Audi A4

Welcome changes inside and underneath

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

IF YOURE struggling to spot the differences, best drink in exquisite details like the clamshell bonnet, arrowhead headlights, double-edged crease lines and tapered tail graphics. The result is restrained elegance.

Bolder ideas abound inside.

Audi has long been the maestro of peachy interiors, but the latest A4s spacious cabin feels how Apple might have executed it.

Fresh and airy, the horizontal dash flows with sculpted surfaces and lush materials, yet needlessly fiddly T-bar shifter and the odd rattle aside cold Teutonic functionality abounds.

Everything operates as expected, from the excellent driving position and eye-catching instrumentation to supportive seats and beautifully tactile switchgear.

Downsizing trends means the old 125kW/320Nm 1.8 TFSI makes way for a 110kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI S-tronic (all trannies are now FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE seven-speed dual-clutch, so adios Multitronic CVT). Unexpectedly sprightly (0-100km/h in 8.5sec), this $55,500 base newcomer pulls energetically all the way to a lowish 5800rpm redline, only feeling breathless overtaking or tackling hills.

Some 75 percent of sales should fall evenly between the 2.0 TFSI petrol twins, in 140kW/320Nm front-drive guise ($60,900) or rip-snorting 185kW/370Nm quattro all-wheel drive ($69,900).

Regardless of a 105kg penalty, the latter strides forward with almost ferocious intent, yet both accelerate strongly and keep the pace up with punchy ease.

The slow-selling V6 turbo-diesel has been replaced by the $66,900 140kW/400Nm 2.0TDI quattro. It delivers a low 4.6L/100km, but as its 7.2sec 0-100km/h sprint time suggests, this is no slug, pulling vigorously from low speeds.

The biggest advance over the previous model is how consistent the A4s handling and electromechanical speed-sensitive steering have become. Switching to the Q7s all-new architecture has helped cut 65kg so the fivelink suspension has less unsprung weight to handle.

Numbness has given way to a sharper, more evenly weighted helm for more precise and controlled cornering. More feedback would be nice, but the degree of composure at speed is exemplary. However, the ride on standard 245/40R18 rubber is busy and firm, whereas the optional $1950 adaptive dampers fitted to quattro models tested made them much cushier.

It would be easy to dismiss the latest Audi A4 as a reworked version of the previous-generation sedan, but the advances are considerable and tangible.

The Audi A4 is now a very real threat to BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Step aside, driver

The A4s driver-assist tech includes segment-firsts such as rear cross-traffic alert with braking function and Exit Warning, which helps the driver avoid opening the door in front of cyclists, AEB with Pedestrian Detection, Multi- Collision Braking (to avoid hitting the vehicle ahead once youve been rear-ended) and Pre Sense Rear that strobes the tail-lights when you stop suddenly. Options include Turn Assist that stops the car from turning across oncoming traffic, and Pre Sense Front that alerts the driver of approaching obstacles.