One of the final examples to come out of Audi’s previous design regime under Wolfgang Egger, the latest A4’s biggest hurdle is looking visually fresh, since it is so similar to the 2007-era B8. The easiest way of telling new from old is the clamshell bonnet and elongated LED tail-light graphics.
Inside, the differences are more obvious, with an expansive horizontal dash and intricate detailing.
THE PHRASE ‘always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ could have been tailor-made for the Audi A4.
Around in one form or another for over four decades and eight iterations, the premium medium from Ingolstadt has long lived in the critical and commercial shadows cast by its cutthroat compatriots, the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. And it’s also faced relentless in-house hostility from the related Volkswagen Passat – a series the original B1 Audi 80 of 1972 actually begat.
The elusive big time certainly isn’t due to a lack of innovation – Audi’s mid-sizer was an early adopter of all-wheel drive and turbocharging (1980 Ur-Quattro anyone?), turbo-diesels, galvanised bodies, slippery aerodynamics, lush interior quality, and occasionally stunning design.
However none were ever enough to put the A4 on top Down Under.
For today’s B9 generation, it was as if all stops were pulled out. Old bugbears like uncompetitive pricing, poor spec, meagre basemodel performance, bone-jarring ride, nose-heavy handling, corrupted steering and poor rear-seat packaging are now things of the past.
Despite a design that nobody will be able to pick as new, the B9 A4’s styling is arrestingly elegant and nuanced, with fantastic attention to detail if you’re willing to take the time. In an age of overly fussy styling, the Audi’s restrained beauty is a luxury in itself.
Around 65kg lighter despite being longer and wider than before, the B9 rides on the same aluminium- and magnesium-intensive MLB Evo modular longitudinal architecture underpinning the latest Q7, and – as with that SUV behemoth – the resulting levels of strength, rigidity, and refinement transform the Audi.
And not just on the expensive variants. Past experience with German cars in this class has 153 taught us that things only really started getting interesting mid-way up the range, but because all the ingredients are now in place, even the base 1.4 TFSI S-tronic sedan puts forward an extremely persuasive argument. Nothing gives the entry-level game away.
The standard 18-inch alloys fill the arches beautifully; the materials inside look, feel and smell upmarket; the famous obsession with detail is everywhere; seat comfort is fundamentally excellent; and there are no glaring equipment omissions (digital radio aside). Satellite navigation with benchmark Google enhancement? Tick.
Three-zone climate control with rear-seat vents and adjustability? Tick. Leather-lined upholstery?
Tick. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, AEB, blind-spot alert, LED headlights, reverse camera, and paddle shifters for the standard auto? All ticks. Add (just) enough space for four 180cm adults (rear-seat comfort is equal to, or better than, the E-Class from the segment above), and a huge boot, and you can see how even the base A4 is desirable.
And yet… there’s still enough (optional) fresh tech to get geeks shrieking, from the Audi Virtual Cockpit full-length instrumentation/multimedia screen in front of the driver, to the Matrix LED headlights, gesture-sensitive switchgear, and various driver-assist systems that provide unparalleled active safety. There’s even an exit warning to help stop striking cyclists. Deep pockets will be necessary for many, but the point is, the A4 can deliver upper-luxury limo levels of opulence. For instance, you can choose additional glazing insulation that will make this quieter than the current A8. Swish!
All that would be moot if the Audi’s driveability wasn’t up to scratch, but, again, the A4 delivers, starting with the 1.4 TFSI.
A 110kW 1.4-litre four-pot turbo driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission isn’t going to get pulses racing,
but exceptional aerodynamics and engineering efficiencies do help provide a surprising turn of speed (0-100km/h in 8.5sec) as long as the driver is willing to rev that satiny smooth powertrain.
Stepping up to the zingy 2.0-litre turbo offered in two output flavours brings significant accelerative reward, to the point where the 185kW quattro version feels like a slingshot. The latter, actually, is a real corker, with a lovely, snarly, and raspy exhaust note to go with the cracking pace; AWD provides precise yet predictable handling, while grip is terrific, as you’d expect.
And all that doesn’t take in the exceptional fuel economy and effortless torque that these petrolpowered turbos offer, making the available 2.0 TDI quattro diesel virtually redundant.
