German cars dominate our prestige sector. Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz account for 20 per cent of new cars sold in Britain – around 530,000 last year. It does suggest that post Brexit they’ll be keen to keep selling in Britain.
The German Big Three each have dozens of models and are investing huge amounts in the chase for electrification. Porsche, a partner of Audi in the Volkswagen Group, is doubling investment to €6 billion by 2022 on plug-in hybrids and pure electric cars – without any apparent loss in oomph, just the noise. Audi is nearing the end of a five-year, €24bn spend which will bring an all-electric A6-sized e-tron SUV later this year. It will have a 300-mile range. Also imminent is a Q8 flagship SUV.
Silence is not yet evident at Audi, which held an impressive range review in Northamptonshire this month. There was in excess of 6,000 horse power on show, from the 115ps Q2 at £23,060 to the 610ps R8 V10 plus Spyder at £149,820. On show inside, the heroic S1 rally car, 470bhp and 0-60 in 3.1 seconds from 2110cc.It won everything in the 1980s, including Pikes Peak in successive years.
Audi is doing well. Its 1,878,100 deliveries last year was a record. Nearly 175,000 were sold here, a slight dip on 2016 caused by short supplies of some models. The brand now sees itself as par on quality and other measurements with BMW and Mercedes. All of them have sensible, affordable family cars, SUVs, giddily fast saloon cars and ultra sports cars.
I plucked out a Catalunya red TTRS Coupé from the parking lot: a 400ps/394bhp 2.5-litre five-cylinder petrol turbo quattro 4x4 with seven automatic gears, mine for £52,450 but not soon. It is sold out and you’ll be very lucky to get one before next year.
With a 0-62 time of 3.7 seconds it was going to be a challenge to assess it on public roads. This is rural shireland, where an SUV or pick-up makes more sense than a super low, super coupé.
I never found out. I jilted the pretty thing seconds later for an Ara blue R8 Spyder with a black hood – away with that at the press of a button. Another button fired up one of the most powerful naturally aspirated car engines. Cripes this is loud and it’s just idling. I pressed another button – to make the exhausts louder and entered the public highway – once trundled over by the squires and ladies in their two-horse-power coaches from the grand house where we were lodged, Rushton Hall.
Their ride was probably similar to the R8, swaying, fidgeting and lurching over the undulations. Low sun dazzled over or through the screen, depending on the road contours. This is Audi’s top rocket, the most expensive, most powerful, fastest road car ever from the Four-Ring brand. With the onset of electric power it may keep that title – at least for a piston engine. The 0-62 time is 3.2 seconds and the top speed is 205mph. Obviously not here, but the acceleration through normal speeds is sensational, confident with the quattro all-wheel-drive. Audi quotes 21.1mpg (and 306g) so my 17mpg on a short, fun drive was not bad – though far too rich for most of us.
Next, a very pleasant, quiet, comfortable A3 Sportback (five-door hatchback) with the newish 150ps 1.5 petrol turbo. This Focus-sized car was sweet charm after the brutal R8. It costs from £30,180. It combines a 0-62 time of 8.2 seconds with 58.9mpg/110g. On my route it was 35mpg and a similar time. You can only go so fast.
I tried the new A8L, Audi’s formidable rival to the S-Class and 7 Series from its countrymen. It’s bigger than before – and a huge 61 inches across the cabin for those big chauffeur duties. It had a 286ps twin turbo 3-litre V6 diesel and “mild” electric hybrid motor which starts the car silently and allows it to coast. Officially it is rated 50.4mpg and 146g and has a 5.9 seconds 0-62 time. I managed 30mpg. From £73,095 (or £69,100 with the standard wheelbase).
The definitive commuter-belt, family wagon, the seven-seater Q7 could not be ignored. We tend to scoff at these “mum trucks” but when you are in one they make sense. You can see more of the road ahead, making hedges and walls seem lower. The big tyres squish away the lumps and holes of everyday motoring. This one was the very fat cat SQ7, quattro of course, with a 435ps 4-litre twin turbo V8 diesel delivering 663lb ft of torque. Audi quotes 0-62 in 4.9 seconds, 39mpg and 190g. I got 28mpg and loved it, though the body has got chunky.
Then there was more inaccessible speed in the new RS5 Coupé (450ps from a twin turbo 2.9 petrol V6 and 24mpg on my route), price from £63,575. If you want a two-door hot coupé it will be on your list.
Finally, my “fast” choice of the day, the shy-making RS3 saloon in alarming Viper green, with the same engine as the TTRS Coupé. Quattro traction and a lighter, nimble shape possibly made it the quickest and most enjoyable drive of the day on these roads. The 0-62 time is 4.1 seconds, eco rating 34mpg and 188g. Top speed is governed to 155mph but there is a 174mph option. On my route, legal speeds and 35mpg.