The updated eighth-generation Audi A4 takes the fight to its German rivals with a range of improved powertrains, better fuel efficiency, sharper looks and added features and specifications.
The mid-sized Audi A4 is an important model to Audi's Australian operations, with the model accounting for 21 percent of overall sales, making it the most popular "A" car for the German brand. So far this year (Jan-May) the outgoing A4 model has achieved 1,174 sales, placing it below the ever-popular Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2,644) and the all-new BMW 3 Series range (1,694).
Although technically a mid-life facelift, Audi says the changes to the A4 have been substantial, with almost every area of the car examined and improved in some way. The changes start with the engines, which have seen an average fuel economy improvement of about 15 percent across the range. That's not to mention that nearly all powerplants have gained additional power and torque (and even shed a few kilos) in the process.
Audi has also improved the exterior look with a sharper front end that does away with round foglights and brings about a more modern design thanks to the inclusion of a new solid pattern for the LED daytime running lamps (which should see Audi yet again set new trends in headlight design). The rear end comes with updated U-shaped tail-lights and horizontal elements in the rear diffuser.
Available in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive 'quattro' drivetrains, the variety of A4s available differ significantly as you step up through the range. The entry point is a six-speed manual Audi A4 1.8 TFSI for $52,700 and the current top of the range model is the previously unavailable Audi S4 3.0-litre V6 supercharged Avante that retails for a healthy $123,900.
To experience the Audi A4 range we flew to Hobart where we drove multiple variants on our way to Launceston via a series of twisty mountainous roads that encompassed stages of the famous Targa Tasmania rally.
First in line was a 3.0-litre petrol TFSI supercharged quattro sedan, which sits right below the S4 in the performance spectrum. With a marketing-inspired 200kW of power and 400Nm of torque, it launches from 0-100km/h in a very respectable 5.4 seconds and sees its might pushed to all four wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Although it doesn't have an S badge, the engine is essentially the same as the Audi S4 in terms of hardware, but in a different state of tune (which explains the 1:2 power to torque ratio). It even uses the same amount of fuel as the S4, consuming 8.1L/100km.
Put all that into perspective and it's one seriously quick car, helped along by the quattro system which does wonders for traction. It doesn’t sound nearly as good as its S4 brother, but it’s a perfect compromise if you’ve got about $93,400 to spend and want something sporty.
We then swapped into a 3.0-litre TDI diesel A4 Avant, which is only available as a front-wheel drive with a multitronic CVT transmission (can be ordered with more power and torque as a quattro with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in sedan form). With 150kW and 400Nm, this family-friendly wagon also happens to be the most fuel-efficient V6 diesel in the country (in all categories), consuming a miserly 4.9L/100km.
You’d be hard pressed to argue that a family wagon needs more power or torque (at least until you drive an S4 Avant), and given Audi’s strong presence in the wagon segment (selling more wagons than BMW and Mercedes-Benz), it’s hard to look past if practicality is a priority.
Although wagons are actually more popular in Europe than sedans, only 15 percent of Australian A4 buyers are likely to pick the Avant, which still surprises us given the huge benefits the extra space offers. In the looks department the Audi A4 Avant also appears to be the best-proportioned wagon between the three Germans.
The entry-model 1.8 TFSI petrol multitronic ($55,500) was next in line and as one of the most popular variants it has received substantial changes to the drivetrain. Despite a noticeable increase in power and torque (125kW and 320Nm), the 1.8 TFSI has reduced its fuel consumption by 1.4L/100km to become the most fuel-efficient car in its category, consuming 5.8L/100km. A figure we’d be happy to get from a four-cylinder diesel. This almost makes the A4 2.0 TDI irrelevant as it uses just 1L/100km more fuel. Behind the wheel it feels more than capable as a day to day family car and given its $9000 cheaper than the 2.0 TFSI quattro, it makes perfect sense if you’re not all that fussed on performance figures (0-100km/h in 8.3 seconds).
Speaking of the 2.0 TFSI quattro, this is by and large our favourite model for the money ($64,500). Although the additional 30kW of power and 30Nm of torque over the 1.8 TFSI don’t seem like much, the addition of the all-wheel drive system significantly enhances the drivability and dynamics of this A4. It rushes from 0-100km/h in 6.5 seconds, which means it can be tremendously fun to drive.
