Sales of sedans are in decline globally as we embrace SUVs, but here's a compelling example of why the masses might be wrong. The Audi A4 has been the mainstay for Ingolstadt through five generations, and a global volume seller proudly flying the four-ringed flag. But with the shift in buyer wants – if not actual needs – to SUVs, the A4 has slowly had its sales volume eroded.
Nowhere is this truer than in Australia, where the Audi Q5 outsells the A4 by a factor of three to one. Interestingly, it’s a trend not mirrored elsewhere in the world, the A4 outstripping the Q5 in Europe and China. Only in the US – where, let’s face it, our buying tastes come from – does the Q5 outsell A4, but even then it’s only by a factor of two to one. Australia, it seems, has lost its love for the classic, mid-sized, four-door sedan.
Which is a shame, because the 2019 Audi A4 45 TSFI quattro we have on test here provides a decent argument against our so-called love affair with SUVs.
The B9-designated fifth-gen Audi A4 made its debut in 2016, and has undergone some mild updates since. There’s another more comprehensive update coming in early 2020, but for now the 45 TFSI quattro, with a starting price of $70,300 plus on-road costs, sits at the top of the regular A4 sedan food chain that kicks off with the entry-level 35 TFSI ($56,100) and tops out with the high-riding A4 allroad 45 TFSI wagon at $74,800. After that, it’s a big jump to the beefier S4 quattro that starts at $99,240.
Your circa $70K buy-in point nets you plenty of A4 sedan, if not all of it. Tick no option boxes and you’ll drive out of the showroom on 19-inch alloys, your three-box Audi lighting the way with LEDs front and rear. There’s leather trim adorning the electrically adjustable seats with memory function, proprietary sat-nav (and at this level it’s Audi’s MMI navigation plus set-up), Audi’s Virtual Cockpit instrument display, a 10-speaker premium sound system with DAB+ radio, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth connectivity, and multi-zone climate control.
At the safety level, there are eight airbags, driver-attention alert, autonomous emergency braking up to 85km/h, hill-hold assist and a tyre pressure monitor. Add in parking sensors front and rear, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, cruise control (non-adaptive), rain-sensing windscreen wipers, and Audi’s exit warning, which alerts occupants of approaching cars or cyclists when opening doors.
To drive away with a more complete set of features, including high-speed AEB, adaptive cruise control, collision-avoidance assist, high-beam assist, lane-keeping assist, and turn assist (which monitors oncoming traffic when turning right at low speeds) requires an extra $2470 for the Assistance Package.
That’s not the only option for this mid-level exec saloon either. The Daytona Grey (with pearl effect) paint asks for an extra $1950, as does the Nappa leather interior. The S line Sport package commands a further $1300, but does represent value to a point.
For that extra cash, your A4 rides on 19-inch Audi Sport five-spoke alloys finished in a matte titanium look. The gear lever is trimmed in perforated leather, while the flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel receives the S line treatment. So, too, the front seats that score ‘S’ embossing and Alcantara trim alongside the Nappa upholstery. Brushed aluminium inlays offset some of the darkness of the otherwise pretty black interior, while the pedals and footrests are finished in stainless steel.
There’s a further $1300 to be spent on the Parking Assistance pack that adds a 360-degree camera and park assist. There’s also a colour interior lighting package ($520), privacy glass ($1105), an electric sunroof ($2470), heated front seats ($780) and the big-ticket item on the options list, the Technik package that, for a not inconsiderable $5600, adds LED matrix headlights, a premium Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system and a head-up display.
If that seems like a lot of options to throw at an Audi A4, you’d be right, with our test car jumping from circa-$70K plus on-roads to a princely $89,680 (plus on-roads) as-tested proposition. Suddenly, the jump to the altogether more manic Audi S4 at $99,240 doesn’t seem like such a stretch.
That’s not to say the four-cylinder A4 45 TFSI can’t hold its own in the performance stakes against its V6-shod stablemate. Because while it might not match its brawnier brother for outright pace and theatre, the 45 TFSI still packs plenty of punch behind that four-ringed bespectacled grille.
Powering the 45 TFSI is Audi’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. That venerable little unit pumps out 185kW of power (between 5000–6000rpm) and 370Nm of torque (at a user-friendly 1600–4000rpm). When mated to Audi’s version of the dual-clutch auto, the seven-speed S tronic, sending those numbers to all four wheels, the A4 45 TFSI can complete the dash to triple figures in a claimed 5.8 seconds. Quick, then, without being raucously so.