Long-time readers will know that one area where the A4 conceded ground to its BMW and Benz opponents was dynamics, underlined by the fact that the latter pair boast the on-paper benefits of rear-drive engineering. While we have yet to see a B9 RS4 to pitch against a respective M3 or C63 AMG, the core Audi models have at last closed that gap as well, more or less.
Reduced unsprung weight, completely new aluminium-rich independent five-link suspension, and an all-new lightweight electromechanical power steering system at last work in unison to inform the driver while filtering out the bad stuff.
The result is unexpected poise and feel from the wheel – again starting all the way down at 1.4 TFSI level – as well as sufficient bump 1.4 TFSI level – as well as sufficient bump absorption and noise insulation from the steel-sprung suspension.
There is still some room for improvement, however. Impressive as it may be, no dual-clutch transmission is going to work as consistently across all conditions as a great torque-converter auto. Some options seem extortionately expensive, like $1800 metallic paint. And while the up-spec versions with adaptive dampers provide a broader spectrum of comfort and sport settings, some testers found the Dynamic tune in 2.0 TFSI quattro and Allroad remains a bit too firm and fidgety – though others felt the high-speed body tautness that came with it to be worth the odd hard strike. Around our test track, the wet-road braking distance wasn’t much to write home about, while the A4’s steering on dirt and gravel did feel a bit too darty, requiring constant corrections. And for some reason, on some bitumen surfaces, the Allroad developed a distractingly annoying and noticeable boom coming from the (Michelin Primacy 3) tyres. But, again, only sometimes, and very occasionally.
Conversely, the Allroad impressed us mightily with its efficiency – the cornerstone of its freshly minted Ultra quattro AWD system. If there ever was a reason not to buy a bigger, heavier, and more lumbering medium-sized luxury SUV, this would be it. Better in pretty much every respect, it is the Swiss Army Knife of crossover wagons.
Which leads on to the final A4 strength – the fact it is offered in such a vast array of differing yet consistently strong versions, taking in two body styles, three AWD systems, and four powertrains (more are coming, too, of course). None are duds; all are deeply impressive.
In the final wash, whether coming up trumps tackling the You Yangs PG or taking in the extensive and demanding drive loops that systematically eliminated many more expensive rivals, it is clear that this A4 generation is the best Audi ever sold in Australia. While retaining, and even building on, the strengths of preceding versions, the latest iteration hits a six for efficiency, performance, refinement, agility, value, comfort, technology, safety, and choice.
Like the latest Q7 did exactly 12 months ago, the A4 has at last caught the bouquet, even if – ultimately – it is another ‘9’ that beats the B9 to be our 2017 COTY award. But let’s be clear. If Audi keeps this level of improvement up, next time it ought to finally be standing at the alter.
BODY Type 4-door sedan/5-door wagon, 5 seats L/W/H 4726/1842/1427mm (sedan) 4750/1842/1493mm (wagon) Wheelbase 2820mm Tracks 1572–1578mm (f); 1555–1566mm (r) Boot capacity 480 – 505 litres Weight 1450 – 1640kg DRIVETRAIN Layout front engine (north-south), FWD/AWD Engines 1395cc 4cyl turbo (110kW/250Nm) 1984cc 4cyl turbo (140kW/320Nm) 1984cc 4cyl turbo (185kW/370Nm) 1968cc 4cyl turbo-diesel (140kW/400Nm) Transmissions 7-speed dual-clutch CHASSIS Brakes ventilated discs (f), solid discs (r) Tyres 245/40R18 – 245/35R19 Spare Temporary ADR81 fuel consumption 4.6 – 6.6L/100km Greenhouse emissions 121 – 152g/km Front airbags Side airbags Curtain airbags Knee airbags Collision mitigation Crash rating 5-star (Euro NCAP) Prices $55,500 – $74,400 3-year retained value 47 - 60% Service interval 12 months/20,000km
ALL ROADS LEAD TO ULTRA
The petrol-powered A4 Allroad features Audi’s newgen ‘Ultra’ quattro AWD, with rear-axle deactivation to reduce drag and save fuel.
It does this by constantly analysing the environment and driver behaviour to boost torque to, or disengage from, the rear axle pre-emptively.
This is done via two clutches – a front one that decouples the propshaft and another further back to open the rear differential. This cuts dragtorque losses significantly.
All other A4s and the Allroad diesel, though, still retain the old set-up with 40/60 front/rear split, rising up to 70 percent to the nose or up to 85 percent out back as required. Eventually every Audi will switch to Ultra.