The Audi A4 is a serious contender to the BMW 3 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in Europe and China, and Audi is taking the fight to them on aesthetics, engineering and equipment with the latest model.
It is considered the ninth generation of its model line that started as the A80 in 1972; to be technically correct.
The A80 saw four generations spanning more than 20 years till 1995, following which the A4 was introduced to toe the change in model designation.
Audi has produced more than 12 million units of the A80 and A4, with the latter numbering more than seven million cars and counting, to reflect its strong standing in the B-segment car market.
The latest A4 may not have sharp angular lines that would help it cheat the wing in terms of body profile, but Audi lauds this new model as having a drag co-efficient of 0.23, the lowest in its class.
There are many ways to reduce the car’s resistance to the wind without assuming a triangular shape; moulding all aspects of the body to direct airflow efficiently is the key approach.
This can take into account strategically located air vents in the front apron to direct airflow over the front tyres, smooth flowing body lines that start from the front grille area, an almost flat floorpan, and sufficient spoiler effect at the rear for good downforce to maintain stability.
The A4 is very clearly an Audi with the large yet somewhat tall trapezoidal grille that reflects its current generation status in family body styling.
In taking the fight to its German rivals, the development focus appears to be making the A4 a more comfortable sedan without losing the dynamic driving aspects.
At a glance, the A4 does not come across as a compact car and with a body length of more than 4,730mm, a width of more than 1,840mm, and a wheelbase of 2,820mm, it is clearly positioned close to the mid-executive car range in dimensions.
It reminded us clearly of the Audi 100 that we had a drive impression of in mid-1976 and the successor of that model is the Audi A6; and our memory was jogged even further when we got into the car.
While the slew of equipment and interior styling was different with a lot more information provided today, we could relate to the spacious quality of the car, from the driver’s seat to the rear passenger’s accommodation.
We chose to sit in the rear for part of the drive sessions and we were not disappointed; legroom was more than adequate even with a tall driver or front passenger and the thigh support was good for travelling in comfort.
Audi, understandably, is proud of the fact that the latest A4 comes with the longest interior and greatest shoulder width in front among its peers for its class.
The best part was that Audi made the new A4 lighter despite it being bigger, by up to 120kg, depending on the engine model, although body for body, the decrease in weight is said to be up to 15kg.
This is achieved without the use of aluminium; instead, there is far greater use of lightweight high strength steel in the body while the weight reduction in other areas, including the ‘lightweight seats’, is achieved through higher use of light but strong materials.
Audi has introduced the new A4 with seven engine options; three petrol and four diesel variants, reportedly with improved fuel consumption figures for all.
Of interest perhaps is the new 2.0 TFSI ultra with a newly developed combustion system to provide good combined fuel economy of 4.8 l/100km or 20.8km/l.
However, we were told that when the new A4 is introduced here in the first quarter of next year, the focus is on the 1.4 TFSI and 2.0 TFSI quattro (this is the 2.0-litre engine with standard combustion system).
The differences between the two 2.0-litre engines are significant as each engine is designed for a different buyer profile; the ultra engine delivers 190hp and 320Nm while the standard engine punches out 252hp and 370Nm.
Although the quattro variant would be heavier with the additional drive mechanicals, it is still faster in 0-100kph sprints at 5.8 seconds and has a higher top speed of 250kph versus the ultra’s 7.3 seconds and 210kph.
During the international media drive in Venice, we started with the 2.0 TFSI quattro with a seven-speed S tronic automatic and there was no shortage of grunt to get going as the engine revved up smoothly to free up the charging horses.
We also pushed it through the winding stretches, exploring the limits of the Hankook Ventus S1 evo (225/50 R17) – all the A4 models were equipped with Hankook tyres as standard – through to the tighter stretches that require more dynamic grip and traction.
The wheel-selective torque control of the dynamic driving system helped in keeping engine revs at the right point for the winding impression while the adjustable shock absorbers are available as an option.
Our experience as a rear passenger for sections of the drive was just as good; wind noise was nicely muted as expected with the body’s low wind cheating profile and the only intrusion was the mild road rumble.
The redesigned five-link suspension front and rear with ride comfort well factored in seemed to have achieved its goal; we couldn’t pick much on the ride and for the corners, the suspension geometry and sturdy anti-roll bars made for a fairly good level poise.
We also had a go at the 2.0TFSI ultra just for the sake of comparison; while the lack of oomph was obvious, there were enough horses on the reins to attack the winding stretches at good speeds.
Although it was only front-wheel drive, we found its dynamic strengths to be pretty good, encouraging us to enter a corner quick enough with mild understeer and good directional feedback from the newly developed electromechanical power steering (yup, no fully electric steering yet).
For the third drive impression, we decided on the 1.4 TFSI that was only made available with a six-speed manual transmission.
It may be a small displacement engine, but in its turbocharged form, it packs quite a wallop with 150bhp and 250Nm, and is marginally thirstier at 5.3l/100km versus the 2.0 TFSI ultra’s 4.9l/100km.
The six-speed manual transmission provided smooth selection of gears with positive engagement and easy fluid flow in the shift travel to make driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road easier.
Most of all, the ride comfort factor stayed consistent for everyone on board with a quiet and appreciable journey, and we believe it would be just as enjoyable to drive through the windies as well.
The new A4 comes with a good range of driving aids, the widest in its class according to Audi; parking assist, rear cross-traffic assist, exit warning, collision avoidance resistance, turn assist, traffic jam assist, and the Audi pre-sense system.
Naturally, the 1.4 TFSI has lower trim and equipment specifications such as fabric upholstery against Nappa leather, no head-up display and 360-degree cameras, among others, but it should still turn heads for what it can offer.