As far as medium-sized German sedans go, the recently facelifted Audi A4 is the cheapest of the bunch. The entry 35 TFSI model kicks off from $55,900 before on-roads.
On test today, however, we have one up from the entry, which is the 2021 Audi A4 35 TFSI S line. This version adds another four grand to its starting price, bringing up the total to $59,900 before you add any options. A sub-$60K sporty-looking German mid-sized sedan looks and sounds like great buying. Or, conversely, maybe a potential alternative to a higher-end mainstream large SUV?
Are either of those observations grounded in reality, though? Let's address the first point.
In terms of outright cost, as mentioned earlier, either pair of A4 35 TFSI models is cheaper than the respective Mercedes-Benz or BMW. As we're testing the S line version, let's hone in on that. Its starting price of $59,900 before on-roads makes it exactly $9000 cheaper than the equivalent BMW product, the 320i M Sport. As for an even match from Mercedes-Benz, the A4 35 TFSI S line is cheaper than the C200, this time by $5900.
|2021 Audi A4 35 TFSI|
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||110kW at 6000rpm, 270Nm at 1350–3900rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.3L/100km|
|Boot volume (seven-seat/five-seat/two-seat)||460L|
|ANCAP rating||Five-star (tested 2015)|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series|
In terms of kit, it's give or take. In order to bring the Benz up to the Audi's level of exterior style, you'd need to throw on the optional AMG Line styling kit. To bring the BMW's interior into line with the Audi's, you'll need to pay for leather trim. Even as the cheapest car of the three, the A4 35 TFSI S line is decently furnished.
It continues that same story of value for money within its own family, as it's probably the pick of the two 35 TFSI models that Audi offers in Australia. For the $4000 cost increase versus the non-S-line car, you get a bunch of extra equipment with a perceived value greater than the difference paid. Big items include sporty exterior styling elements, electrically adjustable sports seats, and Audi's excellent Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster.
Smaller items make their way across, too, including a frameless auto-dimming interior mirror, auto-dimming side mirrors (which are incredibly handy), and gearshift paddles for the steering wheel. All in all, it's $4000 well spent if you're considering either of the 35 TFSI models.
Our test car had a few options on board, which have been detailed in the table below. Its as-tested list price came in at $64,331.
Whatever version you decide on will be powered by the same engine and transmission combo. The A4 35 TFSI uses a rather un-segment-like front-wheel-drive format and employs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It produces 110kW of power from 3900–6000rpm and 270Nm of torque from 1350–3900rpm. If you lust for the brand's signature Quattro all-wheel-drive underpinnings, you'll have to step up to the more powerful 45 TFSI model, which starts from $68,900 before on-roads.
Despite the small power figure, it surprisingly gets the job done without struggle. It still feels relatively urgent under your foot, and responds well to input and being able to carry out rash lane-change decisions without forethought. The two main reasons for its somewhat transcendent behaviour are its dual-clutch automatic and low-down torque availability.
The seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic is swift in its execution. Off-the-mark drive and its overall quickness when swapping gear ratios mean it picks up some of the slack from the engine given its low power output. Where it falls down most is in relation to kick-down, as sometimes the transmission will take longer than desired to go from, say, fifth to second.
However, you'll find yourself rarely needing to swap so drastically between gears given the second point, which is torque availability. All of its 270Nm is there from 1350rpm, and is offered across a decent spread. This gives the car some guts in the low to mid-range of its tacho, and is all the better for it. Audi has naturally calibrated this engine cleverly in a way that almost surprises and goes against what the figures suggest.
The only real time the 110kW of power is noticed is when accelerating up from 80km/h to 110km/h. It's at these higher speeds when the car will naturally go back into an earlier gear at a high RPM, and then proceed to feel flat and lazy when putting on speed. Those coming from other large sedans with more power may find it frustrating at first, but as I discovered, you easily learn to live with it and manage it.
As for fuel usage, over the duration of the one-week loan, the A4 35 TFSI S line returned a figure of 8.3 litres per 100km, which made the A4 thirstier than expected. The official combined figure is 6.1L/100km.
Some advanced driver-assist systems come as standard. Low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (up to approximately 85km/h), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are all standard. Adaptive cruise control, full-speed AEB, a head-up display and 360-degree parking camera all make up part of an assistance plus package, which on this 35 TFSI S line version costs an extra $2900. The only irritation here is that full-speed AEB comes at a cost.
As for its general ride and comfort levels, they're both great. As is the general lack of noise, vibration and harshness too. The stop-start system works well and is unlikely to interrupt proceedings, and general buzz from the motor is subdued well by a good selection of materials and sound deadening. It's a more comfortable, more leisurely experience than what you'll find in an Audi A5.
