A to the FORE

Don’t be misled by the familiarlooking sheetmetal. Under the skin, Audi’s all-new A4 packs a technological arsenal intended to unleash hell on its 3 Series and C-Class rivals

WORDS ALEX INWOOD

PERHAPS it’s easiest to think of the fifthgeneration B9 Audi A4 as a new iPhone, which despite looking similar to your last one can suddenly do new and amazing things.

Parked next to the old A4, it looks more ‘facelift’ than ‘new-gen’, but Audi says that’s deliberate. The A4 is too popular and too important to risk a dramatically different design, and Audi reckons A4 buyers love its understated three-box shape.

But don’t be fooled. Under that conservative sheetmetal, a quiet, deeply more impressive revolution has taken place that should have BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar worried.

And it’s all to do with technology.

Peel back that same-again-only-sharper body and 90 percent of the A4 is new. It rides on the latest version of Audi’s MLB Evo platform (that debuted in the new Q7), is lighter by up to 120kg, 25mm longer and features new engines, new transmissions and new suspension.

The headline change, however, is a completely redesigned interior that is not only stylish and wonderfully contemporary, but bristling with tech. Even in base poverty-pack trim, the A4’s cabin is a triumph of quality materials, textures and restrained elegance that trumps the mighty Mercedes C-Class.

This is mostly down to the seamless integration of a central 8.3-inch touchscreen, which is a class above the tacked-on tablet you get in the Benz, and also because the A4’s restrained dashboard is effortlessly elegant compared to the flashier Merc.

It’s the tech, though, that truly sets the A4 apart. Tick all the options and your A4 will arrive with 30 on-board driver-assist systems, most of which have been lifted from the new Q7 SUV. The most interesting system is called Traffic Jam Assistant, which can transform the A4 into a semi-autonomous car in heavy traffic. It works by combining the lane assist and radar cruise control systems, and at speeds under 65km/h it will steer, brake and accelerate on its own by locking on to the car in front.

There’s also cordless charging for your smartphone, supercool Matrix LED headlights, an optional (and excellent) 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system, on-board wifi, and shatter-proof Audibranded tablets that clip onto the back of the front seats to keep the kiddies entertained.

The piece de resistance, though, is the A4’s ‘virtual cockpit’, which is available as an option. Already proven in the TT, a 12.3-inch screen replaces the conventional instrument cluster. It’s a gorgeous and fully configurable piece of tech that none of the A4’s rivals can match, and one that should sell Audi thousands of cars. Imagine sitting in a dealership and seeing that screen come to life. You’ll be yelling “sold!” before your feet are out of the car.

Far from just wowing with techno glitz, this new A4 also has the dynamic ability to back up its armoury of technology.

Refreshingly, Audi hasn’t tried to make the new A4 a dynamic rival for the sportier 3 Series or new Jaguar XE. With front-drive and quattro variants, it’s never going to match its rear-drive rivals for sheer driving thrills.

Instead, the emphasis is on comfort, cabin refinement and efficiency, helped in part by a hugely impressive drag coefficient of 0.23. Audi spent close to 1000 hours

THE WHISPER-QUIET A4 HANDLES LIKE AN ALTOGETHER BIGGER CAR

1

GO CONFIGURE Optional ‘Virtual Cockpit’ allows the instrument panel to be configured to the mode most relevant to driving conditions. It’s both beautiful and functional.

2

VACANT Lack of steering feel continues to be a chink in the A4’s dynamic armour.

Avoid the optional adaptive rack, which adds cost and distraction, rather than greater connection.

3

CHILLED Get busy selecting options and your A4 can boast as many as 30 driver-assist systems, all aimed at keeping you safer and more relaxed. You’ll still need to fuel it yourself, though.

AUDI CLAIMS IT HAS THE SAME NVH LEVELS AS THE COMPANY’S A8 FLAGSHIP

in the wind tunnel honing the new A4’s aero-efficient body and at freeway speeds it feels particularly slippery and whisper-quiet. It also feels and handles like an altogether bigger car.

In reality, it’s only slightly larger than the old B8 model – 25mm longer, 16mm wider and riding on a 12mm-longer wheelbase of 2820mm – but there’s more rear legroom (up 23mm), and lowering the front seats has boosted headroom by 24mm, all of which helps to make the A4 a terrific long-distance cruiser.

Audi’s boffins claim it has the same NVH levels as the company’s flagship A8, but don’t stress that this is a dynamic pup. Just because the A4 might not encourage you to actively seek out a challenging mountain road doesn’t mean it turns into a sloppy, uninspiring mess when you do.

