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.
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.
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.
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.