Aesthetically Ingolstadt's player in the hotly contested small luxury sedan segment is a subtle evolution of the outgoing car - and for that I like it.
But it's just one reason I like it. A lot. Another is that as with most Audis (bar the explosive RS variants) it's understated, restrained, elegant and never seems to try too hard, while the whole package is almost impossibly premium and beautifully built. The interior especially is replete with the sort of quality that, as I've said before, you might expect to find in a vehicle with an extra zero on the price tag.
And speaking of which, it's not cheap. Nothing is these days. The A4 1.4T FSI S tronic Sport I've been rolling in for the past week weighs in at R492,000. With the optional extras loaded onto my press test car - and they ranged from MMI navigation plus with MMI touch (R24,500) to 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels (R15,500) - that figure jumps to R582,760.
But then all three German luxury manufacturers have long, tempting and expensive lists of optional extras to choose from, and the biggest question here is whether the A4 is better than the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series. A question that's near impossible to answer. All are highly covetable, accomplished cars, with buyer decisions more likely to be shaped by the likes of brand perception and loyalty than incremental differences in ride quality or performance.
Now the A4 has been on our market since 1994, and has its roots in the Audi 80, born back in 1972, with the latest model being a little larger than its predecessor, yet also up to 120kg lighter. Plus it has the best drag coefficient in its class at 0.23.
Right now there are just two engine variants available. The current range-topper is the turbopetrol 2.0T FSI making 140kW and 320Nm, with a 185kW, 370Nm 2.0T FSI quattro due out next month. Come late 2016, a 2.0 TDI will also be available, while I imagine that a smoking version or versions of this car will come on stream in the fullness of time.
But a 2.0T FSI press car wasn't available at the time of writing, and the 1,395cc turbopetrol model allocated to me proved yet another compelling argument for downsizing with 110kW and 250Nm on tap. Zero to 100km/h comes up in 8.5 seconds, and top end is 210km/h, while combined fuel consumption is a claimed 5.1 litres per 100km, a figure that naturally is very hard to replicate in real-world use.
Power goes to the front wheels (as opposed to the rear wheels as is the case with the competition, including the far more expensive and flawed but alluring Jaguar XE) via a seven-speed S tronic self-shifter that replaces the CVT gearbox of the previous car. A good thing indeed, for while Audi's CVT was one of the better of the breed, few people like these transmissions.
For the first time the car is available in Standard, Sport, and Design lines, with levels of equipment rising the higher you go. Yet even base cars are amply if not lavishly specced, and that glorious cabin - which is so very silent on the move - offers larger dimensions, including shoulder width and head clearance up by 11mm in the front, and rear legroom up by 23mm.
Tons of technology is at play. All of it coming in the form of subtle servants, and much of it optional, including the Audi virtual cockpit, Audi Matrix LED headlights, and Bang and Olufsen 3D sound. Safety is predictably huge in the A4, with available equipment including Audi active lane assist, Audi side assist, and the City Assistance package including rear-cross traffic assist and a reverse camera. Something lacking on my test unit.
Polished and poised - over almost any road surface. Subtle and silent. The competition will be at least a little worried by the new A4.
|1.4 T FSI manual||R441,000|
|1.4 T FSI S tronic||R459,000|
|1.4 T FSI S tronic Sport||R492,000|
|1.4 T FSI S tronic Design||R488,000|
|2.0 T FSI S tronic||R496,000|
|2.0 T FSI S tronic Sport||R517,000|
|2.0 T FSI S tronic Design||R513,000|
|2.0 TDI Base S tronic||R517,000|
|2.0 TDI S tronic Sport||R538,000|
|2.0 TDI S tronic Design||R534,000|
|2.0 T FSI quattro S tronic Sport||R616,000|
Prices include the standard five- year/100,000km Audi Freeway Plan.