification, but which is maintained in the public’s view long after it is objectively valid. Thus BMW is the “ultimate driving machine” even though other makes do better in sports and touring car racing; Volvo is the “safe” option even though in fact Renault was the first make to have a five-star Euro NCAP rating; Toyota is rock solid reliable even though it has had more recalls globally in the last five years than anyone.
Audi has enjoyed phenomenal success – outside North America at least – with its strategy of using only four basic manufacturing points to build over 50 different models. In other words, there are fundamentally only four Audi models, but they are reshaped, redesigned and re-powered into a vast combination, allowing almost anyone to find an Audi that suits while maintaining the “premium” brand. It’s brilliant. But trust me, no one will ever believe they are better to drive than the equivalent BMW – even if some of them are…