Blame Mercedes. When the über-hardcore SLK 55 AMG Black Series lobbed on to the international motoring scene in 2006, black became the new, um, black.
Since then, automakers have been whacking ‘Black’ labels on all manner of special editions. Some, such as those from the originator of the concept, Mercedes-AMG, have been pretty serious special (and limited) editions with the commensurate lift in performance to set them apart from their (tamer?) siblings.
Others though, have taken a different approach, applying the ‘black’ tag to a series of visual updates, as well as jamming the car with features from the options list, to create a better value proposition in a bid to part buyers from their hard-earned.
Case in point? The 2018 Audi A4 Black Edition which, Audi spruiks, has been boosted with some sexy black bits and a host of features that would, if you were to pay RRP, total around $7000 worth of extras for just $2500 over the donor car. Think Holden Commodore Vacationer (remember them?) instead of anything manic from Affalterbach.
That extra $2500 sees the Audi A4 Black Edition sit on the showroom floor at $63,900 (plus on-road costs) for the 2.0 TFSI front-wheel drive version we have on test here and $72,300 (plus ORC) for the more powerful (185kW against 140kW) 2.0 TFSI quattro variant. If you prefer long-roof motoring, there are two wagons available as well, the $66,900 2.0 TFSI front-wheel and an all-paw quattro for $75,300.
Of course, with a name like ‘Black Edition’ you’d expect at least a little black detail for your money. And there is. For starters, there’s the Black exterior design package including door mirrors, side sill trims, and a rear lip spoiler. The Audi rings festoon the lower rear doors in, yep, black while the rear window, and rear side windows are finished in privacy glass which, it must be said, is pretty darn black.
When added to our test car’s metallic grey finish (which hunkers down 20mm lower than the regular A4 thanks to standard sports suspension) and sitting on top of 19-inch, five-spoke alloys, the effect is dramatic. The A4 Black edition looks, in a word, tough.
That feeling continues in the cabin where the S line sport interior adds matte aluminium pedals, a flat-bottomed S design multi-function steering wheel, Alcantara seats with S embossing and matt brushed aluminium inlays.
The overall effect adds some street cred to what is otherwise a reasonably conservatively styled executive sedan, and for minimal outlay.
But, let’s be clear, the Black Edition is no super-pumped, performance-enhanced four-door. Instead, it remains the same old A4 performance-wise as the ‘donor’ car.
Under the bonnet lies Audi’s 2.0-litre, turbo-charged, inline four-cylinder petrol engine with modest power outputs of 140kW at 4200-6000rpm and 340Nm torque available between 1500-4200rpm. Sending those outputs to the front wheels is Audi’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto, helping shift the 1585kg (tare) sedan from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds. Not Earth-shattering, then.
And that’s the thing about this particular A4. It is, by every performance measure, a standard A4, a proper sheep in wolf’s clothing, to mangle a well-used cliché.
That’s not to detract from the Black Edition, which acts with a refined aplomb on the road. There’s enough surge from standstill to navigate the hazards of day-to-day driving, without being stupid. There’s next to no turbo lag, or hesitation from the DCT, the Audi moving away from standstill effortlessly and quietly. And it’s equally as adept when rolling, that generous torque band helping to push the Black Edition into effortless overtaking manoeuvres.
The seven-speed transmission does a commendable job transmitting power to the front wheels, with barely perceptible changes as it rows through the gears, although engaging Sport mode makes Audi’s ‘S tronic’ DCT a little too eager to hunt for lower gears in the name of speed. It becomes annoying after a while. There are paddle-shifters if you prefer to swap your own cogs, but really, why would you in a car like this?
That sports suspension, as well as lowering the A4’s ride by 20mm, adds some firmness to the dampers and springs. The cost for that extra handling capability must come at the expense of ride, one would think. The good news? It doesn’t, the A4 remaining as compliant as we’ve come to expect from the suspension-tuning department at Ingolstadt.
Yes, there’s a firmness to the ride not evident in standard A4s without the optional sports suspension, but it’s perfectly within the bounds of what one would deem reasonable.
