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Not that long ago, actually it was a long time ago, the Audi A4 was my company car. It was early 2012 and the A4 had just been face-lifted; my car was a black, 2-litre diesel A4 (the 3-litre quattro had been discontinued) and I still have the media interface cable that I had to buy to plug in USBs to the stereo. Safe to say then that I know the previous-gen (code-name B8) A4 very well – I even did a few rally reconnaissance runs in it, the great ground clearance and complaint suspension being brilliant at both eating up the highways from Pune to wherever the rallies were and then tackling the stages themselves while we made pace notes.
Four years later – and that’s a very long time considering my company car was a face-lift of a model launched way back in 2008 – we have an all-new A4, the B9. And unlike Audi’s recent launches this one is really all new.
Evolution rather than revolution
Audi already has a problem of their cars looking very similar to each other – from a distance it needs a trained eye to make out an A6 from the A8, or the A3 from the A4. And now there’s this new A4 that looks like a nip-and-tucked old A4. Or even an updated A3. I remember seeing a camouflaged one in Mumbai earlier this year and wondering whether the A3 was already due for a facelift before realising we had just snapped the A4. And I’m supposed to have a trained eye…
Anyways, this new A4 shares nothing with the outgoing B8. Building on Audi’s fantastic body engineering competencies, the surfacing is now even more taut, the lines crisper, the edges sharper and it’s complimented by daytime running lamps that are even more edgy. This is a good-looking car (apart from being too generic, I honestly think all Audis are good-looking) that appeals to the engineer in me, after all not many manufacturers can make cars with such tight shut lines and such an overwhelming sense of solidity. I’m also sure that we will see a fair few of these red A4s on the road – it looks very racy – but I’ll still stick to black.
Regular readers will be familiar with the Volkswagen Group’s modular MQB platform – it will underpin a gazillion cars from the Group’s stables and in India already underpins the Octavia, Superb and the A3 too. Apart from injecting terrific efficiencies – read costs savings – into the manufacturing process the MQB platform benefits from lightness and this new A4 is a full 95 kilos lighter than its predecessor. That’s a huge weight saving and permits the use of a smaller engine without sacrificing efficiency.
With all the hoo-haa around diesels, Audi India have reworked their product mix and are bringing back petrol engines, back in to the Q5 and Q3 that were launched with petrols but were discontinued due to lack of demand, and also, for the first time, in the Q7. And riding on the momentum that petrol engines have been enjoying off late the A4 has been launched only with a petrol. The diesel will, of course, come in due course but for now there’s only one engine – the 1.4TFSI turbo-petrol that you’ll be familiar from the Jetta and Octavia. TFSI is actually a tad confusing, it used to stand for engines that were both super- and turbo-charged within the VW Group. It is now used by Audi to denote turbo petrols.
This motor makes 150bhp of power, 10 down over the old 1.8TFSI in the A4, but because it’s 95kg lighter it is 0.1 seconds quicker to 100kmph, taking 8.5 seconds. The torque remains unchanged at 250Nm.
On the road the 1.4TFSI motor feels far from slow. Weighing 1450kg, the A4 feels light on its feel – I should actually use the word lighter since the A4 always felt light – and is quick and eager to build up speed. The S-Tronic transmission with steering wheel paddles (Audi badges the twin-clutch DSG as S-Tronic) is equally quick to react and is even more refined than before. And the motor makes a nice throaty roar when revved hard while being completely silent when you let off the gas (it has a new sailing mode where the gearbox shifts into neutral when you’re coasting to save fuel).
Our drive was in Bhubaneswar, one of the easiest cities in the country to get out of – in 10 minutes you’re on the highway. And the freshly-surfaced highway leading to the Konark temple 80km away is fantastic: wide, smooth and with very, very little traffic.
Dynamic mode on the Drive Select, gearbox in Sport mode and it was pedal-to-metal all the way to the coast. While initial acceleration is sprightly once you get into three digits you’re made aware of the adage – of there being no replacement to displacement. Sustained high speeds and sporty driving demands the motor be given a proper spanking and that’s where you also wish for some more torque. But for most people and most of the time, this 1.4TFSI will be more than adequate, especially when you realise it has best-in-class fuel efficiency of 17.84kmpl as certified by the ARAI.
Behind the wheel
The A4 always excelled on comfort – the ride quality and space were the two big trump cards over the C-Class and 3 Series. I can safely report that these two strengths are only enhanced. There is (a little) more space at the back to maintain the A4’s edge and the ride is as plush as the earlier A4 but with the added benefit of the float and wallow in the suspension being curbed to a large extent. The body control is tighter, the damping (especially the rebound) more precise and the A4 feels more planted and stable. There’s more grip and bite round corners and though the steering doesn’t have much in the way of feedback you are now more confident while chucking the A4 into corners.
Another thing that’s been curbed to a large extent is the torque steer. As before, and unlike the C-Class and 3 Series, the A4 is only front-wheel drive and that problem of the steering wheel squirming in your palms when you apply full throttle is reduced to a great extent. It is still there, it still feels front-wheel driven, and it still doesn’t feel as sporty as a Merc or BMW, but overall the dynamics have taken a big step forward.
Look closely and you will notice the huge gap between the 17-inch rims and the wheel arch that wasn’t there on the old A4. It has been done, obviously, to deal with our horrid road conditions and on our drive we didn’t have to worry even when faced with some nasty looking speed breakers. And the damping is so good (thanks also to the 50-profile tyres) we didn’t have to slow down for the smaller speed breakers. But the old A4 didn’t have any trouble with bad roads either (I drove it over rally stages without a problem!) and that didn’t have these gaping, well, gaps.
I think this will be one of the key selling points of the A4. We first saw it on the new TT – the screen that stretches from edge to edge in the instrument binnacle – and is now being rolled out across the range: the Q7, the R8, every new Audi in fact. With traditional dials replaced by the high-res screen and fantastic graphics you can do wonderful things with it. You can have nice big clocks with the navigation in the centre, or you can reduce the size of the clocks and have navigation stretch from edge to edge, or you can have the music track list in the centre, or you can call up the trip computer and monitor the efficiency of your driving style. I went ooh and aah the first time I saw it and it is still ooh and aah worthy, something that buyers in this segment will love.
Other thing that they will love? The dynamic turn indicators, borrowed from the R8, where individual LEDs in the indicators light up sequentially in the direction you wish to turn and look so cool.
As for the interiors, keeping in with Audi’s reputation, the material quality, fit-finish and ergonomics are spot on. There’s a lot of stuff borrowed from the Q7, like the full width air-con vents, the frameless rear view mirror and the air-con controls. And with Apple CarPlay you don’t need that media interface cable anymore. Unlike recent Audis, the central multimedia screen doesn’t slide out of view (never understood why you’d want to tuck it away), the seats are leatherette like the Jetta, not leather like the A6, there’s the mandatory sunroof (why do Indian customers insist on it?) and navigation is standard though, as we discovered while driving to Konark, Google Maps is still the daddy.
This new A4 marks a big, big step up from its predecessor, a car that established Audi in India before the Q range of SUVs rolled in and pushed it into the big league. This is also a car Audi dealers have been waiting for, for a long time. Think about it – when was the last time Audi launched a brand new car/SUV in the volume game? The last I can remember was the Q7 late last year. And before that, two years ago, was the A3. The R8, RS6 Avant, RS7, and other facelifts don’t really count.
It’s an important car then, the A4, and if Audi can use the (obvious) cost benefits of the 1.4 motor to price it aggressively we will be seeing a lot of these cars on the roads very soon.