Arrival of the new A4 has enthused Audi’s importer to the point where it is talking against a trend, by proposing station wagon superiority over like-sized sports utilities, its own included.
DON’T diss the station wagon – that’s the message from Audi New Zealand’s boss as he prepares to launch a load-all edition of the A4 sedan that has just released here.
Dean Sheed says the A4 Avant here around the second week of March in the same specification levels as the booted four-door now on sale will achieve 60 percent of A4 sales, in part on the strength of it having potential to make a better fist of being a family-minded all-rounder than any like-sized sports utility – his own brand’s Q5 included.
“If you’re a family with kids - and I’m a good example, with two teenagers who are sporty and get out a lot – then an Avant is better for me than a Q5.
“Load-carrying capacity is greater in the Avant and, if I’ve got a quattro drivetrain, I can go anywhere.”
To further this proposal, Audi New Zealand has reduced the A4 wagon premium by $1000 to $3500.
It is also promoting accessories – notably a new factory-developed roof pod – that, Sheed says, makes the Avant a more convenient car for genuine life-stylers, and improved the specification by making a power tailgate standard.
Nonetheless, argument that proposes why a traditional wagon might be considered superior to an SUV might seem retrograde – if not farcical.
SUVs have won kingpin status on the recreational scene through perceived demonstration of being better than the wagons that preceded – certainly this brand has been rewarded commensurately by having the Q3, Q5 and Q7; the latter two have easily outsold their respective A4 and A4 Avant equivalents.
However, the current Q5, created off a previous A4 underpinning that is significantly more constrained than the A4’s large-car MLB platform, is now in its final year of production and diminished sales in 2015 suggest it felt the heat from its rivals in a well-populated sector.
As Motoring Network has previously reported, Audi NZ intends to pep up Q5 interest with imminent introduction of a higher-performance edition of the sporty flagship SQ5.
Even if that stabilizes Q5 interest, Sheed still believes there’s “still a large pool of buyers who just don't want an SUV. That’s where the Avant comes into."
What they might desire even more than a regular Avant is the elevated Allroad edition; Audi has one in the previous range and, in all likelihood, another will come out with the new family. But when and if it is available to NZ isn’t being spoken about at the moment.
Either way, the Avant option seems prudent to ensure the customer base remains brand loyal when there are so many tempting alternatives out there, not least Mercedes’ first local market tilt into this lucrative sector, the GLC.
The 2015 luxury leader has never had an elevated equivalent to the Q5 and BMW X3 here previously, because the previous GLK compact executive crossover was only built in left-hand-drive. It believes the GLC will be be sales leader this year.
Sheed has certainly acknowledged the Benz product threat; he says the new A4’s New Zealand-market specification is specifically tailored to meet that of the C-Class sedan, which went against SUV-centric market tastes by being Benz’s best-selling model in 2015.
While he does not suggest the market’s fascination for sports utilities will lessen, Sheed nonetheless considers that even though sedans of all sizes have been losing sales ground for some years, there is still a place for that body shape here – at least within the elite arena.
“SUVs have come in strongly … however when you look at premium executive market, there is still a demand there for a sedan and/or a station wagon. If I looked at the German club of three, we still retail a high number of sedans and the C-Class, 3-Series take the majority (of sales).
“There’s good volume there. For us, we’ve always been historically strong in station wagons so that is definitely an ongoing potential. We do very well with our Quattro models, our S and RS models and the strategy is to maintain that.”
He cites owners of small to medium businesses and senior managers in large organisations as being ongoing supporters of expensive medium-sized booted cars.
The outgoing A4 accounted for 11-15 percent of the brand’s total 1765 sales last year, but Sheed would prefer the car achieved closer to the international average 15-20 percent.
The expectation of growth is despite this being a year when the type will be without the hero RS4 version. A performance S4 will be here before the end of the year, but an RS4 version of the latest shape won’t be around until late 2017 at the earliest.
The present Avant-only model, expected to be the last with a hot-blooded naturally-aspirated V8, is now in runout.
The muscle machine has had powerful impact on A4 sales in the past; in 2014 – the first year of its full sale – 195 of the 273 A4s sold were RS cars. Demand fell off last year, when the performance monster gathered 34 of the total year A4 tally of 287 units.
The subject of immediate retail focus is the A4 sedan which prices from $71,900 to $109,900.
The lineup presents with a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol in two states of tune - 140kW/320Nm with a front-drive format and 185kW/370Nm in Quattro – plus a pair of turbodiesels, a 2.0-litre producing 140kW/400Nm and a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 producing 200kW/600Nm.
The transmission choice embraces a seven-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox and an eight-speed automatic, the latter for a quattro.
The TFSI 140kW is expected to be a strong seller because it has diesel-like economy, with a city optimum of 5.1 litres per 100km against the 2.0-litre turbodiesel’s 4.5L/100km. The V6 TDI achieves 5.2L/100km while the more potent TFSI is good for 6.2L/100km, Audi says.
The entry petrol car comes in a new specification called Design, whereas the TDI elevates to a range-wide Sport guise.
Design is the only non-quattro A4 and is the only A4 not to get the Virtual Cockpit digital dashboard as standard, though it maintains other luxury features.
The Sport models offer active lane assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, collision avoidance and stiffer suspension with adaptive dampers.