Really, it’s the way the 45 TFSI goes about the business of driving that makes it a compelling proposition. There’s a lovely linearity to the drivetrain, smooth and refined without ever really straying into impolite territory. Acceleration from standstill is smooth, whether playing along with the crowd or poking the right pedal a little harder for a spirited getaway. On the move, too, the 45 TFSI has enough in reserve for overtaking without too much stress, although let the revs sing heartily and the four-pot starts to run out of puff.
The seven-speed dual-clutch auto does a balanced job, rarely found wanting for the right ratio in any given situation. Snappy to change up under acceleration, the S tronic is equally adept at shuffling down a cog or two when more is asked of the 2.0-litre turbo.
That said, it’s all a bit too polite, certainly if you’re after some characterful engagement, the 45 TFSI remaining muted, even under load. That might nor matter to most, though, especially with the prospect of the more raucous S4 just an extra 10 per cent leap away on the A4 price list (as tested).
Despite not sitting on adaptive dampers (not even available as an option), the A4’s passive suspension set-up is surprisingly multifaceted. That’s not to say Audi’s suspension engineers have been lazy with the 45 TFSI – they haven’t. Sitting on 20mm lower sports suspension, there’s an elegance and refinement around town that deals with the typical bumps and lumps of our suburban enclaves with aplomb. It’s not exactly soft, but neither is it too firm. The A4 simply slinks along with little in the way of jarring or wobbling conspiring to annoy occupants.
Yet, show the A4 some country B-road love, with swoops and turns stretching into the horizon, and Ingolstadt’s mid-sizer sedan remains unflustered and compliant, while its AWD quattro underpinnings serve up a dollop of confidence to push that little bit harder.
It really does strike a perfect balance between comfort and sportiness that’s hard not to praise. The chassis, too, remains unflustered, striking a lovely balance between comfort and aggression, providing an agility and precision belying its mild sedan status.
Yes, as we’ve remarked before about Audis of all shapes and sizes, the steering could be a little more communicative in telegraphing what’s happening underneath, but it’s by no means isolationist in its delivery.
There’s a numbness to its feedback, although it doesn’t stray into ‘vague’ territory as it remains precise and sharp, merely lacking a little tactility. This matters little in the urban grind, the tiller an easy accomplice in navigating traffic, but does become noticeable when a little sharper-edged fun is in order out in the sticks. It remains a minor complaint, however, in the greater pantheon of A4 goodness.
So, a premium drive experience, then, whether around the ’hood, slinging along the freeway or even tackling some twisties as the situation warrants. Is that premiumness matched inside? Well, yes, and occasionally, no.
Audi has always done the austere cabin pretty well. And this one is no different, although it does carry the S line treatment that adds a level of plushness not evident lower down the A4 ladder. The front pews are certainly comfortable, supportive, and nicely enhanced with the ‘S’ treatment.
Ergonomically, the A4 passes muster, although some of the switchgear hasn’t made the transition from left-hook to right-hand drive. It might seem like a minor bugbear (and it is), but the drive-mode selector – which toggles between Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual – sits at the furthest point away from the driver on the centre stack. Awkward, especially on the move.
The 8.3-inch colour screen sitting atop the dash feels a generation old now compared to some rivals offering larger and crisper screens. That said, Audi’s MMI system remains intuitive, with the rotary dialler doubling as a touchpad for user inputs surprisingly easy to use.
The second row is not exactly brimming with space, but it is adequate in terms of leg and head room. The are no USB points out back (just a single 12V outlet), nor is there temperature control, second-row passengers having to make do with air vents. The boot is generous, though, at 480L, expanding to 965L with the second row folded in 40:20:40 fashion. There’s an elasticised cargo net in the boot, too, to keep your goodies from sliding around.
Audi persists with its ungenerous three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while servicing is due every 12 months/15,000km. Those services can be pre-purchased at $1710 for three years or $2700 for five. Reasonable.
So, too, is fuel consumption. Against Audi’s claim of 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, we saw an indicated 7.3L/100km after 1027km spent schlepping around the ’burbs, cruising the highways of southern NSW, and some spirited driving in the country.
And that’s something SUVs can’t provide, not to the same level. Yes, the performance-fettled versions of a host of Euro mid-size SUVs have the numbers to counter that argument. But when faced with an empty and beautifully winding stretch of road that demands driver engagement, give me a mildly warm sedan every time.
In the case of the Audi A4 45 TFSI, there’s enough warmth for a jolly good time, and there’s enough luxury to make you feel comfortable and cosseted when enduring the daily grind of life on our streets. It’s fast without being maniacal, and it’s sure-footed in the way an SUV, carrying all its heft, can never be.
Will buyers ever flock back to mid-size sedans? Certainly not in Australia, but as the numbers show overseas, there’s plenty of life left in the A4 yet. And for that, we should be grateful. Long live sedans!