Audi's ninth-generation A4 might look similar to the model it replaces but it's 90 per cent new and bristling with the latest technology.
There’s no doubt the arrival of the new Audi A4 is a pretty big deal for the German badge because, put simply, it represents the most technologically advanced Audi ever sold in Australia.
Yet, despite the fact that it’s bristling with fresh tech, many will argue the 2016 Audi A4 looks almost identical to the model it replaces.
This ninth-generation A4 clearly applies the same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ design principals that its super sports sister brand Porsche uses on the 911.
Get up close though and the changes become a little more obvious. The new A4 gets the latest single-face grille, which also appears on several other models, including the latest Audi A3, TT and Q7 SUV and looks cleaner and more sophisticated than the previous open-mouth styling.
The 2016 A4 is also slightly longer and wider, offering more overall space inside the cabin. There’s a new, more masculine clamshell-style bonnet that rounds out to a stronger character line running down the entire length of the car.
The rear profile centres on the rear spoiler stamped into the boot lid, which adds to the A4’s tougher all-round stance, along with sleek new Adaptive LED headlamps – standard across the entire A4 range.
Audi claims benchmark aerodynamic efficiency for the new A4, citing a drag coefficient value of just 0.27 for Australian delivered cars, while some European variants are as low as 0.23. To achieve this result, the side mirrors were redesigned (look closely and you can see the integrated stripes on the back) and moved from the A-pillar to the body for better airflow and less turbulence.
Despite the increased dimensions and longer wheelbase, lightweight construction methods mean the new A4 is up to 65 kilograms lighter than its predecessor. The body itself is one of the lightest in class and weighs 15 kilos less than the previous model.
In fact, everywhere you look there’s weight-saving engineering in play. The mounts for the front MacPherson struts are highly integrated aluminium castings that reduce the weight by eight kilograms compared with the same components made of sheet steel.
It’s a similar story with the new engine line-up, at least in terms of power and efficiency.
Audi has launched their new A4 with a choice of four powertrains: three four-cylinder turbo petrol and one four-cylinder turbo diesel, with prices starting from $55,500 for the entry-level 1.4 TSFI plus on-road costs.
The remainder of the line-up includes the 2.0 TSFI from $60,900, the 2.0 TDI quattro from $66,900 and the high-powered 2.0 TFSI quattro from $69,900.
All engines are paired with a newly developed seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the front wheels of the two lower-powered petrol models, and to all four wheels of the diesel and high-output petrol. It’s infinitely more refined and enjoyable than the continuously variable transmission used previously, with beautifully crisp gearshifts occurring in just a few hundredths of a second via the shift lever, or more convenient paddle-shifters.
The entry-level 1.4 TFSI produces 110kW of power between 5000-6000rpm and 250Nm of torque from 1500-3500rpm. It claims to go from 0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 210km/h.
According to European combined cycle figures, the 1.4-litre engine consumes 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while generating CO2 emissions of 126g/km.
In all honesty, I was quietly hoping to avoid cycling through this efficient, downsized four-cylinder lightweight (the engine weighs just 100kg) front wheeler, thinking it would be largely uninspiring from behind the wheel.
Glad I didn’t. Throttle response is nice and sharp – even sporty – thanks to minimal turbo lag, and there’s enough poke for high-speed overtakes, though you’ll need to keep your right foot into it.
The real surprise though, is the level of refinement and general quietness afforded by this small-displacement four-cylinder turbo, without sacrificing the pleasant snarl it also emits when you’re having fun.
Next up, we climbed aboard the high-efficiency 2.0 TFSI, which makes a respectable 140kW between 4200-6000rpm and 320Nm from 1450-4200rpm. It also claims to be even more efficient, consuming just 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres, with CO2 emissions of 119g/km.
Audi engineers went to great lengths to ensure this engine delivers outstanding fuel economy with genuine performance and it’s a significant step up from the compact 1.4 TFSI in every way. It’s also more than a second quicker to 100km/h (7.3sec) with a top speed of 240km/h.
Out of the gate, it doesn’t feel a whole lot slower that its high-performance 2.0-litre twin. It’s punchy, quick to respond and there’s little or no turbo lag when you choose to put the boot in, regardless of where you are in the rev range.
Audi has used innovative combustion technology with shorter compression and longer expansion phases, as well as higher compression, designed specifically for partial load – conditions that favour daily driving conditions.
Additionally, the intake valves open earlier and there’s more pressure in the intake manifold, which reduces throttling losses during aspiration.
The high-powered, flagship version produces a meaty 185kW and torque of 370Nm between 1600-4500rpm from its 2.0-litre turbo engine. It’s a genuinely potent performer, able to go from 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds. Moreover, it’s wide torque band means it pulls harder and longer than its 140kW sibling.
