After a host of technical changes, is the new A4 a much better car? Ouseph Chacko finds out
At first glance it's hard to differentiate the facelifted Audi A4 from the previous-gen car. Audi has added a whole lot of subtle improvements and tweaked the car's appearance slightly to give it a more modern look. The A4 now sports the new Audi family look; in fact we would go as far as to say it resembles the A6 from the front. Take a closer look at the most obvious difference, the headlamps, and you will notice the continuous band of LED daytime running lights that gives it a striking appearance. The other changes include new rectangular fog lamps and Audi's new six-point hexagonal grille. The wing mirrors are now smaller than before, but it's actually the non-convex mirror glass used that makes for poor visibility. Side-on, things remain pretty much the same, and you'll be hard pressed to tell the new one apart from the old one.
It will be sold with three engine options, and we got our hands on two — the base 1.8-litre petrol and the 2.0-litre diesel. The petrol motor is direct-injection-enabled (for better efficiency and emissions) and makes 168bhp. It is unbelievably quiet and extremely smooth and this is one of its highlights. Put your foot down and the petrol A4 will get to 100kph in 9.36sec, which isn't shatteringly quick, but you will find no cause to complain under most conditions. The gearbox is an eight-step Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that is surprisingly fun to use. It shifts gears like a regular gearbox under most conditions and has little of that irritating rubber-band effect (where the engine revs shoot up and the car's speed only increases gradually) that is usually associated with CVTs. There is a bit of a spike in power delivery when you put your foot down and this can get annoying in stop-start traffic though. In its quest for efficiency, this petrol A4 comes with stop-start fuel-saving tech — the engine automatically switches off when you come to a stop at a traffic light and starts when you get your foot off the brake. We got a reasonable 8.5kpl in the city and 12.5kpl on the highway.
However, given the stratospheric price of petrol these days, we're certain the diesel will be the popular option. The 2.0-litre diesel is a familiar engine, powering everything from the Volkswagen Passat to the Audi Q3. Strangely though, Audi has chosen to give the A4 the 141bhp version — the Passat and the Q3 engines make 177bhp. What it does have though is 32.6kgm of torque (or pulling power) and this comes rather handy when you are battling town traffic. Performance is peppy and the engine is extremely smooth and refined for a four-cylinder diesel. Like all front-wheel-drive Audis, this one gets the eight-step CVT, and it behaves much like the one in the petrol in that it shifts ‘steps' obediently. However, given that the engine has only 141bhp and there's no real fun in revving a diesel to its redline, it's best to leave the gearlever in ‘D' and let the gearbox electronics decide the best way to handle things. It comes as no surprise that the diesel takes longer to 100kph than the petrol — it does, after all, weigh 45kg more than the petrol and makes less power. As expected, the diesel is more frugal than the petrol with its 10.9kpl city and 15kpl highway figures.
The biggest surprise with this A4 is the way it handles bumps. Both the diesel and the petrol specialise in giving you an excellent low-speed ride and it's quite amazing how they handle the sharp edges and potholes that litter our roads. The suspension works quietly and the ride is almost pillow-like over most surfaces at city speeds. Higher speeds, however, result in some floatiness and pitching, especially over expansion joints, and this is a bit more evident in the heavier diesel.
What adds to the new A4's city-friendly nature is its extremely light steering that makes it easy to thread the car through tight spots and when parking. Go faster and the steering weighs up quite well. Enthusiasts will be disappointed though, as the steering's setup isn't particularly engaging. There's lots of grip, however.
Overall, both the diesel and the petrol are better suited to chauffeur-driven roles rather than self-driven thrills. Those who want proper excitement from the A4 would do better to opt for the 245bhp, 3.0-litre V6 diesel with its all-wheel-drive system.
The cabin too has been refreshed with small changes to make it more plush and up to date. The new steering wheel resembles the Q3's, and the gearlever is new too. Audi's MMI system gets a revised interface like the one on the A6, and overall quality levels have been improved. The A4 now has the best
cabin in its class. More importantly, it is cheaper than the outgoing version and, given the number of changes and the overall improvement to the car, we think it's good value for money.