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Audi A4 review

Driven April 2012

Audi A4 review

There is little doubt you will   end up liking this car. The soon-to-be-launched new A4 avatar is essentially an enhancement on the current model. But we can safely say the whole Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology) manual was thoroughly followed to bring out a car that is significantly better than the current model. Better is good. Question is, is it more likeable?

The A4, on sale in India as you read this, is the eighth-generation of a car that was first built on a VW-made platform back in 1994. Of course, the current car uses an Audi-only platform and the new car is an enhancement of this. The new car is significantly larger – wider, longer, although not necessarily taller because I drove the car in Portugal (so it was a Euro-spec car, which sits squatter and has generally lower-profile tyres).

The whole point of this planned mid-life surgery was to infuse some more charm into the car. In the process, apart from making it bigger, Audi has managed to make the new A4 lighter, quicker and at the same time, more efficient in terms of fuel consumption and emissions.

Worldwide, the new A4 is to be made available in four petrol and six diesel engine options (including Quattro variants). In India, we’ll get the entire range, albeit with some exclusions. The new range for India will most likely start with a 1.8TFSI unit that is significantly more powerful – up 10bhp and a meaty 70Nm – and lighter – down 3.5kg – than the current unit.

Then there’s the 2.0-litre TFSI and the range-topping 3.0-litre. The latter will replace the current 3.2-litre V6 unit. Don’t be fooled by the drop in displacement because it’s supercharged now and capable of taking the car from zero to 100kph in just under six seconds, all the way to a top speed of 250kph.

The diesel range is more-or-less untouched and starts with the current model’s 2.0-litre TDI albeit in a detuned version of what’s sold in India. So, we’ll continue to get the unit in the 143bhp, 320Nm spec alongside the range-topping 3.0-litre TDI V6 with slightly higher bhp, enough to match the top-end petrol version’s figures.

The figures tell the true story. The new A4 generally feels much quicker off the mark. And it is as seamless as you’d expect even in the 2.0-litre diesel variant pictured here. But what puts a smile on your face, surprisingly enough, is the enhanced steering feel, thanks to the new electromechanical power steering system developed for the new A4. To top that, Audi claims it even consumes less energy.

An overall bigger body means the new A4 feels more stately than before. Which may not be an entirely good thing if you’re looking to attack curves up a mountain road. But for every other situation, this works – especially in a country like India where even a mid-level executive gets driven rather than drives.

If you belong to the minority who prefer to be behind the wheel, the new A4 isn’t disappointing. The steering feels solid and purposeful and the car more than eager to follow your command.
Typically, as with most new Audis, the A4 doesn’t mind being shown some stick and it tries hard to play ball with the enthusiast driver. But there’s as much it has been designed to do. In fact, it is now nearly as good as the new Mercedes C-Class. Not necessarily better, though. The BMW 3, however, remains in a different league altogether even when it comes to looks.

Speaking of which, the new A4 manages to hit the balance between understated design and pure flash. The front grille looks shrunken although it’s just the edges that have been rounded off. The biggest change is the headlight, which now has a wave at the bottom for a more ‘keen’ look. The profile is mostly untouched with a bit of a nip-and-tuck at the rear just to keep things fresh.

Inside, the A4 remains like any other Audi. Lots of gizmos to play with, fewer buttons – the central multimedia interface now has four instead of eight – and good quality materials used. The scenic, smooth roads outside Lisbon are not really an ideal comparison point but the A4 does feel solidly built and well-sprung for an executive car that has to double as luxury transport in countries like India.

It’s available as either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic that is probably as clever as an iPhone. It is precise and intuitive and clearly has a mind of its own that, eerily enough, senses what the driver wants next. Result: fewer embarrassing moments when you’re trying to show off your driving skills, especially when they don’t exist.

Which is what doesn’t change in the A4, despite all the Vorsprung durch Technik that the engineers have poured into this. Fundamentally, the current A4 is a fine car for its time. The new car is even better. But all this still keeps the car in the same pool that it always swam in.

It will not ruffle the C because that will be bought just for its logo anyway. Nor the new 3 Series when it arrives, because an Audi is not meant to please a wannabe BMW owner anyway. It’s a much better A4 and it would be stupid to think otherwise. So maybe this is a much better bargain than we think it is. Or, so we hope, at least.

Girish Karkera

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