More fun can be had working the dual-clutch paddle-shifters, especially on the downshift, where each pull of the left-hand paddle is rewarded with a perfectly synchronised rev match, especially in the quick-shifting Sport setting.
Another highlight is the A4’s new electromechanical power steering. For the first time I can remember, there’s real driver feedback through the steering wheel of an Audi. Sharp turn-in is par for the course with this system, which is further enhanced by truly superb body control.
Clearly, this will be the enthusiasts favourite - at least until the S4 joins the newly launched A4 line-up later in the year.
The real surprise though, is the sole diesel in the range. Armed with 140kW and a brawny 400Nm of torque driving all four wheels between 3800-4200rpm; it’s slightly quicker to 100km/h (7.2sec) than the 2.0 TFSI with the same power output.
Under full throttle, you won’t be able to pick this for an oil-burner, but for the rev gauge. And again, there is any lag to speak of, either. Punch the right pedal and it just gets up and goes, with an even delivery of power all the way to redline. And just like the 2.0-litre petrol variants, there’s also a high level of refinement with this engine, to the point where it feels and sounds more like a 3.0-litre diesel.
But all this power hasn’t affected fuel economy; Audi claims it will use a miserly 4.6L/100km on a combined cycle, something we will put to the test when the new A4 range starts rolling through the CarAdvice garage over the next few weeks.
Ride and handling is exemplary across the entire range, even on 18-19 inch low-profile tyres, thanks to a new lightweight suspension system with five-link axles at the front and rear, along with monotube dampers and stabilizer bars. It provides a sensible balance between ride comfort and body control, though it does lean toward the firm side.
Audi also claims it’s the only car in market to offer two separate adaptive damper systems – Sport adaptive dampers or Comfort adaptive dampers. Both systems also also lower the ride height by 23mm and 10mm respectively, compared to the standard suspension setup.
Drivers can scroll through the various settings (Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Efficiency) and expect immediate changes to body control and ride comfort to match the driving conditions.
Grip levels are also exceptionally good, especially in the all-wheel drive quattro-equipped models. You can really lean on the A4 in the bends and the car hangs on with inspired confidence. Even mid-corner bumps don’t seem to bother it.
As first mentioned, the latest Audi A4 is nothing less than a technological tour de force, boasting a host of high-tech kit normally found in considerably more expensive vehicles.
Spearheading the advanced equipment charge are adaptive LED headlights, which are standard across the entire 2016 Audi A4 line-up.
You can also option advanced Matrix beam headlamps that use information from the car’s multiple sensors, camera and satellite navigation system to automatically dip or turn off individual diodes in up to eight different fingers, so as not to blind oncoming drivers.
For the first time, standard inside all A4 variants is the MMI Navigation plus infotainment system, featuring an 8.3-inch centre screen, MMI touchpad, 10GB music storage, live traffic updates, and a new smartphone interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Higher grades also get DAB+ digital radio, while a specially designed 755-Watt, Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system incorporating 19-speakers and a 16-channel amplifier is a must-have option at 1500 bucks.
Additionally, the $2100 Tecknik package adds Audi’s virtual cockpit – a fully digital instrument cluster with 12.3-inch screen and head-up display, as well as a new rear-seat entertainment system with removable tablets are offered in the A4 for the first time.
The tablets are specially integrated with MMI Connect system and use the on-board Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to the Internet. Features include the ability to pull up directions on Google maps and send a specific location to the driver, who can then choose to accept the directions, or not.
Even the car’s voice control system has been further developed and now understands natural phrases like “Where is the nearest Chinese restaurant?” or “Where can I fill up?” for example.
The three-zone climate control system is like no other system currently in market. It has an active charcoal filter that removes micro particles like bacteria and odours. It even filters recirculated air within the cabin. Audi claims the system is twice as effective as those systems in rival models.
Standard on the new A4 are a host of advanced driver assist systems, such as pre-sense city autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, exit warning system that uses interior ambient LEDs that illuminate if a vehicle or cyclist is detected approaching from behind, rear cross traffic assist and side assist. Likewise, the pre-sense system warns of an imminent collision and prepares the cabin and passengers for an impact.
Buyers can also order the optional $1900 Assistance package, which adds an entire suite of active safety systems including active lane assist, active cruise with stop and go including traffic jam assistant, (follows vehicles with auto throttle, brake and steering inputs) distance indicator and pre-sense front, turn assist (with full auto braking), collision avoidance assist and high beam assist.
Those extra dimensions have also resulted in more headroom up front (even with a sunroof) and more legroom down back, putting it at the more spacious end of the segment. And the boot, at 480 litres, matches the best in class.
With impressive new fare from Audi like the latest A3, TT and recently released Q7, we expected the new-generation A4 to be good. But we didn’t expect it to be this good.