What is it?
The past few years have seen Audi slowly revamp most of its model range. Product planners systematically made their way through the line-up, launching the new Q7, revamped the Q3, A6 and A8 and they also added an entry-level bait in the form of the A3 sedan. Until now, they have essentially left the A4 to its own devices which has existed in our market for eight long years. A mild makeover four years back improved its looks but failed to address its primary shortcoming, of not being as good to drive as its rivals. But it turns out that the brand-new A4 represents Audi’s sterling effort to make up for lost ground and it promises to set new standards for its rivals to follow.
Based on the MLB evo platform which also underpins the recently launched Q7, the new A4 is an extreme exercise of weight saving and maximum efficiency. The new A4 adopts more lightweight materials than perhaps any other car in its segment as steering and transmission components and the rear-seat structure are made of magnesium. Audi has used lot of aluminium too, the bonnet, doors and the boot lid is made out of aluminium, the multilink front and rear suspension incorporate a large amount of the metal too. This has helped Audi shave a massive 95kg off despite being 25mm longer and 16mm wider. The smaller 1.4-litre petrol motor too is light with it weighing less than 100kg. The raised for India suspension on the A4 doesn’t get adaptive dampers. As a result the three driving modes you choose through the Drive Select buttons, alters just the steering, engine and gearbox.
Like with all their cars, Audi has taken an evolutionary route with the new A4’s styling. But there are enough elements to help the new car stand out from the old one. The A4 now gets a TT-inspired low and aggressive, front end and it now sports a more contemporary and angular appearance than before. The LED headlamps are beautifully detailed and the daytime running lamps look really nice. The strong shoulder line which stretches all the way from the headlamps to the tail lamps gives it a purposeful stance. At the rear the tail lamps are stylish and the new A4 looks well-proportioned from any angle.
How is it on the inside?
While the exterior is fresh but evolutionary, the interior is a revelation. Next to the elegant cabin of the Mercedes C-Class and the conservative one in the BMW 3-series, the new A4’s dash looks futuristic. Horizontal lines dominate, right down to the thin air vents that span the entire width of the dash panel. The wood finish underneath the vents adds a traditional touch to an otherwise snazzy cabin. The air-con controls and knobs are finished in matt chrome and the knurled finish to the touch points feel top-drawer. The dash design is based on Audi’s superb Virtual Cockpit theme also seen on the Audi Q7. While you get a conventional high-res MMI screen on top of the dash the one that sits in place of the conventional instruments look really high-tech and futuristic. The 12.3-inch TFT display can be switched between two different user interfaces. In “Infotainment” mode, a central window dominates the view, providing a large stage for the navigation map or for lists in the phone, radio and audio areas.
The longer wheelbase and width also means, the new A4 is has more room on offer on the inside. The big front seats offer tremendous shoulder and lateral support with just the right amount of suppleness. But its at the rear where the new A4 has improved the most. Thanks to the high roof, getting in the backseat is easy and once in you will really appreciate the amount of kneeroom and width on offer. As you sit at a good height, visibility from the back is great and thanks to the light beige leather seats, the rear seat ambiance is airy and pleasing. In addition, thigh support is fantastic, the backrest is supportive and, unlike the earlier car, there’s plenty of room for your feet as well. The boot at 480litres is big enough and unlike in the BMW and the Merc, the space saver is neatly tucked away and doesn’t eat up into the luggage area.
The A4 we had on our drive was very well equipped. It came with Audi’s brilliant virtual cockpit, MMI system with a touchpad, three zone climate control, mobile mirroring, wireless charging, DVD changer, two USB ports, powered front seats, electronic parking brake, reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, ABS, ESP and 8 airbags. Features we missed on the car were things like rear sun blind and auto park assist.
How does it drive?
Initially the A4 will be available with just the 1.4-litre petrol motor which seems like a very surprising decision, considering rivals offer much larger petrol units. According to Audi, weight saving measures have allowed them to give the new A4 a downsized engine without compromising on everyday performance.
Displacing 1395cc, this turbocharged motor is from VW’s EA211 engine family and it develops 148bhp and 250Nm of torque. The high-tech motor is coupled to an equally modern DQ200 7-speed dual clutch automatic.
As soon as you step on the accelerator pedal the motor responds quite well and the A4 feels peppy at low speeds. Peak torque comes in at a low 1500rpm and past that the mid-range is pretty strong and the engine will pull happily to its 6200rpm redline as well. The new A4 gets three driving modes – ‘Comfort’, ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Individual’. In ‘Comfort’, it is programmed to upshift at the earliest, maximising fuel efficiency, whereas in ‘Dynamic’, it will stay in the lowest gear possible. The problem with driving in ‘Comfort’ is that when you need that burst of power, you are usually in a gear too high and have to wait for the gearbox to kick down. ‘Dynamic’ is more responsive but the throttle response became too jerky to our liking.
Sure, the claimed 8.5 second 0-100kmph time is decent. But it can’t match its main rivals, the BMW 320i as far as outright performance is concerned. You also have to work the motor hard to get the best out of it. While the engine is very quiet and smooth at low speeds and when you’re cruising, it does get a bit thrummy after 5000rpm, and it isn’t as smooth as say, the bigger TSI motors we have experienced in the old A4.
The real sense of luxury in the A4 comes from its suspension setup. At town speeds the A4 simply excels thanks to its absorbent low speed ride, delivered despite the low profile 17-inch tyres. Well-judged spring rates helps this German saloon feel supple yet well controlled. Even over rutted surfaces the suspension has surprisingly good level of crash-free bump absorption, you don’t feel most imperfections. Yes, there is some firmness at low speeds but it never gets to the point of feeling uncomfortable. Even at higher speeds the A4 shows good composure and this makes it a soothing highway companion. The car also does an excellent job of cutting out road noise, but at higher speeds you do get a bit of wind noise around the A-pillars.
Where the old car used to feel sloppy and nervous at high speeds, the new A4 feels rock solid and straight-line stability is exceptional. The A4 changes direction quite eagerly but, it isn’t particularly engaging to drive. The steering is smooth and accurate but is merely a tool for pointing the front wheels, not gaining any kind of feel for the tyre or road interface. It feels a bit vague at higher speeds too.
Should I buy one?
The new Audi A4 builds on the previous car’s strengths and addresses some of its main weaknesses to make it a formidable package. Bigger and better in every way, it has an upmarket feel and the spacious and well equipped cabin just adds to its appeal. Its light controls make it easy to drive, however, enthusiasts will still find the A4 a bit lacklustre to drive. The small 1.4-litre petrol motor isn’t particularly thrilling and the handling isn’t as sharp or responsive as we would have liked either. But if you are chauffer driven and only occasionally take the wheel the A4 just ticks every box perfectly. It’s an ideal choice for normal day-to-day motoring with all the bells and whistles to pamper its owners. Now the only question remains the price. If priced right, the new generation A4 has all the makings of a winner.
Where does it fit in?
The Audi A4 is directly targeted at the BMW 3-Series, Jaguar's new XE and the Mercedes C-Class. We expect Audi to undercut all of its main rivals to gain initial sales momentum. The recently launched BMW 320i variant is priced at Rs 42.70 lakh while the Mercedes C200 costs Rs 41.40 lakh. We expect Audi to launch the new A4 under the Rs 40 lakh price bracket.
Pictures by: Ameya Dandekar