Are cars still 'cheap and cheerful' in 2019? We crunch the numbers. And gears...
You are here
£32,200 when new
A new A4? Is it that time already? No, actually. This is a heavy facelift. And not just to the face. The sides are fresh pressings too. Only the upper surfaces – roof, bonnet, boot-lid – have missed the surgeon’s knife. The effect of the new sides is to bring a bit of Ur-quattroism to the wheel-arches without actually widening the track. As for the face itself, it gets a wider grille, sitting below that strange new Audi vent that makes it look like the bonnet’s un-latched itself. The headlight signature is, as you’d expect, janglier than ever. At the back, a chrome strip breaches the tail-lights. Inside? All models now have Audi’s new screen interface. That’s two screens, one for the driver in lieu of dials, and one in the dash-centre. The central one is a touch screen. Unfortunately this means the loss of that lovely tactile control wheel down on the centre tunnel.
Still, at Least Audi still has its physical climate controls, which are friendly to both eyes and fingers. A lot of equipment has been added for the new model year. All versions have LED headlights, heated seats and a reversing camera. Anything going on under the hood? Last year Audi had trouble getting its vast range through WLTP testing, and many of them went off sale. So Audi lost a significant chunk of its business in Britain. This one has some catching-up, and has good CO2 numbers to help it. There are three petrols. I tried the lower of them, a 150bhp and a 190bhp, both 2.0-litres of course. They’re smooth. And in non-quattro form without the inertia of four driveshafts they feel responsive. Economy is impressive too. Another more boosted version is coming soon, as a 45 TFSI with quattro. The A4 diesel range is similar: three versions, with quattro on top. Most of these have a 12V mild hybrid system – and 12V is very mild – for slightly improved low-rev pickup, fuel economy and stop-start promptness. There’s also a diesel S4, but we cover that separately here.
Any peaches or duffers? Sorry to sound boring here, but as so often with Audi, beware the big wheels. I tried a 40 TFSI (that’s 190bhp) on an S-Line package and the ride was jittery, and the road noise pretty awful. Worse in fact than in an S4 I drove down the same roads immediately after. Yet the 35 TFSI on 18s and softer suspension was much more agreeable. More compliant in its secondary ride, and quieter. Still no Mercedes C-Class, mind. It had optional adaptive dampers which might have helped, though switching modes made little difference. (Anyway this car was a strange Audi-owned spec that won’t be available to the public. Normally you’ll need to go to the top-range Vorsprung version to get adaptive dampers). Despite the softer outlook the 35 TFSI is still quite fun. With the lighter petrol engines and simpler drivetrains you realise the A4 can be modestly entertaining. Steering is accurate and has some feedback, and mid-corner bumps don’t upset it. It’s the sort of car you guide along easily; it doesn’t drain you or impose itself. Which is just fine for a big-miles company car or Avant family hauler. Point is, the S-Line will never be as much fun as a 3 Series or Giulia. So don’t bother. Go for the base chassis and enjoy the refinement. I’d content myself with the manual transmission too. The S-Tronic sometimes gets confused and bangs a shift. You don’t sound convinced by the work-over? Well, improved economy is always a good thing. And so’s a boost in equipment. But… the new touchscreen infotainment is a backward step in ergonomics, and the chassis isn’t as placid as it was. The old A4 stood on its interior and its refinement, and both those things have gone sideways not forward.