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First Drive

First drive: the all-new Audi A4

Published: 10 Sep 2015

What’s this, then?

It’s the new Audi A4. Familiar it may look, but ninety per cent of the fourth-gen A4's components are fresh, to help it fight Jag’s new XE and BMW’s updated 3-Series.

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Compared to its predecessor, 100 kilos have been sliced from the new A4's kerbweight, and it boasts one of the slipperiest drag coefficients in the world, all the better for it to rip seamlessly along the fast lane of a motorway near you soon.

But you’ve put pictures of the old one up…

We haven’t, promise. This may be a completely new generation of A4, but Audi’s not daft. The old one sailed out of showrooms and is described as 'the heart of the brand', so messing with the formula would never do.

A bit of creativity wouldn’t have gone amiss, but you can’t blame the Germans for sticking to what sells. Snazzy matrix LED headlights do lie on the options list to liven things up, mind.

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So what else is new?

The interior, as you might expect from Audi, is a delight, and the biggest step on from old A4 to new. Its materials are wonderful and its layout is smart, curiously long passenger air vent aside. The TT’s Virtual Cockpit is on the options list, only this time with a secondary screen so your passenger can actually get involved in music selection and the like.

Somewhat refreshingly, Audi hasn't thrown all its weight behind making its A4 the best car in class to drive. That’s never what the A4’s done, and with standard front-wheel drive to the Jag and Beemer’s rear-drive, it was never going to.

What’s its USP, then?

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Instead, fistfuls of tech have been thrown at the A4. It’s really quite dizzying. As well as heaps of connectivity stuff – inductive phone charging and bespoke tablets for rear-seat passengers the highlights – there’s a ton of driver assistance stuff, with 30 systems available.

As well as cameras and sensors to eliminate just about every possible blind spot, the A4 boasts predictive gearchanges – automatic cars shuffling ratios based on data relayed from the satnav about the road ahead – and an active cruise control system that can accelerate, brake and steer the car in traffic jam conditions. Autonomous Audis are coming, and these are the baby steps.

Does that mean the driver isn’t a priority?

Nope. It may not be about raw thrills, the A4, but it’s decent enough to drive: another product of the VW group’s modular platform technology, it steers and turns sharply enough, and grip is hard to breach. There are several suspension options available, but even trying the A4 on its firmest setup, it’s a quite supple and easy-going thing to be a driver or passenger in. On European roads at least.

You might rightly argue that a little saloon like this ought to be sporty – it’s something that’s put the 3-Series on the map all these years – but anyone who currently has an A4 will feel right at home here.

And happily, the A4 hasn’t fully succumbed to downsizing. Yeah, most people will buy the thriftiest 2.0-litre diesel options (there are 148bhp and 187bhp versions, both offering 70mpg) but Audi insists six-cylinder engines still belong in cars like this, and as such there’s a 3.0-litre V6 diesel available with as much as 268bhp. It’s strong, smooth and Audi claims it’s the most efficient six-cylinder in production.

Expensive, though, I’m guessing?

It’s close to £40,000, so it’s not at the value end of the A4 range. That’ll be the 148bhp 1.4 petrol, which kicks things off at £25,900, sticking it between the cheaper base 3-Series and pricier base XE.

From there begins a vast range, with seven engines, three gearboxes, three trim levels and front- or all-wheel drive combining to create 54 variants. And that’s before the more exciting S4 and RS4 versions land. Phew.

So it’s more interesting than it looks?

There’s certainly lots to impress below the familiar styling. That impressive drag coefficient – 0.23 Cd, fact fans – may not be as easily understood as a horsepower figure, but it helps ensure the A4 is a supremely serene place to be at even quite large cruising speeds. The acoustic quality of the A8 limo was benchmarked, and to our ears it’s about bang on.

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