► All-new A4 tested with 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel
► Array of (largely optional) assistance technology
► Better to drive, but remains a more cerebral choice
What kind of junior exec buyer are you? Are you all about the machismo and the driving experience, or are you more interested in 19-speaker hifi systems, Bluetooth connectivity that can sync two phones at once, a backseat tablet entertainment package that allows HD video conferencing, and a suite of assistance systems so comprehensive the car’s brain is happy to take the strain much of the time?
If it’s the latter, you’ll be wanting to meet the all-new Audi A4. This is it. Say hello, don’t be shy – there’s a moderate possibility that it’s more intelligent than you are…
So this is the *new* Audi A4, is it?
Oh don’t start. Yes, that would be ‘evolutionary’ styling – what else were you expecting? But the A4 is now not only based on Audi’s latest ‘MLB evo’ platform (lighter, stronger, smarter, et cetera), it’s also obviously ‘new’ once you see it in the metal. While the sharp, horizontal lines may be edging ever closer to generic, they make the preceding A4 look decidedly saggy, and help elongate the new car even more than the additional 25mm on the tape measure.
Given it was already comfortably the longest car in its class it almost has the presence of an A6 as a result. New A4 is a touch wider (16mm), too, with an extra 12mm in the wheelbase contributing to a 23mm increase in rear legroom. It remains the same height, but Audi has engineered an extra 25mm of front headroom, in part by lowering the seats – which contributes to a mildly more sporty driving position.
The saloon is up to 110kg lighter than before, as much as 25% more powerful and 21% more efficient. A stunningly low drag coefficient of 0.23Cd makes the most of all that, as well as making it almost as quiet inside as an A8. Says Audi.
How smart is the new Audi A4?
That rather depends on how free and easy you are with the options list, but basically pretty much everything that was introduced on the Q7 is now available on the A4.
The familiar items include that fancy all-digital dash, a full-colour head-up display, and smartphone connectivity that includes mirroring and – shortly – the ability to remotely monitor the status of the car. Wireless charging for said smartphone isn’t a massive surprise these days, nor is the ability to assign the numbered buttons on the centre console to functions other than radio presets (think sat-nav destinations and phone numbers, for example).
We’re also fairly familiar with autonomous braking. And blindspot monitors, matrix LED headlights, automatic coasting, traffic sign recognition, self-parking tech, and even rear cross traffic detection, which warns you of approaching vehicles when you’re trying to back out of a parking space. The far out stuff begins with the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assistance; we know these can stop you in a queue and steer the car back into lane by themselves already – now Audi’s combined them into a ‘Traffic Jam Assistant’.
Traffic Jam Assistant? Don’t they hang out in fluorescent 4x4s and cause tailbacks when people mistake them for police officers?
Very droll. In the A4’s case, this means the car figures out when you’re in a jam, and then, for as long as the congestion keeps you below 40mph, essentially locks onto the vehicles in front of you to save you from having to do any tedious stop-start driving/steering in person. This includes the ability to follow those other vehicles around obstacles, such as a car broken down at the side of the road. Somebody call Skynet – its taxi has arrived. Admittedly Mercedes has a similar system, but not on the C-Class.
If you don’t like the sound of that you probably won’t like the ‘Predictive Efficiency Assistant’ either. This uses the sat-nav data to suggest when you might want to back off the accelerator to save fuel – such as when there’s a hill and you’ll make the speed back up on the other side, on approach to a roundabout, ahead of corners, or when you’re over the speed limit (…). If you’ve got the adaptive cruise switched on it will even do this automatically. The car slowing down for new speed limits is one thing (some Fords do that), but experiencing it slow down in anticipation of an upcoming roundabout is quite another.
Seriously, Skynet – your taxi is right here.
What about fun – is the new Audi A4 any good for that?
Well, if you’ve got kids you’ll probably like the new tablet-based rear-seat infotainment system, which features two incredibly solid-feeling Audi-branded tablets that clip into special mounts in the back of the front seats. You can control exactly what the kids get up to from the front, but if you’re a part time chauffeur you can allow clients to do things like set the navigation from these same devices. Beyond specific car functions like that, they are simply tablet computers, and can do everything else that tablet computers can do, including get lost down the side of the sofa or double as a clipboard at work. Supposedly they’re shatterproof for accident safety, too. Actually kid-proof? Who knows…
Still got some budget left? Then check out the Bang & Olufsen 3D-sound hifi, all 19 speakers of it. And no kidding about the dual-Bluetooth system, which uses the car’s aerial to enhance phone reception. The need for on-board wifi is obvious, surely. How else are you going to download that new version of Angry Birds? (That is still a thing, right?)
Can’t help noticing you haven’t mentioned the driving experience?
That’s harsh. Although, as stated earlier, those of a Lewis Hamiltonian disposition are probably going to get greater satisfaction out of rear-wheel-drive rivals such as the Jaguar XE and recently massaged BMW 3-series, there’s nothing actually wrong with the way the new A4 drives. In fact, it’s a significant step up from the previous version, especially when it comes to the steering and the ride.
All the cars at the launch were fitted with adaptive suspension, which possibly queers the pitch a bit as far as the ride’s concerned. But based on this in Sport configuration (23mm lower than standard), the Comfort setting is indeed comfortable and the Dynamic keeps bodyroll tightly checked; the non-Sport adaptive set-up should prove squishier still. Judgement on the conventional suspension will have to wait.
Point is, both front-wheel drive and Quattro versions of the new A4 do muster a reasonable amount of enthusiasm when presented with a series of corners. But this competence and composure is unlikely to get under your skin in the manner of the joyful Jag and beautifully balanced Beemer.
Which Audi A4 should I buy then?
Most popular engine choice will be the latest editions of the 2.0-litre TDI, as per previous form. Now available in 148bhp and 187bhp variants, if you tick the ‘ultra’ box these return a claimed 74.3 and 72.4mpg, respectively, with 99 and 102g/km. The figures slip a couple of mpg and a gram of CO2 where the seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto is specified in place of the six-speed manual. But that’s well worth the minimal damage and the £1530, though, as the six-speed self-stirrer isn’t the greatest – rushed changes from second to third have a tendency to snag on the gate, or end up in fifth.
The 187bhp version sampled will munch motorway miles like a pro, destroying middle-lane devotees with ease while soothing you with its genuinely excellent refinement. Ultra means 17-inch alloys only and no S line or Quattro; should you need the 18s, the bodykit and the traction, the efficiency takes another hit – but not an enormous one: it’s 62.8mpg and 118g/km for the full set.
UK buyers are also offered a pair of turbo petrol four-pots and couple of 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesels, but take up on these is minimal. For good reason – the 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesels are all the engine most will ever need.
There’s much about the new A4 that impresses – the interior quality remains impeccable (counter-point to the increasingly fussy dashboard design), it is very refined, better to drive, spacious, and so technologically accomplished NASA’s put it in charge of the mission to Mars. As such, it remains cunningly positioned as a different kind of proposition to the rest of the class. Even with the improvements it’s still not first choice for drivers, but it might be the best all round choice for modern lifers. We’ll be putting into the ring against the opposition very soon.