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Audi A4 Diesel First Drive Review

What is it?

Audi launched the A4 last year with much fan-fare. At that time, it only came in a petrol variant, but now they have also introduced a diesel variant and these are our first impressions of the new variant. Although we are quite familiar with the petrol A4, we shall still take you through the basics of what it’s all about. This iteration of the A4 is underpinned by the MLBevo platform that uses aluminium and magnesium in key areas to increase body rigidity and yet keep the weight down. As a result, despite being dimensionally bigger than the older car, the new A4 is 95kg lighter, but the diesel version absurdly weighs a massive 190kg more than the petrol A4.

The Audi A4 is a good example of an evolutionary design as it takes the essence of the older design ahead with some contemporary updates. The front section looks aggressive thanks to the angular headlamps with DRLs, that massive grille and overall sharper lines that also extend all the way to the tail lamps. Open the doors to the A4, and you’re in for a surprise as these handles flip upwards! On the contrary, though, we found the five-arm Tornado alloys to look too plain for our tastes. Over time, the A4’s design with its proportionate and sober looks kind of grows on you and you gain an affinity for it.

How is it on the inside?

The diesel version is exactly the same as the petrol sibling. So, you get the same dashboard with slim air-con vents that run across a sizeable portion of the width of the dash. We believe that the dash design is one of the best we’ve seen till date and looks thoroughly modern. In fact, the quality levels seen within the cabin is nearly flawless, except for that wooden trim. Perhaps Audi could have chosen a different material instead of wood which, frankly, looks out of place. 

While you appreciate how those toggle-like buttons for the air-con and other functions on upper centre console feel, you immediately notice the exotic yacht-style gear shifter. Furthermore, it’s definitely the fantastic Audi Virtual Cockpit (also seen in Q7 and R8), which serves as an instrument cluster, that grabs your undivided attention with the sporty graphics for all the functions. That said, you’ll enjoy the front seats which offer good cushioning and contours, with an appropriate amount of back, shoulder and thigh support. There’s lots of knee and headroom here too.

At the rear, the obvious transmission tunnel restricts this 60:40 split folding bench to being a two seater. However, the good cushioning makes for a comfortable journey, thanks in part to the perfect thigh support and nice backrest angle. At the same time, occupants are going to find the knee room and headroom to be adequate. With a 480 litre boot, the enclosure is long and wide enough to accommodate at least four medium sized suitcases with some more space for soft bags.

Our A4 came with features like three-zone climate control, wireless charging, electric front seats, front and rear parking sensors and reverse camera. There’s also Audi’s virtual cockpit, MMI system with navigation, smartphone interface, cruise control, auto hold, ABS, ESP and eight airbags.

What is it like to drive?

Under the hood of the diesel Audi A4 is the 2.0-litre motor that makes 190bhp between 3,800rpm and 4,200rpm, along with 400Nm of torque ranging from 1,750rpm to 3,000rpm. A seven-speed S-tronic twin-clutch automatic box gets the power on the road through the front wheels. You can hardly hear this refined motor inside the cabin, and even when you step outside, the diesel clatter is remarkably refined. This is one of the better insulated cars that we have come across till date. Off the mark, you might want to go easy on the throttle as anything less than a sedate launch unleashes some torque steer. This actually comes as a nice surprise because it just goes to show how powerful the engine is. As a matter of fact, we never really felt the need for more power in this saloon as the motor responds well to throttle inputs overall. There’s a strong rush of performance post 1,900rpm that sees the needle hurriedly hit the 4,500rpm redline before the transmission swiftly upshifts to the next gear.

The A4 has four driving modes and two gearbox modes (D and S), which is a lot. These gearbox modes - ‘D’ and ‘S’, change the character of the gearbox and it becomes much more responsive in ‘S’. We’ll first talk about the driving modes namely Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual. Comfort mode is the most relaxed of the modes and as soon as you go off the throttle, the transmission quickly upshifts and coasts. In this mode, the gearbox is by default in ‘D’, but if there’s a need for extra acceleration or a need to overtake, you can always just touch the lever and it will go into ‘S’ mode. Here the transmission gets eager to hold a lower gear for instant response.

In Dynamic mode, the gearbox automatically selects ‘S’ to get the best out of the engine. It gets livelier as the transmission slots into an even lower gear to instantly respond for some thrust as soon as the accelerator is depressed. However, in Dynamic mode, the engine tends to get noticeably jerky while trying to let loose the output from the motor. This brings us to the ‘Individual’ setting that allows the user to toggle between Comfort and Dynamic setting for the engine and steering. It allows the user to select ‘Comfort’ steering responses with ‘Dynamic’ engine responses, or vice-versa.

In ‘Auto’ mode, the system mimics the user’s driving style through the throttle position, and automatically adjusts the engine, gearbox and steering response. As always, there’s a ‘Manual’ option which allows the user to shift gears as they please, through gear lever or with the paddle shifters. The A4 registered a time of 7.94sec to 100kmph which is not blisteringly quick because rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C250d and the BMW 320d are quicker with times of 7.3sec and 7.14sec respectively (the A4 bogs down initially as the gearbox goes into safe mode and does not launch properly). However, thanks to the A4’s responsive motor and quick gearbox, it is quicker in the important 20-80kmph and 40-100kmph driveability tests.

The elevated suspension of the A4, exclusively made for India, doesn’t get adaptive dampers. Since this is a rigid setup you feel some pitter-patter at slow speeds over bigger bumps and potholes, but at no point does it get rough for the occupants. As speeds increase the ride gets much better and it rides flat despite the 17-inch wheels. The well-engineered dampers help absorb most undulations and bumps with remarkable poise, and combined with the brilliant cabin insulation, the A4 makes for a great long distance traveller. True, the suspension is not perfect. In fact, it is evidence of sharper imperfections where the suspension tends to thud through them and you can hear it inside the cabin. But it never gets to the point of being uncomfortable. 

At higher speeds, the A4 displays excellent straight line stability with a predictable amount of roll. With a steering that’s light and precise, it seems eager to change directions, but a little more steering feedback would have made this saloon more involving to drive. The Comfort and Dynamic modes for the steering response hardly help in this regard as it just weighs up slightly more in Dynamic. On the braking front, the A4 retains impeccable composure under harsh and panic braking situations which ultimately inspires a lot of confidence.

 

Why should I buy one?

Unlike the petrol version, the diesel A4 makes a strong case for itself thanks to the inclusion of a performance oriented and refined powertrain. What also goes in this saloon’s favour is the well-designed rear seat which makes it a good chauffeur driven car. Moreover, it is well priced, and has got sorted dynamics. It also benefits from impressive cabin insulation, superb brakes, long distance capability, the luxurious feel from well-designed and premium interiors, and that spectacular Audi Virtual Cockpit. 

We had to try very hard to come up with points that go against the A4. The sedate looks and similarity to the earlier A4 may not appeal to everybody’s tastes, and the low speed ride is slightly firm. Also, while the output from the motor in dynamic mode can be jerky, it isn’t exactly exciting to drive either. Nevertheless, we feel that the A4 is an exponential jump from the outgoing model and one of the finer, well-rounded cars to come from Audi’s stable.

Where does it fit in?

Audi’s diesel A4 goes up against the likes of BMW’s 3 Series, the Jaguar XE and the Mercedes C-Class. The A4 35 TDI retails at Rs 42.01 lakh, while the BMW 3 Series ranges from Rs 39.13 lakh to Rs 48.67 lakh, and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is priced between Rs 41.60 lakh and Rs 47.45 lakh (all ex-showroom Mumbai).

 

Pictures: Kapil Angane  


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