Facebook buys Instagram for $ 1 billion. Audi just bought Ducati for $ 1.2 billion. The world is going loony.
But Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen, certainly has all the parts of its business brain screwed in right. Bossman Ferdinand Piech always wanted a motorcycle marque in his shopping bag. After bagging the likes of Lamborghini and Bugatti, it’s only fitting that one as evocative and exotic as Ducati is that motorcycle marque. For Ducati, this deal means unrestricted access into daddy VolksWagen’s deep pockets to pay for R&D and other expenses. Ka-ching!
However unattainable brands such as these might seem, a spoilsport (for them) called economics brings them closer to the ground. Catering solely to a niche market can only bring in so much revenue. Open up your product portfolio to a larger audience, you could make your accountants smile!
Such reasoning is the cause for the Ducati 795 and the Audi A4, now improved by a facelift. Make no mistake, these two are not cheap by any standards. But they are definitely affordable to a larger number of people than the other models from their makers. Therein lies their purpose. And the sales figures reflect this — the A4 is Audi’s highest seller in volume and the 795, Ducati’s cheapest model on sale in India, although mainly Asia-specific for now, is flying out of showrooms almost as quickly as the Thailand factory can make them.
Money can buy you performance and, hence, happiness when it comes to the contents within your garage. The general notion is the more you’re willing to spend, the less likely are you to slip into depression every time you are on the road. But with the Ducati 795, the Rs 5.9 lakh ex-showroom, Maharashtra price gets you all of 87 bhp and 7.8 kg from its 803cc engine. With a kerb weight of 167 kg, that power-to-weight ratio of 520 bhp per tonne is astounding, making the 87 horses seem like they were fed a diet of whey protein and steroids, galloping from naught to the tonne in 5.6 seconds.
The Audi, on the other hand, might seem a bit pricier. Rs 27.33 lakh, also ex-showroom, Maharashtra gets you 170 bhp and an extra set of wheels, among other things. Although in terms of the power-to-weight ratio, 115 bhp per tonne might seem lame in comparison to the Ducati, but hurling 1,470 kilos of air-conditioned studio apartment forward to a 100 kph from standstill changes your perspective almost instantly — all of 9.5 seconds to be precise. Yes, that was the 32.6 kg of torque talking, thank you.
Well, by now you probably have guessed that this duo certainly have the potential to raise hell. But more so with the Ducati. That power-to-weight ratio equals Tinker Bell strapped to a pair of V10 rockets, so the Monster needs some serious stopping power. To help keep you from sprouting wings and dressing up like Simi Garewal, the 795 has two 320 mm discs grabbed by 4-piston Brembo radially mounted callipers at the fore. The aft gets a rather deadpan 245 mm disc with a twin piston calliper that does the biting, also a Brembo unit.
With enough braking power, it’s quite easy to lock the front end if you go ahead and yank in the right lever. When that happens, it mostly results in you kissing the tarmac. Hard. But cutting costs means that the Monster has to do without ABS, even as an optional extra. With none of the babying, not even traction control, the Ducati is recommended for mature and experienced motorcyclists who know what they’re doing.
The Audi pampers your every whim. The MMI infotainment system has been altered, ergonomics have been worked upon and controls like the steering column stalks have been redesigned and so has the leather-wrapped steering wheel. Safety aids abound in the A4. From the airbags to the ABS, EBD and ESP, the Audi is built to keep you out of trouble. That is more than I can say about the Monster. This one is the delinquent among the two, with tendencies that ought to be locked away in solitary confinement at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, but that’s also what makes it so attractive.
Whack open the throttle, and the L-twin launches you forward with an almost manic urgency. This one loves to be wrung hard in every one of its six cogs. Upshift early, like slotting in the top gear at anything below 70 kmph, and the 795 bogs down, blabbering in protest. But when you’re giving it the stick, revving the motor to as close to the 9,000 rpm redline as possible, the 795 shows its true character — brash, uncouth, frenzied and so very desirable. The throttle response is immediate, and twisting that grip too enthusiastically will land you in jail in many parts of the world.
The mere 167 kg make the Monster a perfect fit in the city, a world that it was destined for right from the onset. The Sachs monoshock at the rear, coupled with the Marzocchi forks, all of which have been suspended from the trellis frame, combine to result in an awesome handling motorcycle. Grip from the Pirelli tyres is exceptional and despite the chunky rubber, the Monster is a blast to filter through traffic with.
In comparison, the Audi feels laidback, sluggish even. Although the 1.8 TFSI petrol makes all the right noises, the CVT gearbox is the culprit for the rather mediocre experience, with its lazy shifting. Plonk in a good manual transmission, and things would certainly liven up behind the wheel, which has decent feedback. The manual tranny may do justice to the brilliant engine, but unfortunately, in the segment the A4 operates in, people prefer the car to do the shifting.
When it comes to the ride quality, the Ducati’s a brilliant mix of tautness and plushness, without coming off as being too jarring in the potholes nor too mushy around corners. The Audi is on the softer side though, with a slight pogo-ing ride that can go on for a few moments after the speed breaker has passed.
As far as the looks go, the A4 now looks sharper than ever before. The grille now resembles something emblazoned on Superman’s chest, while the headlights and fog lights have gotten more angular and the bonnet and bumper have been tweaked to incorporate the changes done to all of the above. At the rear, the tail lamps along with the registration plate lights have gone the LED way, and the redesigned bumper gets a new diffuser at the bottom. On the whole, the A4 now looks a lot more sophisticated — an ideal match for a banker in a finely tailored business suit.
The Ducati, however, is a totally different ball game. With every line exaggerated for maximum effect, subtlety is not even in the Monster’s dictionary. The huge tail pipes nestled beneath the seat are in your face, and there hasn’t been even a half-hearted attempt to cover up the 795’s mechanicals. They’re there for all to lust over, in their naked glory. Piping and tubing run in and out of view, with the trellis chassis cocooning the whole thing, almost like an ornate frame around a painting displayed behind six feet of bullet proof glass at the Louvre.
These two machines are as similar to each other as chalk and cheese, like, erm, motorcycle and car. But they have been made family through holy matrimony. This brings up the question — what does Audi intend to do with Ducati? Will it let Ducati find its own way forward, or will the parent company choose to get into the day-to-day workings of the Italian marque, running it like another car brand? As I see it, it’s best to allow the Italians do what they do best — build exciting motorcycles that are as erotic as they are exotic. I mean, a Ducati that has Audi genes isn’t really worth looking forward to, although an A4 displaying Monster characteristics seems particularly interesting!