We’re conditioned from birth to understand that some words and phrases are more attractive than others. ‘More’ is a prime example. Yes, thanks, I will have some more ice cream. I certainly would like more time to enjoy this luxurious beach-front hotel. Of course, you don’t really want more karate kicks to the face, but ‘more’ is generally a positive term, especially when it comes to marketing.
When you’re trying to sell someone something, the last thing you want to tell them is that they’re getting less than they’d get if they went out and bought the previous model. But that’s exactly what Audi has realised is happening across most of its models. All over the shop 3.0-litre V6s are getting replaced with highly turbocharged 2.0-litre lumps, across both fuels and throughout Europe. I know I’m not alone in wanting a typical 3.0-litre engine far more than I want the average 2.0-litre. More cubic capacity is exciting. More fuel economy… isn’t.
Some of the V6s have already gone, and it’s probably customer feedback that has prompted Audi to quietly admit that customers don’t want less. They want more. And whichever way you slice it, two litres are less than three. Four cylinders are less than six. Even the noise, where it matters, is less: less exciting, less emotive, less involving. All of this awkward less must be causing chronic headaches at Audi’s marketing house, and their best answer so far seems to have been to ignore it and hope nobody questions it.
Well, people have questioned it, and Audi has changed tack. You might have read our report earlier in the week on Audi’s new naming structure that bypasses any mention of the engine size, definitively taking it out of the badges. Instead, its cars will get a two-digit number that indicates a rough power output range. Starting at the least powerful 25 and rising in intervals of five, the higher the number, the more power the car has.
This conveniently sidesteps the fact that engines are getting smaller, and consumers are getting less. You could argue that it simplifies things for the engine-ignorant, making it easier to forget about anything other than buying whatever the second-least powerful one is. But that’s not my stance. I find the whole idea massively frustrating, because it deliberately takes attention and prestige away from the engine.
A car’s engine is its heart and soul. A great engine can turn a mediocre car into a legend you’d sell a kidney for. Engines are what true petrolheads live for, whether it’s the peerlessly charismatic flat-fours of the long line of Subaru Imprezas and WRX STIs, the screaming six-pots of any number of German and Japanese sports cars from yesteryear, or the glorious V8s, V10s and V12s of the really desirable stuff you can find all over the classifieds. Engines matter, damn it, and more is still better than less. More capacity. More revs. More character.
Audi’s decision to rename its engine derivatives is a blatant attempt to disguise the fact that even the company itself knows that downsizing is about as desirable as falling face-first into a bag of rotten eggs. Nobody actually wants it; not customers, not the manufacturers – only European politicians who go everywhere in expenses-paid taxis and green lobby groups who don’t drive cars at all.
This is potentially the end of any efforts to make engines in common-or-garden Audis anything other than white goods. Capacities will be limited to whatever is most efficient, can be designed lightest and can be turbocharged up to respectable outputs.
The R8, S and RS-badged cars will keep their names because there’s value and heritage in those sub-brands, but the rest of the range could be based on the same homogeneous 2.0-litre engine for all you’ll be able to judge from the boot badge. There’ll be zero character differentiating one car from the next. That’s not a future I want, and I don’t even think it’s a future Audi wants. Nonetheless, the company has embraced it. I’m not angry, Audi. I’m just disappointed.