What is it?
It’s no wonder the Audi A4 is the brand’s best-selling sedan, and often its best-selling model full stop (it jostles with the Q3 for that top spot). Yes, the A3 is now the entry point to the ‘Four Rings’ club, but really it’s the size and positioning of the A4 that makes it a more enticing proposition for many, especially the chauffeur driven.
In recent years, the outgoing car was outclassed in most areas by its rivals, and this new one makes amends in all the right places. Sure, it may not look too different and this might be a deterrent for some, but spend a little time and you’ll see the changes. It’s visually a lot wider, something that’s enhanced by the larger, protruding, more ‘textured’ grille and new headlamps that look aggressive like a pair of fangs. The lines are a lot more pronounced, especially down the sides, where you’ll also find a subtle indent at the base of the doors. There’s a lot of Audi TT in the look, and you’ll agree, that’s no bad thing. The rear is similar too, with only the new multi-layered LED tail-lamps (and their ‘swiping’ indicators) setting it apart. Under this familiar skin sits Audi’s new MLB Evo architecture that underpins, in different forms, the Q7, the upcoming A8 and even the Bentley Bentayga.
The big news here is weight reduction, and this ‘B9’ A4 tips the scales a whole 95kg lighter than the old B8. Of course, the car comes with Audi’s latest suite of tech, but more significantly, it’s being launched with just a petrol engine for now, and the motor in question is a rather interesting one. More on that later.
What’s it like on the inside?
The outside may remind you of the old A4, but the interior resembles the new Q7, which is really impressive. The dash flows a lot better now, especially compared to the old, upright one from the last generation. There’s a choice of beige-and-black or all-black leather upholstery, the standing MMI screen (though it doesn’t fold away) is very well integrated, and yes, there’s even Audi’s fancy Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster. Material quality, as ever with Audi, is just superb, and a small but consequential thing to note is the use of thick, rich-feeling slabs of wood on the dash and doors that really make this cabin feel plush. Other nice bits? Sure. The wing mirrors, mounted on the doors rather than the pillars, seem small but offer a wide enough field of view. The haptic buttons that ‘preview’ their function when you run your finger over them are stylistic, and a cool touch. The frameless inside rear-view mirror and the wireless charging pad for Qi-compatible phones. And then there is the key’s memory function that remembers not just your seat and mirror positions, but your AC, Drive Select mode and media preferences as well.
The front seats are much better contoured than the previous A4’s and are more comfy over long distances as a result. Moreover, it’s really easy getting comfortable behind the wheel thanks to a great driving position and good all-round visibility. The big change is at the back, where Audi has managed to liberate a lot of room. BMW’s tactic of moving the seat lower and further back seems to have been employed here, and if you don’t mind the slightly more cumbersome ingress that results, the effect is tremendous. There’s quite a lot of legroom and headroom in here, but we’d still say the back seat is best for two, width wise.
What’s it like to drive?
Now to the engine. In the A6, Audi swapped its 1.8-litre turbo-petrol motor for a new 2.0-litre unit with slightly improved power and torque. In the new A4 (don’t be fooled by the Audi’s strange 30 TFSI badge) the 1.8 has been replaced by a 1.4, pretty much the same one that’s in the Skoda Octavia 1.4 TSI. Its outputs of 150hp and 250Nm are a fair bit down on the old car’s 170hp and 320Nm, and that is bound to make some potential customers think twice. But, as Audi is quick to point out, at 8.5sec, the new car is just 0.3sec slower than the old one from 0-100kph – thanks in part to the weight loss and the quick seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (the old car had a CVT). More importantly, in a country that’s obsessed with fuel economy, the A4 30 TFSI can return a claimed 17.4kpl, which is class leading. The idea, Audi says, is to no longer participate in a race for the highest performance numbers, but to instead deliver a comfortable driving experience with much better running costs in the process. That’s all well and good, but how does this motor perform in the real world?
Start up and get going, and you will not be able to discern Audi’s downsizing effort. It’s refined, it’s smooth and it gets off the line without feeling strained. In fact, the whole car feels really light on its feet. As ever with Audi’s S Tronic multi-clutch gearboxes, this one is just sublime – smooth, jerk-free and very intuitive. It’s when you ask any more of it that the A4 30 TFSI starts to fumble. Punch the accelerator hard for an overtaking manoeuvre, for instance, and there will be some hesitation before it gets into its stride. The gearbox will kick down and hold on to a lower gear, as ever, but this is when you’ll hear the motor strain as it revs into and past its mid-range. Progress starts to feel forced, and should you get near the 6,250rpm redline, you’ll find that it’s more noise than actual acceleration. It’s a similar thing when you try to drive absolutely flat out; you almost want to tug at the right gearshift paddle for an early upshift to put the motor out of its misery. On highway cruises, provided you let the car get into its rhythm gently, sitting in seventh at 100kph is a relatively stress-free event. But you always know that if you want to get any more out of it, it will be stepping out of its comfort zone. Putting the Drive Select system into Dynamic mode only amplifies this, really. You’ll be locked into high revs at all times, and while that is good for getting the most out of the engine and gearbox, it just feels better to drive this car leisurely in comfort mode at lower engine speeds. All things considered, this 1.4 or 30 TFSI motor is good enough for city duties, but take it out on the highway or try to push it hard and it will feel a bit overwhelmed.
So the engine isn’t a 100 percent success, but what is an absolute revelation is the suspension. The last A4 felt like an inflatable castle from a children’s birthday party, but this one is just so much more sorted. Audi has clearly raised the ride height for India, but unlike with some competitors, this hasn’t come at the cost of ride quality or dynamics. Bump absorption is fantastic by any standard, and we were amazed with some of the bumps this car just ate up without a fuss. You really have to drive it a bit recklessly into potholes to get hard thud out of it. And it does this without being overly floaty or bouncy. Body movements are kept well in check, and only at three-digit speeds over undulations will you feel a bit of waywardness. Some of this may be down to the wheel and tyre choice – they’re 17-inch alloys running on 50-profile Hankook rubber – but overall this is a monumental jump from the old car, and a stellar-riding vehicle in general. Our test route had the sum total of zero corners on it, so we can’t tell you too much about the handling, but know that with a steering that’s accurate and direct in the city (and weighs up well in Dynamic mode) and good body control, you can expect good things as far as front-wheel-drive luxury sedans go.
Should I buy one?
Audi is onto something really good with this car. On the inside and out, the company has gone with evolution rather than revolution, and in many ways that’s a good thing. Perhaps Audi’s biggest hallmark is tech, and that is on an all-new level with this car. Above that, space and comfort have been addressed in a big way, and suffice to say, they’re up with the class best, if not ahead of it. Dynamically too, it’s a quantum leap over the previous car and older Audis in general. The elephant in the room is, of course, the engine, but Audi remains confident that buyers will warm to the notion of such a heavily downsized powertrain. Truth be told, if you’re chauffeured and use the car mostly in the city, it shouldn’t bother you, and the less frequent fuel bills will be very welcome. Still, we’d like to wait until Audi launches the diesel A4 (and perhaps a more powerful petrol variant) to give you a final verdict. For now, it’s got just about everything else going for it.