Around town, the Black Edition, while not exactly cosseting, insulated the cabin from the worst of the patchy and lumpy surfaces Sydney’s roads have to offer. Out on the highway too, the ride is acceptable, although those 19-inch alloys shod with low-profile rubber do tend to provide a soundtrack of tyre roar.
Audi claims an ambitious 5.4L/100km fuel consumption figure on the combined cycle. We didn’t come close to that, returning 9.1L/100km during our week with the car, including some decent highway stints. It's also worth noting, the Black Edition sips 95RON as a minimum.
The steering is light and direct, a boon around town, and in particular the inner city confines I mostly inhabit. Parking is a breeze, although it must be said the rear-view camera isn’t the sharpest or crispest on the planet. It feels a generation old, and that’s probably because it is.
There’s familiarity to the cabin which feels a little dour, certainly by today’s standards. The materials and touch points are nice enough, and well screwed together. But there’s a conservatism at play that fails to deliver any ‘wow’ factor.
Sitting atop the dash is a 7.0-inch colour screen for infotainment. And it’s not a touchscreen, which in today’s automotive climate is a little old. Instead, all the car’s functions are controlled via the rotary dialler or the touchpad, both located on the transmission tunnel. They work well enough, of course, but more than once I found myself adding smudgy fingerprints to a screen that didn’t accommodate them.
Lurking inside that infotainment system is satellite navigation (although the mapping is a bit spartan and dated looking), Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and the usual Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
There’s also a standard eight-speaker sound system which isn’t exactly the last word in audio excellence. The sound is tinny, even after fiddling around with the various treble and bass settings. Still, there’s DAB+ radio as standard, along with a CD player for those who prefer their music on a silver disc.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit hasn’t made it to the Black Edition, although it can be optioned for an extra $2400 as part of the Advanced Navigation Pack that also adds navigation plus. Instead, the instrument display is of the standard two-analogue-dial variety with a small TFT driver display nestled between.
It all works well enough but once you’ve experienced Virtual Cockpit extensively, it’s hard to go back to a more traditional approach.
Amenities include the usual array of storage nooks and crannies, a pair of cupholders, bottle holsters in the doors and a single USB point alongside a 12V outlet out front. There’s another 12V outlet in the second row, but no USB.
That back row is spacious enough for two adults, but a large transmission tunnel, even in this FWD variant, eats into room for prospective middle-pew riders. ISOFIX points on the outboard seats are complemented by three top-tether points for the littlies in your life. Those back seats fold down on 40:20:40 fashion to liberate more storage space, rated at 480 litres with the back row in play and 965L when folded.
Audi can hang its mast on a five-star ANCAP safety rating awarded back in 2015. As well as a complement of eight airbags, the Black Edition features autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (up to 85km/h), blind-spot monitoring, Audi’s ‘Exit Warning’ that will alert you and stop you opening your door into the path of traffic, such as cyclists or other vehicles.
There’s no lane-keep assist, however, or even lane-keep warning where cruise control is of the standard, non-adaptive variety. An extra $1900 will net you the Assistance Package which bundles those features, along with high-speed AEB and Collision Avoidance Assist which adds steering inputs when the car detects a collision is imminent. There’s also high-beam assist to automatically dim headlights when the system detects oncoming traffic.
Owner surety comes via Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty (along with three years’ roadside assistance) which is increasingly below par in today’s market, certainly when compared to the mainstream brands, where five years’ warranty is now standard.
Servicing intervals are at 12 months/15,000km, whichever comes first. Buyers can pre-purchase Audi’s three-year/45,000km Service Plan for a pretty reasonable $1620.
There’s an inherent reasonableness to the A4 Black Edition. There’s no question the added kit, both cosmetic and those lying under the skin, represent decent value.
It’s certainly added a bit of visual flair to what remains otherwise a staid execution of the Euro executive sedan formula. It’s a shame, then there’s no commensurate lift in performance to match those visual enhancements that add an aggressive stance to what is otherwise a pretty standard A4.