Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Audi Build Quality: The TRUTH

Right, lets get this straight, firstly, there are two, er lets say, areas, of build quality. One, the build quality of the interior and especially the dashboard that lazy car journos call 'build quality' which also includes then noise of the door closing. This type, or area is know in R&D dept of car companies as 'Perceived Build Quality'. Two, true build quality, the one that matters to people who spend what is still a hefty chunk of cash on a car, is the unseen craftsmanship in building a car. The things that only when you own the vehicle, do you notice, like rust traps, door seals, the fogging up of light-clusters, things like this. Things only with time, begin to show.

It is, I should say, was, normal to associate one with two, perceived with true. But as with most things in modern life, life manipulated by Ad Agencies, the perceived isn't best buddies with the true. In fact, thinking about it logically, the actual use of the word perceived, seems to suggest some type of deception. It can leave you questioning the honestly of your expensive purchase.

Now, lets put Audi's so called legendary build quality to the test. And why not VW too.
Right, since the Audi renaissance of the mid-nineties, which has continued so far without falter, Style and Quality have been the two main buzzwords that have helped push Audi into the position it is in now.
Style is a matter of taste, a subjective thing that is difficult to quantify. J Mays did a fantastic job of making it into a statement with the (ur)TT. But even when launched, not everyone was convinced by it's front end (an issue which with time has disappeared, but now affects the 'one grilled' Audi models, post urTT). But Audi still basks in the glow from this one model.
Now, Quality, build quality. The urTT also carried this Piech management buzzword into production. The interior won more awards than its landmark exterior. It is of note that Ferdinand Piech, head of the VW group (owner of Audi), pushed quality through all the groups' ranges, this is an era of Golf mkiv, Passat mkiii, Toureg, Phaeton and related Bentley GT. Moving up market, charging more thus more profit margin, was the way forward for him. They make a better product, we get a better car, so we all win surely? This is where we add the perceived bit in.

Right, perceived. Even when only a year or so old, how many Golf mkiv's did you see at night with only one tail-light? Now, how many do you see with faded paintwork or, worse, pealing lacker on the bonnets? How any Passats do you see with a goldfish bowl for a headlight? I could but won't go on, however there are many more. Now imagine you own one of these Piech VWs or Audis, the interior is/was a deal maker when you parted with your money. Has time spared it from the worst of many thousand miles worth of use? When I was looking for either an Audi A2 or a Golf mkiv last November, interior signs of use was the reason I walked away from many cars. I'm used to buying used cars, I'm used to seeing wear and tear. Apart from one car, all vehicle purchases have been of cars four or more years old. But worn interiors has been a real sticking point with Audis and VWs, much more than Alfas or Fords of the same age, the same year. At first I was shocked, but after trawling through the AutoTrader and everywhere else, I got used to the disappointing truth. The true quality of Audis and VWs.

One of the areas where Piech interiors scarred the Ford bosses, was the soft touch nature of the dash as a whole. The way that everything you touched, buttons, roller switches, even airvents, had a feel of, well, softness, thus the feeling of quality. This was achieved with a fine layer of matt black rubber on every surfaced you pressed, pushed or rolled. Ford didn't bother with this; if it felt like plastic, it's because it was. But over tens of thousands of miles, these areas are going to used thousands of times, but sometimes, sweaty, grubby fingers. A fine layer, is a fine layer, fine, gets worn away.Military tanks aren't made with fine layers. Ok I made that point, but the consequences. White buttons in an otherwise black interior. You also have to consult the handbook to see what function the button performs. As men, some don't, that's then why third hand Golfs don't have a working rear-demister. In my A2, it's the ESP/traction control button and it's starting on the -temp switch on the climate unit. As a bit of a control (pun?) freak, I look at that -temp with nervous OCD. I've banned anyone from touching it. I don't care if the climate is set at 22'c on a summer's day, I'm not risking it. As for the ESP; black leccy tape, I already know what it does, plus why press it anyway? Maybe our Kolo's not as well looked after as we thought?

This subject is bigger than I first thought!

Will continue later.

Tomorrow maybe.

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