What is it? All-new version of Audi’s vital 3-Series rival.
Key features: Sharper styling, new engines, more connectivity.
Our view: The new Audi A4 is a major improvement over its predecessor.
According to Audi UK PR head Jonathan Zammett, for fleet customers connectivity is now just as important an attribute in the choice of a car as are ride and handling. In the new Audi A4, on UK roads in November 2015, he believes Audi has the technology to see off all its rivals.
The all-new car is the fifth generation of the A4 but the ninth of a model line that has been on the market since 1972, and in the process sold more than 12 million – most effectively challenging the formerly untouchable BMW 3 Series. Today one in five of every Audis sold is an A4.
However, the brand’s major challenger for the premium fleet market has also attracted criticisms in several areas, while the competition has got tougher, with Jaguar’s XE the latest major rival to emerge.
So this all-new incarnation of the A4 is also the most radically altered for some time, with the designers looking for improvements right across the car. In the words of Zammett, “we are changing everything except the name.”
The new A4 is built on VW Group’s latest MLB-Evo platform, the only other model currently using this architecture the Q7 SUV. The modular technology offers significant weight savings and a host of systems to benefit the car.
Unusually in the current market the new saloon is all steel in its construction, but a lot of it is anything but ordinary steel, and it is the latest methods of bending and folding the material that gives the car an immediately noticeable difference – its exterior styling is much sharper, with distinct creases rather than curvy edges producing a highly attractive result.
This tech also contributes to a much more aerodynamic design – where previously extra plastic components had to be added to, for example, the boot lid to produce a sharp edge, now the metal can be folded. The underside has also been worked upon, which all adds up to the saloon’s impressive 0.23 drag factor.
At 4726mm the new A4 remains longer than all its rivals, and both 25mm in length and 16mm in width larger than its predecessor. There is a slightly longer wheelbase too, up by 12mm, which translates to increased interior space – 24mm above the head, 23mm in the rear.
It certainly feels a very roomy car, especially in the back seats, while the 480-litre boot space – the same as the previous car’s – matches the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.
And all this has occurred in a car that has shed up to 110kg in weight – even quattro all-wheel-drive versions compare favourably with their rear-drive competitors, with consequent gains in handling, emissions and economy.
On slipping into the car anyone familiar with recent A4s, and most other Audis, will immediately notice an uplift in quality. The car has now gained the cabin we have seen in the most recent launches from the brand, and while there was nothing particularly wrong with the old cabin, this is distinctly better, with beautifully tactile controls and excellent standards of finish.
The test cars on the launch event were all fitted with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, first seen on the latest TT sports car and an option that once experienced is very hard to not include in one’s budgeting for a new A4.
Out go the main analogue instruments, such as the speedometer and rev counter, replaced by a screen on which digital versions of said dials are projected, and then made smaller with the space between them filled by for example the map of the satellite navigation – it is intuitive to use and a definite highlight of the car.
The new Audi A4 launches with a seven-strong engine choice, three petrol and four diesel, and possibly making the most headlines will be the new 1.4 TFSI turbo petrol unit. It replaces the previous 1.8-litre variant and offers similar performance alongside significant emissions and economy advances.
All of the other engines promise more power but better economy and emissions than their predecessors, even the range-topping 250 hp petrol and 270 hp diesel, which also come in quattro all-wheel-drive form.
At the launch, The Car Expert tried the 2.0-litre diesel in its 150 hp format and ultra designation applied to the most eco-friendly models in a range, and the more powerful 187bhp version. Both are expected to take a large slice of A4 sales and this is no surprise as they provide everything that the company driver will need – enthusiastic acceleration, smooth cruising and very tax-friendly efficiency. The ultra, for example, attracts a benefit-in-kind rate of just 17%.
Perhaps the greatest praise, however, should be reserved for the A4’s on-the-road prowess. The chassis and steering were among the most criticised areas of the previous car, but they will be criticised no longer.
The new car rides with much more confidence, steers with far more feel, while it’s a much more comfortable car to travel in, essential when you are clocking up the motorway miles. It’s handling is not what one would describe as sporty, but instead the right mix of confidence and comfort that will be far more relevant to its clientele.
As indicated at the start, however, it is the availability of the new tech that will possibly sway many potential Audi A4 buyers. The driver aids for example, which are enhanced to a level not seen before with the highlight likely a system called Traffic Jam Assist.
Evolved from the adaptive cruise control, when one encounters a traffic queue, a simple push of a button will see this system take over completely from the driver, accelerating, braking and steering as required up to speeds of 38mph. As Zammett says, it is one step shy of the future concept of autonomous cars, with no drivers required…
Possibly of equal use to the busy fleet driver will be the new smartphone interface – compatible with iOS and Android-operated phones, it transfers their apps to the centre console screen, so for example music, maps and such can be operated completely through the car.
Of course, how much of the technology is supplied will depend on the model selected and the amount of the options list dipped into, but the standard specification of all A4s remains impressive.
Xenon headlamps are standard on both the entry-level SE and Sport variants, upgraded to LED versions on S line models. Audi’s drive select system is also standard on all models, this still boasting its comfort, auto and dynamic settings, but tuned for more fuel efficiency including such niceties as slightly reducing the effectiveness of the air-conditioning system to save fuel.
The cruise control, also standard, boasts a freewheeling mode, while the start-stop system cuts the engine when coasting, not just when stationary, again saving fuel. Three-zone climate control comes as standard – in fact a whole lot of tech does, to a level that the space we have here just does not allow doing justice to.
In short, the new Audi A4 is a major improvement over its predecessor. It clearly has been designed to meet the needs of the majority of its customers. It’s not a sports car, but it will enable one to complete a 200 miles-plus motorway journey in the most unfussy way possible, arriving relaxed and ready for the big meeting.
And along the way, the A4’s impressive technology suite will ensure that no driver is cut off from today’s world where such connectivity is so vital. “People want to be connected,” says Zammett. “That’s where it’s at, that’s the new game in this market…”
Audi A4 – key specifications
Models tested: Audi A4 Saloon 2.0 TDI, ultra SE 150 hp manual,
S line 190 hp automatic.
On Sale: November 2015
Engines: Petrol 1.4, 2.0 x 2. Diesel 2.0 x 2, 3.0 x 2.
Power (bhp):148, 187/248. 148/187, 215/268.
Torque (lb/ft):184, 236/273. 236/295, 295/443.
0-62mph (sec):8.7, 7.2*/5.8. 8.7/7.7*, 6.6/5.3*.
Top speed (mph): 130, 149/155. 136/130**, 155/155.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 41.5, 39.2/36.7. 62.8/58.9, 58/9/52.3.
CO2 emissions (g/km): TBC, 129/139. 104/106. 114/134.
Key rivals: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Test Date: October 2015.
* = front-wheel drive. **= ultra model, front-wheel drive where specified
All economy/emissions with standard wheels, FWD where specified.