VENICE, Italy: Having driven the facelifted BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, and all-new Audi A4 in quick succession this year, it’s clear that whereas manufactures such as Jaguar and Infiniti (Q50) seek to enlarge their share of the compact executive sedan market by offering innovative new products, the Teutonic triumvirate will cement its dominance by steadily improving on already solid platforms. In Audi’s case this manifests in a renewed focus on overall comfort, refinement and technologies, both in terms of safety and convenience.
Although its design is clearly evolutionary, the new A4 is nevertheless 90% new compared with the model it replaces. Ingolstadt’s newcomer is, on average, 120 kilograms lighter than the outgoing version and, when viewed in the metal, the sleek-profiled Audi doesn’t appear longer and wider than before – even though it is. From a sharper grille and contours to the repositioning of the side mirrors, the B9-generation A4 boasts a class-leading 0,23 Cd drag coefficient that not only helps with overall efficiency throughout the range but also, in terms of corresponding low NVH levels, complements easily the most refined interior package in this segment.
Sharing the same revised MLB Evo platform as the recently-introduced Q7, the new A4 not only gains 25 mm worth of extra headroom up front but a further 23 mm worth of additional legroom behind the front seats, culminating in class-leading levels of rear occupancy comfort. Luggage capacity now matches the claimed 480-litres of the C-Class.
If the previous-generation A4 was lauded for its impressive interior build quality the new model lifts this to near A8-cloning levels. While an overriding sense of sophistication is heightened by a notable lack of road noise and the hush of a well-insulated cabin, there’s also a welcome finesse to all the instrumentation and switchgear. This includes a metallic finish on the climate control buttons and a new motion-sensitive multimedia control unit linked with a large facia-mounted infotainment screen. Introduced in the TT, Audi’s virtual cockpit that configures the driver’s digital instrument cluster to incorporate the likes of SatNav displays is now offered on the A4 range.
Indeed, nearly every technological advance and safety feature afforded the latest Q7 can now be ordered (at a cost) for the humble A4. In communication terms this includes Wi-Fi hotspots, wireless mobile phone charging and remote access to certain functions via a smartphone app. Of interest is an Audi-developed tablet that attaches behind the front seats, providing entertainment for rear passengers. Once specified, these robust units serve as fully functioning Android-based tablets (complete with apps) that can be removed for use in classrooms or the home.
A full bouquet of driver aids includes lane assistance, collision avoidance, and various parking programmes.
At launch Audi South Africa will introduce four engine options, two diesel- and two TFSI petrol models. While the new 1,4 TFSI petrol engine impressed in terms of refinement and unflustered punch (250 N.m between 1 500 and 3 500 r/min), the new 2,0 TDI unit is also likely to find favour in our market. Boasting 140 kW and a sturdy 400 N.m of torque between 1 750 and 3 000 r/min this model, mated exclusively with a seven-speed S tronic transmission, is capable of a 0-100 km/h sprint in just 7,7-seconds, while returning a claimed 4,1 L/100 km on a combined cycle.
While a 2,0T quattro model will be launched later in 2016 the initial range will consist of front-wheel-driven models only. To this end a new five-link independent suspension setup has been introduced at all four corners of the new A4, with a revised electric power steering system offering improved feedback in all driving conditions. Enthusiasts will tell you there’s more “fun” to be had behind the wheel of the rear-wheel-drive BMW and Jaguar models in this segment, the reality is that the Audi proved as accomplished and sure-footed as any well-engineered entry-level executive sedan should. Those seeking more in terms of enthusiasm will have other models, including the recently shown S4 and inevitable RS4 (touted to be offered in sedan guise once more) to look forward to.
Of more relevance to this segment is the impressive ride quality offered by the new A4. Granted all the models available at launch were fitted with optional air suspension, including drive select for shifting between comfort and sport modes, yet given how relatively inexpensive this variable damper setup is within the overall package, it’s a box definitely worth ticking.
To judge the new Audi A4 on its relatively conservative, evolutionary styling update is to miss some of the most impressive under-the-skin enhancements to filter down into this segment. From its impressively refined and cocooned cabin to its frugal new drivetrains and technological advancements the new A4 raises the bar in terms of the level of premium that (admittedly at a price) can be built into an executive sedan, even at an entry-level point.