On My Horsey

Everybody needs a hobby. 

Horses for courses. Pre-facelift B9-series A4. (c) Motortrend

To the casual viewer, it’s probably fair to say that the DTW offices are a rather sparse affair, lacking as they do much in the way of space, comfort or ambience – especially since our Editor-At-Large accidentally set the place alight a few months back. However, there is one item which not only survived the conflagration, but remains hard-won and much fought over. The Driven to Write hobby horse.

Earlier in the week, one of our readers appeared to take exception to our coverage of the newly refreshed Audi A4. I assume the individual in question perceived an element of prejudice on our part, a certain doing-down of the Teutonic big-three, or perhaps a labouring of a point previously made. But in the absence of clarification, one cannot be certain.

I’m perhaps not the best-placed individual to ascertain whether today’s offering sees me climbing astride or dismounting the DTW hobby horse, that is for others to judge. What I can say with more clarity however is what today’s article relates to – the outgoing B9-series Audi A4, first introduced back in 2015. I was interested to re-establish how DTW first received this car, and delving into the archive produced this, from July of that year.

The eternally youthful R. Herriott reported upon the freshly-minted midliner from the shores of the Danube, his report focusing upon the similarities between it and its B8 predecessor. “I really don’t think the underlying architecture has changed and some panels seem identical. If they are not, it’s very a close similarity”, he posited at the time.

If within the article as a whole, one might detect a slight damning with faint praise, the overall tone of the piece was broadly favourable, the author stating; “As far as I can see, this car is still in the standard Audi line of modest, incremental changes from model to model. Some will write it off as being boring but unlike the new BMW 7 it is not change for change’s sake”.

Of course, while acknowledging the fact that Mr. Herriott spoke in a positive fashion regarding the Audi, he did by the same token manage to take a swipe at BMW, suggesting said hobby-horse might have been in his possession. (It was a good three years ago, so none of us can be certain at this point).

Nevertheless, it’s beyond debate that the B9-series A4 was a reskin of its predecessor, with the modest changes to its length (21mm allegedly) most likely being accounted for forward of the front wheels. To be frank, the 2015 B9 body alterations, while perhaps more visually differentiated from its immediate predecessor than that of the just-announced B9 facelift, are in reality just as comprehensive.

The outgoing A4 was a model line which sold well in the neck of woods where your correspondent is currently holed up. Always a visually restrained motor car, it does appear in retrospect that its restraint was a subject for criticism. To my eyes however, it was not its rectitude which sat ill, it was a matter of detailing.

For some time, I could not determine why it was that I found the B9-series a vaguely unsatisfying thing to behold, especially in light of its more visually assured predecessor. But I think I have established where my dissatisfaction lies. On the previous B8 (silver car below), the bodyside swage was a sharply defined reverse-fold, in Audi-speak, a ‘tornado line’. On the lower flanks, a wedge-shaped light-catching crease harmonised with this to lend the car an element of visual dynamism.

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The B9 (yellow car) however substituted this lower crease for a sizeable wedge-shaped indent, while the upper ‘tornado line’ became a deep, horizontal groove. Neither feature added much of note – merely change for the sake of change. The result being that the B9, while remaining a broadly handsome, well proportioned shape, appeared merely a less confident variation of its predecessor’s more cohesive theme, so it’s not altogether surprising that it since became written-off as dull.

Moving our attention to the recent B9 facelift, we observe that the B8’s lower wedge-shaped crease has made a return, but while the unsatisfying waistline groove has been excised, it has been replaced by an arrangement where the wheelarch blisters form two futile, unresolved body creases, while a half-hearted swage bisects the door handles before it too fades out inconsequentially.

It does illustrate however, that inconsistent body graphics seem to have become something of a ‘German premium’ leitmotif nowadays, so there is somewhat ironically, a quantum of consistency to its inconsistency. And while these changes do address the less visually successful areas of the pre-facelift car, it remains to these eyes a series of alterations almost entirely without merit.

(c) CNET

But if there is a point to today’s article it has been to ascertain whether we have in this case been consistent in our reporting. On the basis of the above, I might go so far as to suggest that we have. On the other hand, being consistently critical of the German prestige trio does lend itself to allegations of bias, but on the (now rare) occasions that Audi, BMW or Mercedes produce good work, we are always happy to acknowledge it.

However in future it might prove germane, for the sake of clarity, to preface any report of a new German prestige model, making clear that in four-to-six years time, we’ll be contractually obliged to lament the fact that it’s being superseded by something even less visually accomplished, in spite of whatever horrid things we’ve said about it at launch. Yes folks, it’s all just another part of the invaluable DTW service, free at the point of entry.

