At the recent overseas launch of the 2016 Audi A4 range, the German manufacturer was keen to emphasise the importance of a vehicle that remains its largest seller globally. In Australia, the A3 small car and Q5 SUV ranges outsell the A4, but around the world, there's no doubting the enduring popularity of the premium mid-sizer.
That global popularity is one of the reasons you’re unlikely to see revolution when it comes to a restyle of the Audi A4 – and that’s certainly the case with this new iteration. Take a close look at this new model and while there are some fresh new styling cues, there’s no doubt whatsoever that you’re looking at an Audi.
Audi Australia representatives told CarAdvice that the A4 sedan will go on sale locally in February 2016, while the A4 Avant (wagon) will follow in March. However in Europe, both models will go on sale together – a first for the model. We don’t have final confirmation yet on which models and specifications Australia will receive, but CarAdvice believes the 2.0 TFSI model will be a popular variant, so made sure to spend time behind the wheel of that particular model.
In Europe, there will be three TFSI petrol engines and four TDI diesel engines available across the A4 range, with up to 25 per cent more power than the outgoing model and up to a 23 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. According to Audi, the lower powered TDI six-cylinder engine is the most efficient anywhere in the world with a claimed fuel usage figure of 4.2 litres per 100km. The new A4 is up to 100kg lighter too, although that might not be the case in Australia once the model range and specification list is made concrete. It's likely Australian buyers will have four or five engines to choose from though.
All A4s will have autonomous emergency braking (which works up to 60km/h) when they land locally in early 2016. Barring models equipped with a manual gearbox, A4s across the range get the car maker's seven-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission, which is smoother and more enjoyable at low speed than it's ever been. The recently tweaked dual-clutch gearbox is in large part responsible for the across the board efficiency of the A4 range.
“The new A4 has what we call evolutionary design,” said A4 technical project manager Victor Oliveira. “It’s angular, it’s sharper than the outgoing model, but it’s still familiar as an A4.” In fact, 90 per cent of the new A4 is different to the outgoing model.
Some of the subtle styling changes aren’t even noticeable until you take a closer look. For example, the wing mirrors have been moved to the body rather than the A-pillar, which reduces road noise and improves aerodynamic efficiency. The exterior styling is very much traditional A4, but with a generally sharper theme front and rear. That sharper, more angular appearance is most noticeable around the headlights and taillights.
First up, we spent some time behind the wheel of the 3.0 TDI. The V6 diesel engine generates 160kW between 4000-5000rpm and 400Nm between 1250-3750rpm. It claims to use as little as 4.4L/100km despite rolling on 17-inch wheels and tyres and claiming to scoot from 0-100km/h in 6.6 seconds. As you’d expect of a V6 with peak torque available so low in the rev range, this engine and gearbox combo is an enjoyable one. Roll-on acceleration is rapid and smooth and on Italy’s motorways at 130km/h, the 3.0 TDI doesn't even flex its muscles. At lower speeds, the diesel engine is quiet and refined, with plenty of urge off the mark. Despite its ability around town, this engine is the one you want if you spend plenty of time on motorways or covering large distances commuting over the course of the year.
Next up, we got behind the wheel of the variant we think will be the pick of the range locally: the 2.0 TFSI. Matched with the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and quattro drivetrain, the model is genuinely engaging. The engine's peak power of 185kW comes between 5000-6000rpm, while peak torque of 370Nm hits between 1600-4500rpm. Speed limited to 250km/h, the 2.0 TFSI gets from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds and uses a claimed 5.9L/100km with 17-inch wheels and tyres fitted. Taking the 2.0 TFSI for a punt out onto the twisty roads at the foot of the awe-inspiring Dolomites highlights its all round ability. The engine, punchy down low, continues to pile on speed right up to redline, without ever feeling breathless. It’s aided by crisp shifts of the S-tronic gearbox and chunky torque delivery, which help engine performance feel completely effortless. The more time I spend driving the 2.0 TFSI, the more I’m convinced it will be well loved when it lands locally and it's definitely the pick for drivers who enjoy having a bit of fun behind the wheel. It's the more engaging driver's car and the one that will feel right at home in the cut and thrust of urban traffic.
