The new-generation Audi A4 sedan hit Australian showrooms earlier this year, though based on the evolutionary looks, a casual observer might be pardoned for wondering what the fuss was all about.
But, rest assured, Audi’s brand spanking rival to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class brings plenty new to the table. And, in a testament to the company's thoroughness, much of this is best demonstrated by the entry level Audi A4 1.4 TFSI variant tested here.
At $55,500 plus on-road costs, the 1.4 TFSI Sport is one of the market’s more affordable luxury cars, rivalling the $54,900 BMW 318i. Yes, a starting price in the mid-$50k range isn’t cheap, but there’s nothing about the Audi A4 that feels unworthy of the sticker.
Audi built its brand on quattro AWD and cabin craftsmanship. And while this front-wheel-drive base variant doesn’t come with the former, it absolutely delivers on the latter.
Pull the upwards-hinged door handles and thunk the padded doors closed, and you’re greeted by a cabin that in no way feels like it belongs on a sub-$60k vehicle. This kind of clinical, Teutonic material class could very easily belong to something twice or even triple the price, with delightful aluminium cabin inlays, knurled dials, damped switchgear, touch-sensitive ventilation controls and welcoming, well-bolstered leather seats all present.
The clean design offers some notable highlights, led by the three-spoke steering wheel, the chunky gear-shifter and the simple rotary dial for the infotainment. The floating screen and the smaller digital display in the driver’s instruments, which can display driving information or mirror what’s on the main central display, are also thoroughly modern.
The fact you get Google Maps with Street View embedded into the satellite navigation system (you can use a conventional display) is a welcome touch, as is the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Meanwhile the ambient lighting in the doors, across the fascia and even in the cup-holders makes the cabin a proper event come nightfall.
Additional standard features beyond those mentioned include 18-inch wheels, cruise control with a speed limiter, three-zone climate control, proper leather seats, a reversing camera, spiffy LED headlights, rain and dusk sensors, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous braking, rear cross-traffic assist, and a 7.0-inch digital driver’s instrument cluster, like a watered-down Audi TT-style Virtual Cockpit.
Our test Audi A4 had precious little in the options department, limited to DAB+ digital radio (a steep $600) and keyless access with foot-sensor-operated boot ($900, should really be standard) and metallic paint ($1420). There are some other options worth considering: the $1900 Assistance Package (lane assist, traffic jam assist, adaptive cruise control, high beam assist and more), the just-mentioned Virtual Cockpit ($2100), a sunroof ($1950), the LED Matrix headlights like those on the A8 limo ($1700) and a 755W Bang and Olufsen 19-speaker sound system ($2000).
But none of these are really necessary to add to the already sensational ambience, and for most (perhaps excluding our CTO, and resident DJ-ing audiophile, Cam) entirely sufficient.
Space in the rear is about on a par for the class, meaning it about matches the rear-drive 3 Series for legroom and headroom. Rear occupants get their own air vents and ambient lights, while you can fit two 9.1-inch rear screens for $3600. Boot space is 480L with a space-saver spare under the floor, while the back seats flip forward for longer items. For prospective buyers who want more room, the cheapest Audi A4 Avant wagon comes with a bigger 2.0 TFSI engine and costs $63,900.
From a driving perspective, the entry Audi A4 is not quite the surgically sharp instrument that the base 3 Series is, but it doesn’t really need to be.
Power comes from a 1.4 turbo-petrol engine making a respectable, though far from earth-shattering, 110kW between 5000 and 6000rpm, and 250Nm between 1500 and 3500 rpm. It punches the 1450kg A4 from zero to 100km/h in a respectable 8.5 seconds, and is capable of consuming only 5.5 litres per 100km on premium unleaded. We managed mid sixes.
Torque is sent to the front wheels — this engine doesn’t come with quattro — via a seven-speed dual (wet) clutch automatic gearbox.
As with all downsized turbos, it has plenty of torque across a broad rev band and particularly at low engine speeds, making it tractable down low and muscular through the mid-range. A 0-100km/h time of 8.5s is nothing to be sneezed at, though this engine’s strength is its unstressed cruising ability. It’ll tick over at a freeway clip at well under 2000rpm.
As is typical of the entire Volkswagen Group, the S tronic dual-clutch transmission still has the occasional hint of hesitancy at low speeds, with quick getaways from stationary (such as pulling out onto an arterial road) eliciting a momentarily delayed response. It’s vastly superior to DSGs of old, but a 318i with its conventional ZF eight-speed auto is more decisive in its urban behaviour.
This is about the only minor indiscretion on what is an otherwise comfortable yet dynamic car. The A4 handles well, with good body control and quick-enough steering. There’s not much feedback, but this isn’t designed to be a sports car. That three-spoke wheel is also a joy to hold.
More impressive is the ride from the all-round independent, five-link suspension, which is beautifully compliant and composed over most surfaces, and the good noise suppression that comprehensively fixes one of our gripes with the smaller A3. The noise of the 225/40 R18 tyres on the asphalt is well damped, while wind noise is negligible at local speeds.
This is an extremely comfortable and composed car that eats up what it’s designed to consume — urban streets and highways. But it’s sufficiently clinical in corners, just like a base A4 should be, while matching or even besting a C-Class or Lexus IS for plushness and comfort. That’s a huge tick.
From an ownership perspective, the Audi A4 gets a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and a 24-hour roadside assist plan over the same period. Your first three services (at intervals of 12 months and 15,000km) cost $1620 total as part of Audi’s service plan, at an average of $540 per visit.
When all is said and done, the base Audi A4 1.4 TFSI sedan might just be the one to buy. It would be very easy to walk-up to a more powerful variant (such as the 140kW/320Nm 2.0 TFSI or better-handling 185kW/370Nm 2.0 TFSI quattro variants) and option it to the nines, but the real strength of this new-generation 'B9' Audi A4 lies in its fundamentals.
You most likely buy an Audi because you value craftsmanship, understated style and comfort. And the base one doesn’t scrimp on any of these key aspects. The fact you feel like a success story every time you sit behind the wheel means this car represents $55,500 plus on-road costs very well spent.
At the lower end of the luxury sedan market, it's this writer's new benchmark.
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