Equipment matters. If you can get more of it as a standard offering, without added cost, you have a good deal in the purchase of a new automobile. But if you have to pay for each and every piece, either as an equipment “package” or as an individual item, you have an expensive car.
In that light, German manufacturers Audi and BMW make expensive cars — BMW more so than Audi. Consider, for example, the subject of this week’s column, the 2014 Audi Allroad Quattro Premium Plus wagon.
In the language of superlatives, “premium” is supposed to signal top of class, which is the case for the Allroad Quattro. It is probably the best small wagon available in terms of overall quality and performance. It certainly has one of the best automobile interiors available at any price. And, although a tad pricey, it seems a good deal at a base price of $40,700.
But “premium,” in Audi’s marketing parlance, doesn’t give you everything you might want, or think you should receive in a car costing nearly $41,000, although it does offer a lot. There’s an improved 2-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine (220 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, a substantial step up over previous models); a panoramic glass roof with power sunshade; leather seating surfaces; and heated, power-adjustable exterior mirrors.
But if you want more — say, heated front seats to take some of the chill out of brutal winter mornings, or an onboard navigation system with rearview camera — you’ll have to buy Audi’s Premium Plus and MMI (Multi-Media Interface) with Navigation packages. Now, after spending another $7,150, enough to almost push the Allroad Quattro out of the entry-level luxury segment (roughly $40,000 to $50,000 base), you have the Allroad Quattro you thought you were getting for $40,700. Oh, and don’t forget to add $895 to cover shipment from manufacturer to dealer.
Now you have an “entry-level luxury” car costing $48,745.
Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? Or are we so smitten with the notion of “prestige” that we are willing to pay exorbitant sums to get it? Speaking of which, if prestige is really what you want, Audi has you covered on that angle, too. The Prestige edition of the Allroad Quattro wagon starts at $49,200 — same engine, same wonderful all-wheel-drive system, basically the same interior, but more stuff, including a premium Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers and 505 watts of power.
I am suggesting here that automobile manufacturers, Audi and BMW in particular, might want to rethink their marketing practices when it comes to options. The value of “prestige” has been eroded by tangible technological advancement. Those advances have allowed more vehicle manufacturers, including those who were never a part of the prestige circle, to bundle more desirable equipment into their cars as standard equipment at a relatively low cost. For example, I can get all of the extras offered in the 2014 Allroad Quattro/Premium Plus in a 2015 Hyundai Genesis sedan for about $40,000. That’s a $7,000 difference in my favor in a car that has a high federal safety rating and runs just as well as the Allroad Quattro — enough of a cost difference to erase any hurt feelings I might have over lost prestige.
None of this is to put down Audi, BMW or any of the excellent vehicles they make. It is to suggest that they embrace a new reality. Technological progress, and the ability to use the benefits of that progress to offer more for less, is rendering obsolete the practice of offering consumers a base “prestigious” vehicle at a high entry price that becomes truly desirable only after it is freighted with expensive optional equipment that rivals are selling as standard.