Our third test vehicle is the 2.0 TFSI ultra model, which is in effect the lower tune 2.0-litre engine minus the quattro drivetrain. This engine makes 140kW between 4200-6000rpm and 320Nm between 1450-4200rpm. It uses a claimed 4.8L/100km with 16-inch wheels and tyres fitted and gets from 0-100km/h in a claimed 7.3 seconds. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this package, but after driving the higher-powered version, it’s a little uninspiring. Sure it’s efficient and just as refined, but the more muted performance detracts a little from the general driving experience. It also has to work harder than the quattro version and doesn't handle with its competence either. There's more body roll and less precision to the turn in and general handling at speed. This model will be a hit in Europe I’m sure, but more enthusiastic drivers will definitely opt for the high-powered 2.0 TFSI quattro.
Finally, we spend some time driving the six-speed manual-equipped 2.0 TDI ultra. It’s the first manual we drive and while it’s a sharp shifter, it does highlight the effortless enjoyment that comes from driving the seven-speed S tronic variants. This package generates 140kW between 3800-4200rpm and 400Nm between 1750-3000rpm. With 16-inch wheels and tyres fitted, this fuel miser slurps a claimed 3.8L/100km. A lengthy highway run illustrates just how easily this compact engine cruises up to 130km/h and it’s incredibly quiet while doing so.
Across the board, there’s nothing that really niggles about the A4 range. Audi Australia representatives agree with CarAdvice that very few, if any, local buyers will opt for a manual transmission, but Audi Australia will likely offer the option as a special buyer order. Impressively, the dual-clutch gearbox is smooth regardless of the engine it is paired to and seemingly regardless of road speed or load.
Audi is keen to note the presence of tech inclusions that have filtered down from the upper luxury class, significantly more expensive vehicles. This is most evident in the cabin, where features like the Audi Virtual Cockpit and control systems, have an expensive feel to them. Even the horizontal dashboard design, which has a floating appearance to it, feels like it belongs in a much more exclusive vehicle.
The new A4, like the new TT and R8, benefits greatly from the addition of the Virtual Cockpit. It not only adds functionality and user friendliness to the driving experience, but also a high-end premium feel. The 12.3-inch TFT display is crystal clear and customisable to suit the driver, while the 8.3-inch central display and MMI system has been fully redesigned. The A4 also features clever tech like an induction charging pad in the centre console for smart phones that support the technology.
We didn’t get much time to put the MMI system and tech interfaces through their paces, but expect the system to be as easy to use as those in the TT and R8. We particularly liked the general cleanliness of the centre console and dash fascia too. It doesn’t look too button heavy or overcrowded as so many can, but possesses the right controls in an easy to understand layout. Some of the standard features for Australia that should be noted include front and rear parking sensors, a rear camera, Audi Pre Sense City (including AEB), blind spot monitoring, three-zone climate control with digital rear display and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The cabin in general is beautifully designed and finished. That signature Audi appeal remains, despite the new horizontal design lines and generally sharper edges. Headroom has been increased by 24mm, and there’s 23mm extra legroom in the second row. The 480-litre boot capacity is impressive for the class and the boot aperture is wide too, making loading and unloading easier than it would be otherwise.
It’s always a bit of a lottery assessing a brand new vehicle on racetrack smooth, carefully selected European roads, but the Audi A4 is a genuinely impressive redesign of what is now the ninth iteration of an incredibly popular model range. For that reason, we're going to score the range an 8/10 overall and take a closer look at the scoring when we see exactly which models we get locally. We'll also revisit the scoring when we've spent time behind the wheel on local roads.
Over the past decade, Audi has become synonymous with well designed and beautifully executed interiors, conservative but classy exterior design and a potent mix of performance and efficiency across its broad model portfolio. Certainly in Australia, there’s a definite sense of status that comes with having an Audi parked in the driveway. Hence the popularity of the brand over the past five to ten years. The new Audi A4 is an impressive addition to the current stable, which now includes revised models like the TT, R8, and Q7.
The A4 might not be as widely popular in Australia as it is around the world, owing largely to our fanatical rush to SUVs of all shapes and sizes. It is however, set to be a class leader in the segment when it lands locally. The new Audi A4 is also a potent reminder of just how practical, comfortable and enjoyable a mid-sized sedan – especially in the luxury ranks – can be.