By the end of 2020, all vehicles from the Volkswagen Group will ride on one of the following four matrix-style vehicle architectures: MQB, MLB, MSB, and NFS. While MQB is for transversely-engined vehicles (such as most Volkswagens), MSB for specialized luxury vehicles like Bentleys and the Porsche Panamera, and NFS for sports cars (from Porsche to Lamborghini), it’s MLB that’s today’s topic du jour. That’s because MLB is destined to be the foundation of the next generation of Audis from the A4 to the A8. And if Audi truly wants to become the world’s best-selling luxury car brand, then it needs to engineer MLB in such a way so as to move the engine behind the vehicle’s front axle, eliminating understeer from those vehicles that will utilize the platform.
We say this because the only drawback to today’s Audis in the ever-important enthusiast community is their inherent ability to understeer. Sure, the optional sport differential available on most sporty Audi models today (S4 and up) removes understeer at throttle. But drive one of today’s Audis, from the A4/S4/RS 4 to the A8/S8, on a track and enter a corner hard, with your foot off the gas pedal. What will happen? The front end will begin to slide out, rather than enter a uniform slide so characteristic of “balanced” rear-wheel drive vehicles from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, and Lexus (some).
The reason for that understeer is simple: in today’s Audis, most of the engine is located well ahead of the front axle, making the car nose-heavy. This is despite the fact that the engine is placed longitudinally — the way it’s supposed to be for proper balance in a performance vehicle. And there’s lies the challenge for VW-Audi: one of the defining characteristics of the MLB architecture will be the engine’s north-south orientation. But how much of the engine will sit ahead of the vehicle’s front axle, and how much will sit behind it? That’s the question that will determine whether understeer will be a thing of the past, or continue to be a negatively-defining characteristic of Audis for the foreseeable future.
Of course, some might say that few people actually care or know about understeer, or drive their Audis in such a way so as to ever experience it. To those, we say: those who know about it, care about it — and they let others know about it. So why not permanently eliminate the one and only remaining downside of buying an Audi, a factor that’s mentioned in reviews and is brought up in enthusiast conversations around the world over? With MLB, VW-Audi has the unique chance to put an end to Audi understeer once and for all. And if it does, it will be the better for it.
The MLB platform is expected to debut within the next 18 months on the B9-generation Audi A4 and second-generation Audi Q7.