I demanded an Audi, and got one for a weekend

With the Audi on Demand service, now in trials in San Francisco, I was able to schedule a car through its app and have it delivered to my office curb.

City dwellers who commute on public transit often find that the cost of keeping a car outweighs the benefits. But what to do if you want to get away for the weekend? I gave Audi on Demand, one of several car rental services run by automakers, a try.

Audi on Demand is a new service being tested in San Francisco. The service lets people make a reservation with its app, choosing from a wide variety of Audi models, ranging from an A3 sedan to an R8 super sports car.

Unlike a typical car rental service, an Audi on Demand concierge brings the car to your location, and picks it up from anywhere in the service area.

The Audi on Demand app shows which models are available to rent, letting you schedule them and arrange for delivery.

Audi

Planning for a weekend rental, I fired up the Audi on Demand app on a Wednesday and began the reservation process. While I had wanted the Q3 compact SUV model, it wasn't available for the dates I set, so I settled for the slightly larger Q5.

After I selected my start and end dates, the app let me choose whether to pick up the car from the Audi on Demand garage or have a concierge bring it to me. At no cost difference, I chose the latter. Conveniently, the app also let me save the drop-off and pickup times to my calendar.

Audi, delivered

On Friday afternoon I get a text message that my car is waiting at the curb, outside my office. The concierge confirms my identity and shows me previously logged damage to the car, such as a wheel scrape and a few scratches on the rear bumper. He then walks me through the Q5's operation and electronics, helping me pair my phone with the car's hands-free Bluetooth system.

Audi included an iPhone charging cable plugged into the car's USB port, and preloaded its entertainment hard drive with a variety of music, all the better to show off the Q5's Bang & Olufsen audio system. The concierge also tells me I could request a bike rack or other gear at no charge.

I'm impressed by this Q5, a high-trim model featuring a full navigation system and cabin tech, along with the aforementioned high-end audio system. As Audi has a vested interest in renters liking its cars, it doesn't stint on the options.

I spend the weekend driving the Q5, and I have no complaints. It's a much better car than I would get from a typical rental service.

On Monday morning, a text message tells me that an Audi concierge is waiting at the curbside location I had specified. I bring the car around and he does a damage check. Fortunately, I hadn't hit anything over the weekend. I also have not topped off the tank, but Audi on Demand will only charge me the per-gallon market rate to fill it up. The concierge drives off with the Q5 and I'm done.

Audi Q5 on demand

Unlike a typical rental service, Audi gave me a well-optioned Q5, complete with Bang & Olufsen audio system. As an offshoot of Audi, Audi on Demand has a vested interest in my satisfaction with the vehicle.

Wayne Cunningham/CNET Roadshow

Expensive convenience

With its concierge delivery, Audi on Demand proved very convenient for my city-dwelling self. I didn't have to find my way to a rental center to get the car and return it. I also had the option of rescheduling the pickup, if I needed to keep the car longer.

The Audi on Demand app gives the service a veneer of modernity, but Audi doesn't entirely exploit the capabilities of connectivity. While the app made scheduling a car easy, it did not include a car locator, which could have let me track the progress of the car coming to the drop-off location or helped me find it in a parking lot. That's just one example, but given that this is a new service, and Audi a tech-forward company, I would not be surprised to see new capabilities in the future.

Compared with a typical rental, Audi on Demand is also a bit pricey. My Q5 cost $200 per day, while the lowest-priced model, an A3 sedan, runs $130 per day. The service does not offer hourly or half-day rates. Given these pricing and rental times, the service works best for urban dwellers looking for a premium car for a weekend getaway. There are better services if you just want to get a car for a few hours to make an Ikea run.

Of course, Audi on Demand also offers the TT, the RS 7 and R8, each giving a unique sports car experience you can get at the touch of an app.

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