That ought to be sufficient to clear up any ambiguity. Now, what did I do with that horse?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

9 thoughts on “On My Horsey”

  1. As a not at all happy and certainly even less proud owner of one of the latest B8s I can confirm that the B9 was different under the skin from the A post forward.
    The most visible part is the B9’s full clamshell bonnet which eliminated the B8’s complicated front wing mountings to create a soft edge for pedestrian contact.
    In the interest of weight saving and to improve pedestrian protection B8’s MLB became MLB II for B9. MLB (I) had vestigial inner wheelarches with metal between suspension turrets and A post (but no metal in front of the suspension mount. There’s a gaping hole in the inner front structure and you can directly poke the soft rubber inner wing). MLB II has no more metal here with only a metal spar connecting the top suspension mount to the lower chassis rail. Under bonnet quality impression has been pared back even more for the B9 with exposed componentes just about everywhere.
    Compared to the vault like build quality of its B6 predecessor the B8 was a big disappointment quality-wise because it was cheapened everywhere to compensate for the complex and expensive transmission. The B9 got somewhat better in this respect and it will be interesting to see what the facelift is like.
    And yes, the B8/B9 is a barge. It is far too wide with far too large external mirrors (driving it through Italian towns is definitely no fun) and visibility is so bad that without beepers you can’t use many parking opportunities.
    Its boot size also is ridiculous in relation to its external dimensions and you can’t transport large objects because the rear screen is robbing load space. The B6 was far better here and we regularly use my wife’s Golf MkIV if we need serious transportation capabilities.

  2. Hi Dave. An interesting perspective on the A4 from an owner, which reveals useability and quality issues that are rarely picked up in brief road tests. Those comments about the finish of the underbonnet area are are telling. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    I’ve never had the opportunity to compare vehicles from either end of the VW Group volume brand spectrum back to back, I can’t help wondering if Audi’s reputation for peerless quality is now just that, reputation rather than reality. My brother-in-law has a Skoda Kodiaq, which replaced a Superb estate, both bought on my recommendation. Both were/are eminently practical, comfortable and reliable. I’ve examined both closely and it’s hard to imagine any substantive area where they trail Audi by a significant margin. The build quality is impressive and the interior trim, while not as “premium” as Audi’s, is perfectly presentable. I sold the idea of a Skoda to him by describing the Superb as “all the car you’ll ever need, even if it’s not all the car you’d ever want”.

    Audi’s apparent decline in integral (as opposed to overlaid) quality is lamentable, but entirely to be expected. It is an opportunistic, if cynical move for a company that needs to rebuild its financial strength in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.

    1. This picture shows a B8 engine bay with anti lock control unit exposed to the elements (the B6 had it in the dry compartment below the windscreen under a lid) and the black area to the right of the unit (to the left when seen in directtion of driving) is the rubber from the wheelarch liner.

      One can also see how far back the bonnet latch is in the name of pedestrian friendliness and the absence of any structural parts in front of the rear edge of the headlights.

      Here you see a B9 including incredibly crude diagonal brackets from bulkhead to top suspension mounts and the engine ECU sitting at fresh air.

    1. Predictions are exceptionally difficult, particularly when they’re dealing with the future.

      I agree with that guy in that the German three are killing their own business model, albeit for completely different reasons. Banglification, model proliferation and loss of their roots through excessive export orientation make their products increasingly vulgar and in the end customers won’t be willing to pay through their nose for products that aren’t German premium anymore.

    2. In the name of fairness, what does the alternative look like? Was it to carry on as per 1988 with prices determined by engineering and engineering as the lead parameter? I am not saying this was impossible. I have not heard the case for the alternatives.

  3. Richard, you’re right that standing still is not an option but, in design terms, isn’t that pretty much what German premium trio have been doing for some time? Looking at Eóin’s A4 pictures above, one is struck by just how similar they are. The differences are all in the detailing, and its a moot point as to which is more or less attractive. Judging by Dave’s post above, the engineering progress is also questionable.

    The proliferation of models to fill niches within niches is a costly distraction from the real issue, one of stagnation. For example, what possible business case can there be for having the A-Class saloon and CLA as separate models?

    Why aren’t the E-class and CLS more strongly differentiated, with the E-Class adopting a more formal style articulated by the design study we discussed recently?

    SUV Coupés? The disadvantages of an SUV (high centre of gravity, compromised handling) combined with the disadvantages of a coupé (compromised interior space). Is this really what the market wants?

    Stagnant car marques can be reinvented with imagination and expertise. There’s a real irony about BMW’s highly successful stewardship of Rolls-Royce and Mini, given the company’s difficulties with its eponymous brand.

  4. Was anyone harmed?
    Did the horse survive the fire?
    Did you have an exit plan?
    We’re the correct extinguishers installed?
    Did I go on a fire safety course yesterday?

    Their production figures maybe down but folk still seem to be buying them. A quick walk to the shops at lunchtime to escape the new gel extinguisher salesman showed just about every other car being German and new. They make ‘em, we buy ‘em, whatever shape, style or cost.

    1. True, yet what often happens (not just in the car market) is that by the time sales figures reflect a change in market sentiment, it’s too late to change course. It will be interesting to see whether the self-harm that many premium marques are enacting, through market saturation and design that undermines brand values, will have an effect over the next few years.

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