Whereas the A5 model feels more taut, aggressive and therefore more jittery, the A4 offers a calmer and more composed ride. It'll lean into corners at pace more so than an A5 ever would, but you'd only take note of this difference during a back-to-back comparison, which I did.
By all other accounts, it's beyond adequate for fast-paced directional changes that you often find on country roads a few hours out of town. It's certainly much more adept in these conditions than a large mainstream SUV is.
Which leads me to the other point I wish to address. Is something like an Audi A4 viable as an alternative to a large, mainstream SUV? If you enjoy driving and the dynamics that come with a low-roofed sedan, then we're off to a good start.
Where the now-irregular medium-sized sedan needs to continue delivering is in the area of cabin habitability. Despite having a lower centre of gravity, the A4's hip point remains high enough as to not have to fall in and climb out of it. The S line model's variant-specific seats are great, feature electric lumbar support, and a handy manually adjustable thigh support pad at the front.
As we've come to expect from Audi, presentation and materials are first-rate. Dominating the centre of the dashboard is a large, 10.1-inch infotainment system. With the facelifted A4, the brand has moved to a touchscreen style of operation, and has done away with any form of remotely located infotainment controller. It's a bit of a back step, as the new system is more difficult to use while driving when compared to previous systems that employed a rotary dial to control things.
As for storage, there's an open-air cubby now located where the previous generation's infotainment controller used to be, a pair of cupholders, and generous door bins on either side. One unexpected yet genuinely cavernous storage area to store all of your stuff, and maybe even one passenger's worth of stuff, too, is the covered storage tray located to the right of the steering wheel.
It's easily 20cm deep, and feels like it spans all the way back to the firewall. To apply the universally understood parental barometer for space, you can fit a handful of nappies, disposal bags, and a few sets of wipes still with room to spare.
Out in the rear, the second row doesn't feel as roomy as it should. With a front seat set to cater for a driver who's 185cm tall, rear passenger leg room becomes slim. What doesn't help the feeling of space for your knees is the odd scalloping of the seat backs, which are also made from hard plastic. Their hard material and shaping mean you can very easily bang your knees on entry and exit. Also, as they're not flexible, it means you're unable to potentially rest your knees close to, or against, them comfortably.
If the rear passenger is a child or young adult, they'll likely not see this problem. However, if a tall passenger is sitting behind an equally tall driver, then they'll likely encounter this drama, as I did. As for space for other limbs, arms have enough real estate to get comfortable, as do your toes too. When riding as a pair in the second row, there's also the option to fold down the centre armrest, which features two cupholders and a shallow central storage compartment.
Two large convertible car seats can fit across the back row easily; however, the middle seat becomes pretty much unusable in the process. Two across the back, or one seat and two boosters at a stretch, would be as far as you could go. Bear in mind that with the installation of a convertible child seat comes the fact that the first-row seats must be readjusted accordingly. Expect to be sacrificing leg room in the front passenger footwell as a consequence of providing enough space for a child behind.
As for technology and comfort-improving features, a pair of rear air vents, a temperature control dial, and one 12-volt power outlet round out what the second row offers. Boot space is great in terms of outright litreage, but it still suffers from the usual 'sedan dimensions' complex. What I mean by that is the 460L of actual storage is excellent, but accessing them all can be a pain.
As with all cars that I test, I conducted a decent week's worth of shopping, while carrying a compact stroller, as a parent in a family would do in regular life. In order to fit goods at the back of the boot, up against the second-row seat backs, you do have to almost clamber halfway into it to reach that far in. Its dimensions are much in favour of depth rather than width, which combined with the small boot aperture means access can be tricky.
If you've managed to get this far into the review in support of my arguments, then there are only two other things to factor in – maintenance and warranty. Where the Audi does let itself down is in terms of the warranty. Cars with the four rings are offered only with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Others in this segment have moved to a five-year offering in line with the broader standard upheld by the industry.
As for keeping it running at its peak, a five-year service plan will cost $2720, or $544 when annualised. Definitely more expensive than some mainstream offerings, even if you pay upfront for five years' worth.
In all honesty, a family of three, even four, could easily survive with an Audi A4. By opting for this choice, you not only get a fair second row and enough boot space to make things work, but a touch of class and luxury too.
The fit and finish found inside this car are exceptional, as is the general design of the cabin and the materials used throughout it. It's certainly a cut above mainstream large SUVs. Even the best ones in the segment, to be frank.
Plus, you're getting a badge on the front of this car that's universally synonymous with high-end vehicles. The performance and driveline might not match the badge, but they're both still decently easy to live with considering what the A4 does offer in terms of comfort and handling.