QUESTION: Hello John, I was keen to get a new Audi Q3. This was the time I searched the you tube for your reviews on Q3. I came across video titled Volkswagen Australia defective DSG recall dated July 1, 2013. This video put me into confusion about the Audi brand being in alliance with Volkswagen. What is your opinion on Audi as a brand and Q3 as a model? (I am thinking of buying the Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI 125kW quattro). Thanks, Chandru.
Hi Chandru, thanks for your enquiry. It's a serious problem, no doubt about it. The DSG is a brilliant concept which is not completely there yet. There are thousands of disgruntled owners around the world. Not every one is defective, but those that fail are profoundly flawed. In this respect, owning one is a bit like smoking - it might not give you cancer, but are you prepared to take the risk? Especially when there are lower risk alternatives out there.
There is a better value alternative to an Audi Q3 - much better. Watch my video on that here >>
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As for Audi being in alliance with Volkswagen: Volkswagen owns Audi (and Lamborghini, Porsche, Skoda...). In practise, Volkswagen tries as hard as possible to put the same components in each brand, because this defrays the development cost. This does not mean the Q3, Tiguan and Yeti (above) are the same vehicles with different bodies. It does mean that there are many more points in common than the brands would like you to know about. Actually, Skoda doesn't mind you thinking it has Volkswagen and Audi in its DNA, and Volkswagen doesn't mind you thinking it has Audi in its DNA, but Audi HATES you thinking it has Volkswagen and Skoda in its DNA...
Keeping R&D costs down is very important, especially for the expensive-to-design bits: Why design a transmission for an Audi, another for a Volkswagen and another for a Skoda, when you can put the ame one in all three at a vastly reduced R&D cost? You've got three mid-size SUVs - you start by figuring out the maximum power and torque production, and design one transmission that suits all three, and which can be individually programmed to give you the shift characteristics you want for each one, with different software values. They don't want you to focus on this underlying parts commonality issue in the Audi showroom, obviously, because they don't want you to think the car you're buying is half a Volkswagen Tiguan and one third a Skoda Yeti...
So: The inherent design problems in Audi are exactly the same as the inherent design problems in Volkswagen - you're just paying more for them. A lot more.
One area where I believe Audi really is better is in customer service. Anecdotally, you don't hear all that much negative comment about Audi customer service. They are much less likely to give you the brush when you have a problem. (They have to be better; Audi is a premium brand.) Volkswagen dealers are notorious for their 'couldn't care less' attitude to customers with legitimate complaints, by comparison. Search Google for the millions of disgruntled Volkswagen customers - this is mostly because the problems are handled poorly, globally.
Summary & Alternatives
I am extremely skeptical about buying these vehicles on the basis of value. There's no evidence that they are as good as they purport to be. They don't represent good objective value. They are, literally, cheap. You buy the badge because of its premium implications and associations, but in practice they have ripped out much of the good gear to get it down to that price point. Don't believe me? Click here >>
The obvious alternative is the BMW X1. Interestingly, BMW was six places ahead of Audi in the 2014 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study in the USA. This in part is, I'm sure, partly the result of the Volkswagen group DSG fiasco. (Volkswagen was five places further back.)
The X1 is a very nice SUV, but like the Audi it's hard to justify it on a value basis. (See below.) The Audi is about $49,500 plus on-road costs. It's roughly equivalent to a BMW X1 sDrive20i E84 LCI. (Nice eight-speed auto on the BMW...) It's more fuel efficient than the Audi Q3, has 10kW more peak power and is half a second faster to 100km/h.
Audi, in general, is singularly excellent at fit and finish; BMWs are, in general, better to drive.
It's almost impossible to recommend buying an Audi or a BMW for less than about $80,000 - to me they just seem like a comprehensive rip-off. Under that price, they're just like the Wonder-bra of prestige cars. (Take off the badge and you wonder where all the prestige really is.)
For comparison, let's compare a fully loaded Mazda CX-5. That would be the CX-5 Akera. At $49,420 it's almost exactly the same price as the 125kW Audi Q3. For that price you get the diesel with 4kW more and a staggering 420Nm of torque, versus 280Nm for the Audi - so a significantly better drive. Also, it's built in Japan (versus Spain for the Audi).
Mazda CX-5 Akera
The Mazda CX-5 Akera also gives you standard 19-inch alloys (a $3500 option on the Audi Q3 - 17-inch alloys are standard). The CX-5 delivers bi-xenon headlamps and daytime running lamps standard (Audi Q3: a $1700 option). The CX-5 has a standard electric sunroof (Audi Q3: $2500 option). The Mazda CX-5 has a standard proximity key (Audi Q3: $700). The Mazda CX-5's metallic red is $200 extra, while all metallic finishes on the Audi Q3 are an additional $1150. Coloured bumpers on the Audi Q3 are a $600 option (standard on the CX-5). Heated seats on the Audi Q3 are $600 (standard on the Mazda CX-5). Audi Q3: eight speaker audio is standard (Mazda CX-5: nine). Mazda CX-5 has a reversing camera standard (Audi Q3 has a front/rear/side camera option for $1500). The Mazda CX-5 Akera has thousands more dollars worth of standard equipment, compared with the Audi.
Using only the features listed above, the Q3 would be $11,500 more than the CX-5 Akera if you were to spec it up to a point of rough equivalence. If you were to do a robust analysis of every feature it would be more like $15,000. If you were to add $5500 for the diesel Q3 then it's more like $20k, apples-for-apples. You can verify this easily.
This is not an isolated example. Don't believe me? See how a Subaru murders a Mercedes-Benz in a similar way >>
In other words, you're valuing the four rings up the pointy end at $15,000 if you buy that Audi - because that's the value of the features you have to go without to purchase the Audi Q3 at the same price point. Is that good value? Only if you're the world's biggest brand snob. With the Mazda you also get independently verified better build quality (14 per cent better, according to JD Power) and a staggering amount of additional torque.
The premium German brands are not objectively good value unless you spend at least $80,000-$100,000.
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This is a warning to all premium car buyers - especially cheap premium car buyers: If you go to an Audi, Mercedes-Benz or BMW dealer expecting to drive away in a $50,000-$60,000 car, the dealer's over-arching objective will be to sell you up on the $15,000 to $20,000 in optional extras he has on offer for these cars (the ones that spec them up to approximately what you get standard on a $50,000 Japanese car). There is more profit margin on those add-ons than there is in the car. You need to be aware of the inherent rip-off nature of this interaction. They will keep selling you more - more than you want; more than you need. Certainly more than you can afford.
And they will laugh as you drive away, because you still only bought the cheap one.