New five-link suspension front and rear ensures the A4 rides superbly on all three wheel sizes (17-, 18- and 19-inch alloys are available), and it also displays taut body control. Buyers can choose between three basic suspension set-ups – standard steel springs or the choice of two adaptive systems with variable damping offered in Sport or Comfort trims. The Comfort system is a first for Audi and, when matched with the base car’s 225/50R17 wheels, delivers a revelation of pliancy and control on coarse, corrugated roads.

Choosing the Sport set-up lowers the ride height by 23mm and, with the dampers in their hardest setting, tightens things up considerably, but mercifully it isn’t so firmly sprung that it tries to bounce you off the road.

The standard electric steering is sharp and, while devoid of feedback, is still preferable to the optional adaptive rack, which feels synthetic. At speed you can actually feel the variable system changing the ratio, which detracts from the driving experience.

Five engines are under consideration for Australia from launch – three petrols and two diesels – ranging from a base 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre TFSI petrol to a range-topping 3.0-litre TDI that smoothly churns out a hefty 200kW/600Nm. The most popular variant will be the 2.0-litre TFSI that, in quattro guise, is good for 185kW/370Nm. A less powerful (140kW/320Nm) version of the same 2.0-litre unit will also be offered, as will a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre TDI.

At the international launch in Venice, we sampled the 1.4 petrol, the high-output 2.0 petrol and the 3.0 TDI, which is one of the sweetest-spinning diesel engines around. Yet it was the 2.0-litre petrol quattro that impressed most. Mated to an improved seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (the 3.0-litre TDI uses an eight-speed auto), which seems to have eradicated most of the jerkiness and hesitation that plagues dual-clutch ’boxes in city traffic, the petrol unit is smooth, muscular and delivers a natural and rorty exhaust note. It’s no

THAT IT’S NOT OVERTLY SPORTY IS A STRENGTH RATHER THAN A WEAKNESS

slouch, either, and will propel the A4 quattro from 0-100km/h in a claimed 5.8sec.

It is the thirstiest engine on offer, though, with a 5.9L/100km combined fuel number – well up on the 4.9L/100km for both the 1.4 petrol and 3.0 TDI. The 2.0-litre TDI is the most parsimonious drivetrain choice, and sips just 4.4L/100km.

Opting for the quattro system, which can send up to 85 percent of the drive split to the rear axle, adds another layer of dynamic ability to the frontdriver’s already pointy front-end. Push hard and all A4s will naturally begin to understeer, but on switchback roads the handling is sharp, direct and predictable, if ultimately a little uninvolving. All this points encouragingly towards the already confirmed 260kW/500Nm 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 S4 (due here year) and inevitable RS4 variants. dynamic ability is there, yet the fact this new A4 overtly sporty should be seen as a strength rather weakness. What the A4 lacks in pure driving more than made up for with fuss-free handling, a and cosseting ride, and its rock-star cabin. some more creativity on the exterior design been welcome, what Audi has created under familiar shape is a deeply impressive luxury sedan. Ingolstadt has invested the money and time revolutionising the areas it thinks its customers value most. If you’re the type that places a priority on a sublime interior and groundbreaking technology over sheer dynamic ability, new A4 is untouchable. late next y So the d isn’t overtl than a wea thrills is m smooth an While so would’ve that fam sedan revolu will va higher breakin Audi’s ne

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THE newest engine in the A4 family is the 140kW/320Nm 2.0-litre petrol that debuts an entirely new combustion system. While technically still part of the VW Group’s EA888 four-cylinder family, the less powerful of the A4’s two 2.0-litre TFSI engines uses a shorter intake time, higher boost pressure and different valve timing to improve efficiency to just 4.8L/100km.

Leading from the front

NEW five-link front suspension contributes to A4’s new-found ride comfort and improved overall compliance. It’s not one-spec-fitsall, either – customers can specify a fixed-damper conventional set-up or a choice of adaptive systems in more cushy Comfort or firmer Sport tunes.

Model Audi A4 2.0TFSI quattro Engine 1984cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo Max power 185kW @ 5000-6000rpm Max torque 370Nm @ 1600-4500rpm Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch L/W/H 4726/1842/1427mm Wheelbase 2820mm Weight 1510kg 0-100km/h 5.8sec (claimed) Economy 5.9L/100km (EU) Price $60,000 (estimated) On sale February 2016