Audi has launched its new A4 to compete with Mercedes and BMW’s C-Class and 3 Series

Save the best for the last. Why? Because after lying low while rivals Mercedes and BMW were updating their C-Class and 3 Series ranges respectively, Audi is finally out with the new A4. And it’s hoping that the last-mover advantage works in its favour.

The new car’s look attempts to link it with the outgoing one but unlike the earlier car, which was too understated, the new A4 has plenty of finesse. The new Audi saloon gets the same emotive front styling. The lamps look menacing when they’re on and pretty good even when they’re switched off.

The A4’s sides get strong lines running across the body from front to rear. This design lends the A4 a lean, muscular look and a very purposeful stance. The rear is quite similar to the earlier car, tidy and clean, in harmony with the car’s graceful design.

But just because the new A4 looks similar, don’t be fooled into thinking that this car is merely an update. Beneath the surface, the changes are substantial. It is also bigger and wider than the C-Class and the 3 Series.

Audi is aiming to position the A4 as the sportiest car in its class (and outgun the 3 Series in the bargain) for which it’s leaving no stone unturned. The German carmaker has worked hard to improve the A4’s driving dynamics. To do that, they have integrated a longer wheelbase thanks to a re-packaged engine/transmission, which Audi got after shifting the front axle forward by 154mm. Audi has also used high-strength steel and suspension components to keep the car’s overall weight down.

Varied settings

You also get the Audi Drive Select (as optional), a system that can adjust the operating characteristics of the engine, automatic transmission, steering and the shockers at the touch of a button. There’s a ‘comfort’ setting, and an ‘automatic’ mode that reacts to how the car is driven. But the ‘dynamic’ mode has the sharpest responses. You can also input your own settings by choosing the ