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3-year ownership review of my used Audi A4: Replaced my 2013 BMW 328i

The A4 is a no-nonsense car that can party when you want it to or can just be a reliable everyday workhorse.

BHPian rockporiom recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything online let alone an ownership review on TBHP but considering my experience with my A4 I believe this post is warranted as we as consumers/customers tend to be quick to point out negatives but seldom appreciate positives. So here goes!

Prologue

The year is 2017, at this point, I had been in Canada for about 4 years and had just graduated and landed a stable decent-paying job. In retrospect, would probably now call it the dumbest financial decision of my life but I decided it was time to buy my first luxury car. I currently owned a 2016 Honda Civic (yes, you read that right a 1-year-old car that I had just bought new) that I was getting bored of, the car had already been in one collision after which it had a transmission issue which even after multiple visits Honda couldn’t fix and I was getting annoyed by the rubber band characteristics of the CVT, additionally, the winter weather made me want to get an AWD equipped car and since SUV’s never connected with me, it had to be a sedan. So I end up in a BMW dealership and buy a 2013 BMW 328i xDrive and traded in the Civic.

2 years later

The year is 2019, became a bit smarter (at least financially that is), bought my first house and started looking at my finances with greater detail. Remember the comment about the BMW being a stupid decision? Well here is why the car had started showing its age almost as soon as I bought it. In my excitement to get my first luxury car, I had ended up being careless and overlooked quite a few things that would later pinch my wallet in addition, the dealership let’s just say was less than stellar with certain disclosures. After a few months of buying the car I started maintaining it myself and at this point saw that it had been in a collision (signs of overspray in multiple spots) which was not disclosed at the time of purchase. I tried the legal route but didn’t get very far and it was just too much of a hassle, additionally considering how much I had driven the car and the time lapse between purchase and discovery any recourse would have been a challenge. I accepted this as a life lesson and moved on, I took stock of the current situation and this is what I found:

Pros:

  • I absolutely loved the car, it was a blast to drive
  • Perfect weight balance means awesome cornering capabilities
  • Loved the way it looked, the longitudinally mounted engine meant a longer hood which lead to an awesome looking car.
  • BMW events for owners are just awesome and done at regular intervals
  • Simple maintenance (oil and filter changes) items are not as expensive as I did a lot of DIY
  • Awesome acceleration, I kid you not this thing was wheel spinning in 2nd gear
  • Built like a tank and stood its ground at 70-80 mph (120-130 kph) without a problem
  • RWD bias
  • Ease of modding and unlocking features with Carly
  • I knew the car inside out since I maintained it myself so I knew what was coming next

Cons:

  • Lack of dealership (one in my city and the next one is 300 km away) that I can trust for parts or major maintenance items
  • Insane brake wear, now this could be due to poor maintenance by the previous owner or bad calipers or the metallic pads that BMW used but I was replacing entire brake sets (pads and rotors) at 20k km intervals.
  • High mileage, I had driven the car 80k km in 2 years and now it stood at 145k km
  • Unreliable water pump so accounting for this as a preventative maintenance item since it’s the original one from the factory
  • N20 engines are notorious for timing chain issues, changing the guides may be required at this mileage to avoid the engine from imploding in the near future
  • The seats were the worst and most uncomfortable ones I have ever experienced. In my excitement to buy the car, I had completely missed that it had no lumbar support adjustment and the foam was so hard it felt like sitting on a wooden bench. I ended up buying aftermarket lumbar support and base seat attachments to make the car usable.
  • I owed about $20k on the car against a value of about $12K (the depreciation curve was insane!)
  • Low profile tires with a sporty suspension setup meant a bone-jarring ride quality on bad roads
  • The stock low profile run-flats developed side bulges and were replaced in just 10k km of ownership.

What I have spent on so far other than fuel?

  • 3 sets of rotors and pads ( 1 additional set was changed by the dealership at their cost as they were warped when I got the car)
  • 12 oil changes
  • 1 set of spark plugs
  • 1 set of regular Michelin pilot sport A/S 3+ (the run-flats were absolute garbage)
  • 1 spare wheel and tire (since I got rid of the run-flats)
  • 1 serpentine belt
  • 1 engine bay clean up and degrease (needed cause of an oil leak)
  • 2 Tie rod ends
  • 12 air and cabin filters

What am I looking to spend in the immediate future?

  • 1 water pump and thermostat
  • Walnut blasting
  • New set of brakes and pads

So far there still wasn’t a case to replace the car considering even with labour all these could be completed within $4,000 over a period of time but then 2 weeks later I started feeling driveline vibrations while accelerating and decelerating. I sent the car to my FNG and at this point was well versed with the car and asked him to check the CV joint based on what I felt. Then I get the dreaded call that made an immediate case for getting rid of the car, the FNG had inspected and found that the CV boot indeed was torn but being a BMW the CV boot is not available by itself and neither is a rebuild kit offered by them. BMW only sold the axle as a whole which cost a whopping (drumroll please) $3800 plus tax. I drank a cold glass of water and said “so as we both know that’s not going to happen so what’s plan B?” He said he could get an aftermarket rebuild kit but said I would eventually need to replace the axle at some point. So now considering the car is worth somewhere around $12,000 and with the additional upcoming repairs, there was no sense in keeping it. So now we fast forward to September 2019.

The Hunt Begins

Considering this was an unplanned event I didn’t really have much time to research any cars nor was I really interested in a specific car. The question also was whether to buy or lease and if it is buying should I buy used or new? The entire BMW saga had really hurt my confidence in buying a used car but now being more financially sound and understanding that it was my carelessness that caused half of the problems, the depreciation of a new car didn’t really stand up against the potential problems of buying a bad used car. So the decision was made to either buy used with more due diligence or lease new (max term 4 years) with the non-negotiable condition of not rolling in any negative equity (i.e. moving old car debt into the new car) by paying $8k down, this meant I would need to get at least 12K as a trade for this to work. These were the cars considered:

BMW 330i

The 330i had just been refreshed for the 2019 model year and it looked stunning, the car had grown in size as well as its build quality and feature list. The newer B48 engines were a lot more reliable and gone were the unreliable electric water pumps with BMW switching back to a pulley based system. I absolutely adored the car and honestly was sold on it, I was even willing to forget the previous shady experience and would have made the 300 km drive to another dealership if I needed service. I had walked into the dealership (the one where I bought my previous BMW) and was assigned a trainee who barely knew what she was doing, finally after an hour my original SA who initially had sold me my BMW started working out a deal. The numbers for a 4-year lease weren’t where I wanted them to be so I gave him a couple of days to hammer out a deal. All that was needed was for the dealership to be willing to sell a car to me but alas it wasn’t meant to be. I really needed a car and I wasn’t getting any follow up from them, I was asked to call the trainee as my SA had now become a sales manager and the trainee would just not answer her phone no matter how many times I called. I tried calling the manager but to no avail. You simply just cannot buy a car no matter how much you love it if the business just isn’t interested in selling it to you. The manager texted me a week later to say “don’t finalize on any other car I have worked out a sweet deal” but it was too late by then.

Mercedes C300

My uncle currently owned a GLC 300 and I decided to give the three-pointed star a chance, his experience wasn’t the best with their service (owned by the same group that owns BMW) but again if the car made sense I would again be willing to make the trip for any big warranty jobs to another city. The car was good but not as good as the BMW, the plastics were soft touch but creaky in a lot of places. The deal-breaker here was:

  1. They were not able to give me a decent trade value, they offered 8k when I knew my car was worth at least 12K.
  2. The Mercedes just missed something. It was the way it got everything done when you demanded a response from the gas pedal, I guess I was wanting a more sporty response which the C300 just wasn’t made for. The C300 would have been perfect if I was about 10 years older but for now, it was missing that little extra oomph. I would have even adjusted with this if it weren’t for the next point.
  3. I gave them a couple of days to see if they can give me a decent offer and the SA accidentally sent me a text meant for someone else ( I believe a wholesaler) borderline making fun of my demand of wanting to get 12k for my trade.
    That was the last nail in the coffin, didn’t entertain any more calls from then and started looking elsewhere.

Honda Accord sport

The Honda Accord had also just received a complete redesign. The car was absolutely beautiful and feature-loaded and best of all “it had a stick shift!” the car was an absolute dream with a detuned civic type R 2.0 engine and a 6-speed stick shift transmission. It made the same amount of power as the Germans but was reliable and had a lot lower ownership cost. I almost signed the deal here but again there were a few things that stopped this from happening:

  1. Trade value: The dealership here offered 8.5k and wasn’t willing to budge. Their argument was the car would be sent to an auction considering no one comes to a Honda dealership to buy a BMW.
  2. Inability to agree on a price: We were off by a bit and honestly I may have compromised and agreed if not for the next point:
  3. Build quality: Don’t get me wrong here, Honda’s can be amazingly reliable but after owning a BMW for 2 years I was struggling to accept the lighter build of Japanese cars. The car just didn’t have that high-speed stability or rock-solid built like a tank feel to it. Considering I did a lot of highway driving I just couldn’t accept that the Honda would provide the same crash safety as a German. In hindsight, if this decision was to be made in 2020 during COVID I may have ended up buying the Honda as I reduced highway driving and driving in general by a lot.

Dilemma

After a final meeting and understanding the dealer’s lowest price I asked for 24 hours to decide. My buddy who was with me saw my face and said to me laughing “The face you made feels like you are selling your soul to agree to buy the car” even he knew the dilemma I was facing. I also had a flashback to the disaster of a financial decision I made when I bought the BMW because I was unhappy with the civic in just 1 year of ownership. I decided to make one last-ditch attempt and frantically searched auto traders for any used car with low miles and in-warranty status in the German big 3.

And that's when I found her!

Audi A4 Quattro

Suddenly I glanced upon this Florett Silver Metallic 2017 Audi A4 with just 32k km priced at $32K which was well within what I was looking to spend. I just couldn’t believe the condition, mileage and in-warranty status at that price. I decided to go and have a look considering the Audi dealership was just 5 mins away. I step into the dealership and was greeted immediately by my SA Aleks, who later on would end up becoming a friend and COI for me. I had never driven an Audi before this and was used to BMW’s rear bias AWD system, Aleks asked us to drive towards an on-ramp to the expressway and asked to stay on the gas while cornering. I asked him if he was sure about this and he said yes but the most critical point he mentioned was no matter what you do, DO NOT TAKE YOUR FOOT OFF THE GAS WHILE CORNERING!. Even though I really doubted this I proceeded with his request and took the on-ramp at the speed he asked me to take it at and planted my foot firm on the gas. I had never felt anything like this before, the car basically just glided and pointed straight when the turn was done. I was speechless, I just couldn’t believe what had just happened, where the BMW would 100% have oversteered and done it in a more exciting way the Audi basically took the turn as if it were taking an afternoon siesta. I was sold at that very moment, no car ever before had instilled that sense of confidence in me.

Negotiations

We drove back to the dealership and started discussing the price. The dealership stated their policy is simple and non-negotiable, they do not negotiate on pricing as they set one price based on minimum profit margins and market pricing with the competition but at the same time, they won’t lowball me on my trade and will pay me what its worth based on the market. The dealership was more than fair, I was offered $14K for my trade which was the most any dealership offered me and after looking online their car was priced aggressively too. I looked up Canadian black book to check the value of the Audi and it was in line with what the dealership was charging. Considering everything that they said was factual and not just a marketing slogan I agreed to proceed and placed a deposit on the car.

Financing Options

Ideally, a used car would always mean you have to finance it with leasing being available only to brand new cars but Audi had another option for used and new cars called Audi Select. This financing program allowed to set a balloon payment at the end which equalled 30% of the car's purchase price. This value is based upon the future residual value of a car based on 20k km of driving per year. Now ideally this is called a lease but the core difference here is in a lease you never own the car and the owner is always held by the leasing company in this case VW Canada and taxes are paid per payment, not on the whole cost of the car. In Audi select, you own the car so you pay the entire HST as part of the deal but the residual value at the end is guaranteed like a lease as long as you don’t exceed the km allowance. The only negative here is the cost of borrowing is slightly higher than regular finance because of the amortization schedule but it gives you an out at the end of 4 years if you don’t want to keep the car anymore, as in you can just drop off the car at the dealership, start a new contract for a new Audi or just buy it out by paying the residual value. I decided to proceed with Audi select since I had never owned an Audi before and considering I wasn’t sure about long term ownership costs. This way I would have a warranty and free service for about 50% of the 4 year period and I would budget for the rest.

Now the wait begins

Even though the car was used it qualified under Audi’s CPO program meaning they just couldn’t hand it over to me. They were mandated to go through a bunch of checks, now keep in mind my BMW was also a CPO but considering the last shady experience, I didn’t really have much confidence and just thought it was a farce. Boy was I wrong, the sheer size of the inspection and analysis report was insane, they did find a few items that needed fixing and had to delay the delivery date. The car needed 2 new tires and a complete polish (some minor surface scratches), once everything was done the car was ready for pickup.

D-Day

Audi Windsor deserves Kudos for the entire experience. They polished and cleaned up the car so well that you couldn’t tell that it was used. A lot of care was taken to ensure everything was just right and Aleks was prepared to go through the car with me and explain everything in detail. He also mentioned that the car came with the balance of Audi Care from the previous owner (they had discovered this in their CPO process), this meant I had 3 free services (included in the same purchase price) so I wouldn’t see any costs till 2022 which was a pleasant surprise. I just couldn’t get past how beautiful the car looked once it was detailed.

I will let the pictures do the talking for now.

Fast forward to Today

The car has now been in my possession for about 3 years and saw me move through different job positions and life events.

What I love:

  • The car looks stunning, especially from the rear
  • Much more spacious thanks to the larger wheelbase
  • Well equipped for a mid-variant (the only thing I missed was the B&O sound system and virtual cockpit)
  • Launch control (this party trick is neck-snapping and makes you laugh like a 5-year-old)
  • The DSG shift response in dynamic mode
  • Amazingly fuel-efficient (this thing is as frugal as it gets, I was getting almost twice the efficiency when compared to my BMW)
  • The NVH levels are just awesome (pin drop silence) to a point where sometimes I don’t know if the car is running when its idling
  • Solid build quality (interior and exterior) even after 3 years. Not a single creak or rattle (touchwood)
  • Surprisingly reliable (touch wood)
  • The sheer versatility was evident when I needed to use all its cargo space when I sold my house and moved to a new one, the boot space with the 60:40 split car seats is awesome and can easily move a lot of stuff.
  • If I had to bet I would say the A4 45 TFSI has the best stock braking performance when compared to the c300 and non M Sport 330i (dual-piston calipers as opposed to single piston in the other 2)
  • The Torsen Quattro is just awesome and instils a ton of confidence no matter the weather/road conditions.
  • I have a back injury from a previous accident and am very particular about car seats and their lumbar support. The A4 has one of the most comfortable seats out there when compared to other cars in its segment.

What could be better:

  • Low-speed performance of the DSG can be annoying to a point where you will start pulling your hair. It took me a while to get used to it (about 2 weeks), sometimes I almost stalled the car (yup almost stalled an automatic).
  • Performance of DSG in comfort or auto mode is borderline like a CVT. It’s good for cruising but it keeps wanting to upshift for efficiency and in doing that if you end up in a situation where you almost came to a stop and now need to accelerate (e.g a red light turning green), there is one of 2 things that will happen:
  1. A CVT like rubber band effect (clutch slip) as the car gear hunts (yes this is normal tried it in a couple of brand new A4s)
  2. A dead zone where for 2 seconds nothing happens no matter how hard you smash the gas pedal the rpm’s won’t respond and then suddenly with a jerk you get a thud and the car roars ahead.

In the famous words of Jeremy Clarkson, the car enters a dilemma where when you hit the pedal it wonders “am I a goat? Am I a sheep? Oh, wait I am a transmission!! Let’s go!”

  • The MMI has a tendency to drop Bluetooth at times (happened a total of 4 times in 3 years), not a big deal a simple MMI restart fixes this.
  • The bi-xenon headlights in the mid variant could’ve been better. The BMW in comparison felt like a dying sun erupting and lighting up the whole galaxy.
  • The stock audio system is absolute garbage. The sub for some genius reason has been placed on a thin metal parcel shelf that isn’t thick enough to withstand the constant thump which causes an annoying vibration. Audi Windsor tried fixing this by adding felt but it didn’t help much and the rest of the stock speakers lack the output and leave a lot to be desired.
  • Front heavy weight distribution shows its ugly face at times when cornering as the A4 wants to understeer in comparison to the BMW that would oversteer. What I’ve learnt is that the BMW will let you have fun and oversteer by controlling throttle input, the Audi will literally kill you if you do not step on it. The only way out of a corner is power if you let off the gas the car concludes that you have chosen death as the only possible outcome will be an expensive crash.

So what’s gone wrong in 3 years?

When someone says the words German car and reliability in the same sentence people tend to believe that individual is either delusion or a stand-up comedian but surprisingly the B9 A4 is one of the most reliable cars Audi has ever made. Consumer reports rating the B9 A4 a 5/5 in its predicted long term reliability score. In my case these are the following things that needed a visit other than regular service:

  • Leaky thermostat: This was actually caught during a routine maintenance visit and was replaced under a new car warranty. This is also a common issue and is known to fail in warranty, Audi updated the part in 2019 to avoid failures.
  • Clockspring: I started hearing creaking noises from the steering wheel when making a full lock turn, it was diagnosed as a bad clock spring and was replaced under an extended warranty. I only had to pay a deductible of $50.
  • Burnt out outer door handle light: This was noticed in the second week of ownership and was replaced under the new car warranty so no deductible.
  • Passenger seat heating mat: Replaced as part of a global PODS recall. I didn’t have any issues but the recall stated the mat can cause the passenger occupant detection system (PODS) to not work which can cause airbags to not deploy during a crash.
  • Passenger side mirror adjustment motor: Replaced as it was making a creaking noise.
  • Passenger side mirror heating element: Unfortunately, this is the only thing that is still broken. The heating element wasn’t covered in the extended warranty and cost an eye-watering $1700 to replace as it was also auto-dimming. Considering the auto-dimming worked just fine I left it as is.

That might feel like a long list but considering the car (2017 MY) was the first year for the all-new B9 A4 it’s actually not that bad. The car has now been out of all warranty for a year and has been a very reliable workhorse thus far (touch wood).

How much have I spent on it so far and how much more will I be spending?

The car had come with 3 services as part of the balance of Audi care from the previous owner so I didn’t spend a dime for almost 2 years other than gas. The first paid service was $540 which included an oil change, coolant flush and brake fluid flush. The upcoming major maintenance items are as follows:

  • Brakes: Unlike my BMW the A4 has been less demanding and is in fact still on its original set of pads and rotors for the last 6 years. The thickness is now down to 4mm and I can feel a very slight vibration during hard braking, the dealership states they would require replacing in 15k km or a year which is acceptable. (current odo 74k km)
  1. Cost: $1600-1800
  2. Type: Future
  • Major maintenance at 7 years: This item comes once every 60k km and is eye-watering as this includes a DSG fluid change which is expensive along with a brake fluid flush, spark plug change and coolant flush.
  1. Cost: $1200
  2. Type: Future
  • Tires: The original tires that came with the car were economy tires focused heavily on fuel efficiency. While these would be fine in normal weather, they aren’t really meant for Canadian winters so after 2 years I decided it’s time to replace them. I got a set of Continental extreme contact DWS 03+ tires, these tires are a bit noisier but their performance in terms of grip and handling is much better than the stock continental tires.
  1. Cost: $1100 - $70 mail in rebate = $1030
  2. Type: Expensed/Current

Conclusion

All in all the A4 Quattro as I like to call her has been one of the easiest to live with. Considering there may be issues as and when the car ages they will be dealt with on a case by case basis. At the end of 2023, my Audi Select contract ends at which point I will be at a crossroads to either buy out the car or return it to the dealership. In the day and age we live in where cars have appreciated in value I actually benefited as the current value far outweighs the balance owing at the end of the contract (roughly $12k). The decision, for now, is to buy out the car and drive payment free till there is more news on the Audi B10 or depending on how the shift towards electric cars plays out a Tesla.

The A4 is a no-nonsense car that can party when you want it to (launch control) or can just be a reliable everyday workhorse. The sheer versatility makes up for what it gives up in certain aspects of sporty performance/handling. The easiest way to put it in my personal opinion is this, where my BMW was a teenager that liked to party and spend with no limits, the Audi has behaved like an adult trying to find a fine balance between working hard and playing hard!

Would I ever buy a BMW again? For sure, I love BMWs and their driving dynamics, they have come a long way from the F30 generation and are very desirable but it would be interesting to see what the future holds with the upcoming next generation of hybrid/electric vehicles. Ironically this means what I am looking forward to is Vorsprung Durch Technik (Progress through technology).

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