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The Top Gear car review: Audi A4
For:Peaceful, well-built, strong mix of engines. An immensely well-conceived package
Against:New touchscreen trickier to use than old clickwheel. And why are they always driven by pillocks?
What is it?
What used to be the entry-level Audi saloon: the starting point before you graduated to the A6 and got promoted to an A7 or A8. But now there’s the A3 saloon, so the A4’s got a different job to do. It’s the Audi heartland now, the meat in the sandwich. And it’s got the unenviable task of standing out next to the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Volvo S60, Mercedes C-Class, Jaguar XE, Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Lexus IS.
So, Audi’s starting to realise what we all knew years ago – that designing every one of its umpteen saloons to look exactly the same isn’t very clever. Which is why the A4’s had such a hefty going-over - only the bonnet, roof and bootlid have survived for the 2019 version. It’s got new lights, new wheels, angrier bumpers and even new doors, complete with fresh styling lines that direct your eye to the bulk above the wheelarches and make you think ‘hmm, that’s a quattro-drive rally car’, apparently. Even when most A4s are in fact front-wheel drive.
So, the car’s fussier to look at, but then, so is the new 3 Series. The Germans love showing off their metal pressing tools and ever-more barmy patters of LED illumination. This might even be an A4 you go “eurgh, what have they done to that”, about. But hey, it’s an A4 you’ll have an opinion about. First time for everything.
Inside, the chief change is one we’re not sold on: the fabulous Audi MMI clickwheel heading for the bin, with its home on the centre console replaced by a cubbyhole of fresh air just about big enough for the key. Instead, the media screen – now a whopping 10.1-inches as standard, with pin-sharp resolution to boot – is touch-sensitive. And there’s more tech as standard sprinkled elsewhere, answering one of our gripes with the old A4 – that the standard equipment list was meaner than a Victorian workhouse HR department.
Engines are all turbocharged, and there’s a very strong mix of petrol and diesel options depending on your mileage, your need for speed, and your quest to run four rings around the tax man. Helping in that endeavour is mild-hybrid technology, now fitted as standard to every A4 to create more efficient stop-start and improve throttle response when the turbo’s half-asleep. The most interesting powertrain about-face is the S4’s which has (in Europe at least) changed tack from a turbocharged petrol V6 to a turbodiesel V6, good for 345bhp and a ginormous 516lb ft. So it’s as quick as the petrol on paper, but a heck of a lot more frugal. What a great idea the diesel car was, eh?