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Audi: subtle but powerful

If German luxury marques had a reality TV show, AUDI would be the more understated and seemingly sensible of the Kardashian sisters. As Mercedes and BMW fight it out for the limelight, AUDI is more measured. Often classified third, Audi is no shrinking violet, with its history dominating rallying and LeMans and now turning its sights to Formula E.

It may be argued that it is precisely because Audi charts its own path that makes it the better choice of the three. BMW and Mercedes are so closely matched, spec for spec that getting one of either is bound to spark immediate conscription into brand loyalty clubs. BMW is renowned for making arguably the best driver’s cars on the planet yet its drivers are the most inconsiderate and least talented.

Mercedes make practically the best car in the world, as they constantly remind us with their best or nothing slogan. As a driver’s car, however, Mercedes fights hard to topple BMW, who remain king of the hill. Buying into either is, therefore, naturally, a compromise. But it needn’t be, as the Audi brand has some compelling attributes.

Not as common

Mercedes is arguably the most recognisable luxury badge in the world. Travel back in time to the sixties and into the remotest villages of Africa and if you asked a barefoot malnourished boy what a Mercedes was, he’d know. BMW isn’t too far behind but Audi is a distant third, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Last year Mercedes moved just shy of 2.3 million cars, BMW just over 2 million and Audi 1.8 million units. This means when you are successful and turn up to a party of your peers in an Audi, you stand a better chance of standing out among the Mercs and beamers. This is partly down to their smart, understated approach to design.

Simple elegance

Audi takes the keep it simple mantra very seriously. Their cars have always been as conventionally designed as a grey office suit; nothing to stand out, the four rings pinned smartly at the front.

If Audi were a man he’d put on glasses that matched his suits every day and everywhere. Audi design flows over the whole model line up to a point to their SUVs look exactly the same as the saloons and hatchbacks. It’s a tactic Mercedes have recently borrowed but already perfected by Audi.

Modern Audis sport clean sharp lines all meeting at the trapezoidal Singleframe grille flanked by impressive LED headlights. The single-frame grille was a conscious effort by Audi designers to improve the front part of the car both symbolically and functionally.This shield like design improves impact protection and serves to distinguish an Audi from well, everything else on the road.

Firing on five!

The first 5-cylinder petrol engine made its debut in the 1976 Audi 100. The 5-cylinder configuration has since seen duty under many a marque’s bonnet but as of 2018 Audi remains the only company to have the five-cylinder engine still in production.

A five-cylinder is almost as compact as an inline four-cylinder but doesn’t shake and rattle as much, being almost as smooth as a straight six: a perfect compromise as it were. While Audi enjoyed strong sales and a reputation for quality, they were considered dreary. Clearly, something had to be done.

Audi stuck a turbocharger, an intercooler and squeezed an angry 200 horses from the five-cylinder and took it racing. They won the WRC driver’s championship in 1983 with the 4-wheel drive Ur Quattro.

They improved on it the same year with a four-valve aluminium block that produced 306 horsepower. Today, the 2.5 TFSI in the Audi TT RS produces 400 hp. An obscene serving of grunt in what is essentially a hair-dryer.

While second hand Audi cars are tempting, I advise caution as the peculiar absence of a dealership in Kenya means dodgy parts and mechanics with no experience of the four-ringed German: an expensive experience should anything go wrong. I’m also aware folks buys cars with their hearts and don’t, therefore, expect Kenyans to stop buying grey import Audis. That’s why I’ll be reviewing one here next week.

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