Audi ignites a spark of hope in a Covid-battered industry
As the Covid-19-compromised global and local motoring industry chugs hard to get back to business, Audi South Africa is intent on throwing a zap sign to the virus and launching a slew of new products in 2020/2021.
It feels surreal that just three months ago, I was swanning around the Cape Winelands, test-driving the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, living la vida loca in a five-star hotel, rubbing shoulders – crunched up close in a business session – with 40 motoring scribes, without a mask or a bottle of hand sanitiser in sight.
A hundred-odd days into lockdown, I increasingly get the feeling that we are experiencing our present Covid-19-shattered lives as an extended car crash, where daily, sometimes hourly, we are skidding, plunging, smashing into walls, veering against barricades, reversing, braking, rolling off a precipice. And the car keeps on spinning, no matter how hard we try to control it.
Talking about crashes, in April, during Level 5, the motoring industry in South Africa tanked by 98.2 %. According to stats released by the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), a paltry 574 vehicles were sold, compared to 36,787 cars in April 2019.
As TS Eliot perhaps prophetically wrote: “April is the cruellest month of all” – worldwide the numbers were uniformly abject. In India there was a 100% decline – not a single car was sold in dreaded April. The UK suffered a 94% decline, Germany, 60%, while the US fared slightly better under the watch of Covid-denialist Donald Trump, where April saw a 45% decline in vehicle sales.
Locally, after dealerships were opened under stringent Level 4 restrictions, there was an upswing in May as 12,932 new vehicles found fresh owners. Volkswagen was the top-selling brand with 2,749 units sold, ahead of Toyota (1,848), Hyundai (1,368), Ford (811), Mercedes-Benz (795) and Isuzu (723).
However, this is a substantial decline of 68%, compared to the 40,428 units sold in May last year. June looked somewhat better, with the entire motor industry able to resume full operation under the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
A total of 31,867 new vehicle units were sold last month, compared to 45,953 units sold in June last year, reflecting a worrying decline of 30.7%.
According to the June Naamsa report, released in early July, “With the tourism sector still under lockdown restrictions, there was virtually no contribution by the car rental industry to support the market as is normally the case this time of the year.”
With this bleak outlook, and the motoring industry having to reassess targets and change the entire way it communicates with media, with “people to people” events and real-life launch test drives not likely to be on the cards for some time to come, a few weeks ago I felt a much-needed spark of hope after attending an online product presentation put together by Audi South Africa.
In an upbeat virtual room, the German car manufacturer presented an ambitious plan, announcing its intended jam-packed product rollout over the next 18 months.
The fourth quarter of 2020 will see the launch of the popular A4 and S4, followed closely by the coupé-like A5 and S5. Then watch out for the new Q3 Sportback and Q3 40 TFSI. For gigantic SUV fans, the Q7 and SQ7 should make it here before year-end, as well as the SQ8, which will be added to Audi’s coupé-styled Q8 range.
If all goes as planned, the first quarter of 2021 will see the launch of the speedy TT RS, the RS Q3 and RS Q3 Sportback, as well as the king of the sporty Audi roost, the R8. And if that’s not enough to fill a parking lot, Audi RS fans can expect the RS4 Avant, the RS6 and RS7, and the RS Q8 – all in the first quarter!
Later next year there are plans in place for the local launch of the new A3, the updated Q5 and the face-lifted Q2. Electric vehicle fans will finally have their plug-in when the much-anticipated e-tron finally makes its way to our shores to give the Jaguar E-PACE some competition at the charging stations.
While presenting its upbeat 18-month plan, Audi took the opportunity to officially launch the new A6, which had been impatiently revving in the showrooms due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
A direct competitor of the BMW 5 Series and Merc E-Class, the A6 is available in a top-of-the-range petrol S6, underpinned by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 engine, with 331kW and 600Nm. It races from 0-100km in just 4.5 seconds and is additionally fitted with a 48V mild hybrid system. There are also two diesel engine variants on offer – the A6 40 TDI S tronic (7-speed dual-clutch) featuring a 2.0-litre TDI engine (140kW and 400Nm) and the more powerful 45 TDI, which features a 3.0 TDI engine (183 kW and 600 Nm), mated to a tiptronic gearbox (8-speed torque converter).
As yet I haven’t been able to get my hands on the A6, but I recently got the opportunity to test-drive the kingpin of Audi’s sedan range, the A7 Sportback 55 TFSI, initially launched in late 2019 (expect its even sportier sibling, the S7 to land before December). This executive coupé, with its sporty, sloped roofline is a beaut, and in my opinion, beats the also pretty gorgeous Merc CLS in the looks department. It exudes class, edgy design, brilliant tech and drive capabilities.
Powered by a 3.0-litre turbo petrol V6 engine, offering 250kW and 500Nm, and a 7-speed automatic (S-tronic) transmission, it all comes together in an unforgettable ride.
Warning. The A7 Sportback won’t appeal to buyers who aren’t in the million rand plus market. And with all the tempting added extras, sport coupé lovers will have to dig deep.
I drove a ferocious black unit, billed as Mythos Black with the added black styling package, with additional styling to the front bumper and grille, and dark gloss trim to the windows, which shot the base price up by an extra R10k.
My test ride, fitted with optional air suspension (add R35k) made for a silky smooth experience even on pretty shoddy roads. With air suspension enabled, height was raised by 25mm, and so I was less nervous of scraping the pricy beaut on some unexpected bump.
Inside, the A7 exudes understated class and luxury with a symphony of quality finishes in suede, leather and brushed aluminium. My ride was fitted with the optional S sport seats which gave the A7 both sporty and comfort appeal. (Be prepared to pay about R29k for the added pleasure.) There’s hi-tech by way of the MMI touchscreen system which is intuitive and easy to operate. Naturally, it’s Android Auto and Apple Carplay compatible and the wireless charging pad, located in the centre console, is a boon.
I never achieved the claimed fuel consumption of 7.1l/100 km – it was much closer to 10, but what I lost in fuel, I definitely gained in cred. In my Mythos Black sex-on-wheels ride, I definitely channelled some good old Jason Statham à la Transporter vibes.
Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSI – R1,250,000
Audi A6 40 TDI S tronic – R919,500
Audi A6 45 TDI quattro tiptronic – R 1,100,000
Audi S6 TFSI quattro tiptronic – R1,401,500 DM