Audi’s compact mainstay, the A4, has long been an also-ran in the American luxury market – to the surprise of many Audi aficionados who know that the line gives strong competition to the likes of the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in much of the rest of the world.
Can Audi finally level the playing field here in the U.S., the world’s largest luxury car market? It’s certainly hoping to as it rolls out a new 2013 update of the A4, along with the more sporty S4 sedan.
The Audi A4 and S4 are making a splash at Cobo Center today – but they’ve had to share the spotlight with what the German maker is calling a “design study.” In fact, the preview of the Q3 Vail crossover might have come as a complete surprise to the assembled Detroit Auto Show media had Audi’s CEO Rupert Stadler not inadvertently dropped a mention of the new CUV during a recent interview, describing it as the “next pillar of the market we have to conquer in the United States.”
Audi was a relative latecomer to the luxury crossover/SUV market with the original Q7. It has since become a convert, adding the smaller Q5 and now, despite some initial hesitation, confirming that it will also bring a production version of the Q3 Vail concept to the U.S.
It will reach market in late 2013, Stalder declared during a news conference Monday afternoon, though another official later said that will likely be closer to early 2014 for the States.
With it, Audi clearly wants to tackle the likes of the BMW X3 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK which are themselves targeting the compact crossover market, considered one of the fastest-growing niches worldwide.
Powertrain and other details likely won’t be detailed until closer to that launch, though Stadler told his audience that Audi is even more committed than ever to bringing high-mileage diesels to the U.S., something that has already played well with buyers of the bigger Q-series models.
As for the new A4, it won’t surprise long-time fans. It’s more a matter of sprucing up the existing model than starting all over on the popular compact sedan. The 2013 Audi A4 gets skinnier, sleeker headlamps with a revised take on what has become an Audi trademark LED accent lights. The grille now adopts a more hexagonal appearance, with the lower air inlets taking a parallelogram-like shape.
The air intakes on the S4 are the big change for the performance model – which otherwise follows the basic design cues of the mainstream sedan.
Rear changes are equally modest, with slight tweaks to the lamps and fascia. As to the interior – the place where Audi has long established a reputation for its benchmark design – perhaps it’s because the A4 cabin already enjoys a good reputation but Audi hasn’t done much there beyond improving functionality – streamlining the controls on its Multimedia Interface, or MMI, which now displays Google Street View on its navigation system.
On the powertrain side, Audi will maintain the current array of engines, including the 211 horsepower turbo-four in the A4, and the supercharged 3.0-liter powerplant, which churns out 333 ponies in the S4; that’s for the U.S., anyway, with Europeans soon to get a new turbo-four expected to get as much as 42 mpg.
Audi is betting it can keep its momentum going with offerings like the all-new A4 models, even before the Q3 comes to market. The maker set a record last year, selling 117,500 vehicles in the U.S., and if one wanted to write the story of the German brand in a single word, suggested Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America, “it’s momentum.”