What is it?
It may not immediately look it but this is the all-new Audi A4 that’s headed to India this August. It’s a model that will take on everything, from traditional German rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-class and BMW 3-series to cars like the new Jaguar XE and Volvo S60.
At first glance, you would think Audi has its work cut out because unlike the fresh and more athletic looking all-new Q7, which has a completely different personality to its gargantuan predecessor, the new A4 doesn’t stray from the script, wearing the same understated and conservative look as before. But whilst it may not look fresh and exciting, you can’t help but be impressed with the A4’s superb proportions and clean, well-sculpted body with lots of interesting details in true Audi tradition.
Audi’s signature hexagonal grille is a tad larger than before whilst the headlamps are slimmer with an interesting kink at the bottom. Of note is the fact that Indian cars are expected to get Matrix LED headlamps. The tail-lights, which now taper sharply into the boot lid are also new. In fact, every body panel which has sharper creases is completely new and a lot of work has gone into improving the aerodynamics of the car, and the A4’s drag coefficient of 0.23 is a record for the class. There’s lots of serious engineering work that’s gone into the Audi A4, which despite being longer and wider, is now 120kg lighter than before, but more significantly, it’s even lighter than the equivalently specced 3-series, C-class and XE. The key to the new A4’s lightweight construction is the Volkswagen Group’s MLB platform made of a mixture of aluminium and steel, which underpins cars with a longitudinally mounted engine.
What's it like on the inside?
You can’t get a better cabin in this class if it’s sheer quality you’re after. The Mercedes C-class cabin design may still have a bit more drama, but for sheer craftsmanship, the A4 takes it to another level.
The flat-bottomed steering (optional) and chunky gear lever that is standard on the S-Line trim are exquisitely finished with perforated leather, and since these are the two controls you always touch, they serve as a constant reminder of the premium materials Audi has used throughout the cabin.
There are no shiny plastics, but instead soft-touch materials everywhere and all the knobs and buttons rotate or click with a nice heft. The knurled air-con knobs with the temperature control display neatly integrated in the centre (now standard on every new-gen Audi since the TT) is brilliantly detailed. Even something mundane like the cigarette-lighter socket cover has a knurled finish!
The big highlight is Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit that’s making its way to the Indian car. The Virtual Cockpit replaces the conventional instrument cluster with a massive high-definition screen which can be configured to display the navigation map, infotainment and car information, apart from the speedometer and tachometer. Also, with the navigation moved to the virtual cockpit, the regular 7.0-inch dash-mounted screen is freed up to display other information. Also, the display is now a touchscreen and designed to operate like a smartphone with functions like pinch to zoom in and swipe to scroll the navigation map. There’s Audi’s own MMI interface, which now has the knob rotating the right way, but for those not familiar with Audi’s proprietary interface, the A4 also comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which essentially replicate your smartphone functions and menus onto the dash-mounted display. This option to operate the infotainment system may be the most familiar, but I preferred using the traditional twirl-and-click functions of the MMI – it’s far less distracting than pressing an icon on a screen, especially on a bumpy road.
The interior’s functional design could have been more imaginative, but like the exterior, it’s low-key and exudes quality. The dashboard has lots of horizontal elements like full-width decorative strips and air-con vents, which accentuate the width of the cabin. There’s decent storage space as well, but what really stands out at night is the classy, cool, white lighting on our test car.
The increases in dimensions have translated to increased passenger room and it’s safe to say that the A4 is the most spacious car in its class. The front seats are very generous with lots of room to suit anyone, whilst at the rear, headroom and legroom are surprisingly good too, and the scooped out backs of the front seats liberate a few more crucial inches. But, let’s be clear. The A4 is a mid-size luxury sedan and if you’re looking primarily for chauffeur-driven comfort and back seat space, you’d be far better off in a Camry or Superb, if you’re not fussy about the badge. Also, the A4’s high transmission tunnel makes seating three passengers at the back a bit awkward. The boot, however, is a very useful 480 litres.
What’s it like to drive?
Audi India is yet to disclose the final engine-gearbox options for India but we’ve learned a 150hp, 1.4 turbo-petrol, a 190hp 2.0-litre turbo-petrol and a 272hp, 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel are likely candidates for our market. However, the mainstay of the range will be a 190hp 2.0 diesel, a VW Group engine that’s just been introduced in the Superb. VW plans to locally assemble the EA288 to save costs, which makes it the de facto 2.0-litre engine for any of the VW Group brands, including Audi. Interestingly, there is a high possibility this engine will be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox in entry level trim. However, we drove the version with a seven-speed dual clutch which is likely to be the most popular among A4 buyers in India.
It takes less than a kilometre to realise that the new A4 scores big on refinement. Engine, road and wind noise are so well contained that at cruising speeds, the car is remarkably hushed. It’s only when you accelerate hard that you hear a murmur from under the hood. Still, compared to the coarser sounding BMW 320d and Mercedes C 250 d, the Audi 2.0-litre TDI feels quite un-diesel like.
And unlike the 320d, which packs quite a punch in the mid-range thanks to its peakier torque curve, the A4’s power delivery is more progressive. That’s not to say the A4 isn’t quick. In fact, the Audi sedan builds up speed deceptively thanks to the smooth engine and linear way in which the healthy peak torque of 400Nm kicks in.
Engine response is pretty good thanks to reduced turbo lag and the 7-speed DSG transmission gives a far more connected driving experience than the old A4’s CVT. In Sport mode, it waits for the redline before upshifting, and downshifts are more aggressive too. You really don’t need to manually intervene by using the paddle shifts except on a twisty road where you would want more control.
The A4’s dynamic character hasn’t changed in the sense that providing an easy driving experience is still a clear priority over driver involvement. However, that’s not to say ride and handling hasn’t taken a big leap forward. It has, to make the A4 a far more relaxed car to drive than before, especially on the highway where the excellent straight-line stability gives you immense confidence to hold high speeds all day long. Ride comfort too is simply superb thanks to a supple suspension which manages to nicely round-off the rare sharp edges we found on UK roads, even with the larger 17-inch rims. The India-spec car is likely to get 16-inch wheels with taller tyres to expect an extra layer of cushioning which is useful on our roads. Adding to the sense of calm is the silent way in which the suspension works, muffling out bumps and expansions joints.
What comes as a pleasant surprise is the A4’s steering, which is now quicker and more responsive than anything we’ve experienced in an Audi sedan. There’s a lot more front-end bite and the A4 is more eager to turn into corners. However, when you push hard, you’ll find the steering is ultimately lacking in feel and the nose-heavy, under-steery setup does take away some of the fun factor. Ultimately, it doesn’t engage the driver like a 3-series, which has the advantage of rear-wheel-drive adjustability that true enthusiasts love. So, on a road where the 3-series or Jag XE will have you grinning from ear-to-ear, the A4, at best, will put a smile on your face.
Should I buy one?
No doubt, the A4 could have done with a more imaginative design and a bit more personality, but Audi has instead developed a car that widens the appeal to its core audience. It’s superbly built, inside and out, and comes with more class and sophistication. Looking at the way Audi has aggressively priced its new launches, you can expect the base A4 to be priced competitively under Rs 40 lakh when it goes on sale this August. Audi finally has the firepower to win the luxury compact sedan war.