Audi adds to an already impressive arsenal with their all-new A4. Can
it set the standard for the segment? Peter Frost finds out
It is, I’m telling you!’‘OK, if you say so.’ Again with the one-two patter. I’m getting used to this. Usually when I show up at a garage or a friend’s house in an Important New Model, the assembled crowd are all over the car like flies in a drought. Except this time, no one has a clue that this is the brand new, ever so important, billion dollar Audi A4. Why? Well look at it. Closely. No, more closely. Still confused? Don’t be ashamed, better spotters have tried and failed. But, as all the capital letters suggest, this really is New and Important. So let’s look around. First outside. Notice the waistline, see how razor sharp it is, a honed crease from back to front, so very designer-chic. Then check out the front of the car, where many of the biggest changes are. Like the Q7 and the TT, the lights have been artistically elongated and they’re smaller, lower and aggressively angled. The effect, if you stand back, is to give the car more purpose and more rear-view mirror skrik factor. The bonnet has also changed, sporting more of a BMW-style bump as it approaches the lights. These lights are standard bi-Xenon, but Audi is really punting their LED upgrade, and would really like you to go for the whole LED Matrix system with dynamic turn signal shebang. These new indicators consist of a strip of light flowing along a series of bulbs, rather than the passé blink, blink, blink. Fashion, ai.
In profile, even Audi’s own designers would be hard-pressed to differentiate between past and present models, but, from the rear, things get easier – it is where new A4 looks the most changed. The boot lid is rounded, with an in-built spoiler that enhances the look, and rear lights that are far slimmer than before. What about inside? Now we are talking. Elements of the groundbreaking Q7 interior have filtered down into the A4 and we’re here to tell you that, unbelievably, Audi has managed to go one better than even themselves – the benchmarkers.
This is a magnificent space to be and chances are that you’re going to be looking for traffic chaos to get stuck in, just to spend more time in it. First off, it feels – like the Q7 – Porsche-bulletproof, indestructible, and solid, and like it can stand up to the roughest treatment. Shut lines and panel gaps inside – cubby, unit joins, roof lining convergences – are microscopic, and materials are second-to-none.
There’s Audi’s much-discussed Virtual Cockpit ahead of the driver, a simple, stacked centre console, and redesigned doors and seats that are elegance exemplified. The immediate effect is one of space – and indeed there is more of it in the new A4 than any previous incarnation; seats are mounted lower so headroom is better, the wheelbase is longer so legroom is excellent, and the car is wider, so elbow room is improved too. This may look like the previous model, but once inside, it reveals itself as the paradigm shift it is.
The details inside bear witness to Audi’s determination to be executive sedan number one. The frameless rear-view mirror is a work of art. So too the flattened gear shifter. The dash-long ventilation duct is beautiful, reinvented Bauhaus industrial chic for the new age. I could go on, but we’ll leave it to you to discover the finer details (such as the window-lift switches).
My test car was a 2.0 TDI, the one likely to be the volume seller, despite VW AG’s nasty little diesel run-in with the US authorities. Much work has been done on this particular engine, and, boring details notwithstanding, it is now a supremely elastic, responsive unit with more Star Wars whoosh than Farmer Brown clatter. Put your foot down, the intuitive 7-speed auto selects
a gear with minimum fuss and catapults you across the universe. Quietly. Very quietly. If space was the first impression, then silence is the chief in-motion effect. It’s eerily quiet in there, good for listening in on back-seat gossip, bad for speeding fines – within a few seconds you’re way over the legal limit without the usual wind, road and tyre roar to warn you.
There’s more – it’s comfortable too. There’ll be a collective ‘hurrah’ at that from Audi owners. Audi, until this generation, has erred on the side of sport even for their volume sellers, chasing BMW buyers, but the result has been uncomfortable rides. But not with this one. New suspension settings and a selection of modes ensure a balanced sport/comfort split. Comfort mode really is – finally – what it says.
The verdict then is as close to 10/10 as possible, almost frustratingly so for a motoring writer charged with telling the whole truth. No doubt fault will filter through, but in two days of driving this great, characterful car, none was apparent. It’ll then, as it often does, come down to aesthetics. Will you accept a masterfully engineered new car that looks just like your masterfully engineered old car? Or will you cough up for a sexy Mercedes C-Class or svelte Jaguar XE? It’s a test of character.