Around the twisty stuff, the quattro system easily distributes power where needed and there’s an overwhelming sense of confidence around corners that’s absent in the multitronics. It’s also available in a manual ($61,700), but given how delightful the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is, particularly in dynamic mode where it downshifts when you brake hard coming into a corner, the additional $2800 is worth every penny.
If you must have the best A4, at least for now, the supercharged 3.0-litre Audi S4 is the one to go for. Audi Australia will bring the Audi RS4 Avant down under early next year (not available in sedan, given the existence of the RS5), but for now the S4 is king. With 245kW and 440Nm, the S4 catapults from 0-100km/h in five seconds flat and creates a glorious soundtrack in the process.
Around the magnificent roads of elephant’s pass in Launceston, we drove an S4 sedan and wagon and found it hard to swap out into anything else. In dynamic mode the steering feel is almost race car-like: heavy and extremely precise. Meanwhile comfort mode changes the damper settings, steering weight, acceleration feel and transmission settings for a more docile experience. In essence, it’s the perfect family car if you enjoy the occasional spirited drive. It offers all the creature comforts of a standard A4, but enormous performance credentials when the time is right.
Generally speaking all A4 variants are quite and rather civilised. They are also relatively comfortable even on rough surfaces. It's hard to say that the front-wheel drive CVT variants ride and drive better than their equivalent rear-wheel drive BMW 3 series competitors, but they are certainly on par with the class-leading Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Where the A4 does outshine its German rivals, is its interior. Whilst the new BMW 3 Series has had substantial interior improvements and the C-class’ is still fresh, the A4's cabin is unrivalled for simplicity and uncluttered interior design.
All models come standard with a 6.5-inch screen that takes care of the audio and car system settings. Audi has made subtle improvements to the interior, such as a new three-spoke steering wheel ($300 option for a flat bottom steering wheel), high gloss black finishes, new interior colours and even minor changes such as chrome surrounds on the boot release button. There’s simply something about the way the whole cabin ambience comes together that gives the A4 an edge over its rivals.
Unfortunately, satellite navigation is still an abnormally high-cost option at $3450 and it's the only way you'll get access to Bluetooth audio streaming (telephone connectivity is standard), which means you'll almost have no choice but to tick it if you're not fond of cables imprisoning your iPod/iPhone. You can, however, get navigation and hence Bluetooth audio streaming as part of the Technik package, which also includes xenon headlights with LED daytime driving lights and front and rear parking sensors.
The addition of new active safety features, such as adaptive cruise control and active lane assist are also welcomed ($1900 option). We found Audi’s lane assist system, which automatically steers the vehicle back into its lane if the driver fails to correct course, to be the best we’ve tested to date. Providing a seamless and simple nudge to maintain course without all the over-the-top audible and visual warnings that similar systems offer in rival vehicles.
Overall, the current range of vehicles available in the mid-sized luxury segment is very healthy. All three German luxury brands are offering excellent vehicles for reasonable coin, which makes picking one a hard choice.
But with class-leading fuel economy in both petrol and diesel guise, better value for money and sharper looks, the new Audi A4 range is a more complete package than ever before. Check out the gallery for more pictures.
- Audi A4 1.8 TFSI manual 125kW $52,700
- Audi A4 1.8 TFSI multitronic 125kW $55,500
- Audi A4 2.0 TDI multitronic 130kW $57,900
- Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro manual 155kW $61,700
- Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic 155kW $64,500
- Audi A4 3.0 TDI multitronic 150kW $68,900
- Audi A4 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic 180kW $88,000
- Audi A4 3.0 TFSI quattro S tronic 200kW $93,400 3/3
- Audi A4 Avant 1.8 TFSI multitronic 125kW $58,500
- Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI multitronic 130kW $60,900
- Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TFSI quattro S tronic 155kW $67,500
- Audi A4 Avant 3.0 TDI multitronic 150kW $71,900
- Audi A4 3.0 TFSI quattro S tronic 245kW $120,400
- Audi A4 Avant 3.0 TFSI quattro S tronic 245kW $123,900
Manufacturer List Pricing (MLP) – excludes dealer delivery and statutory charges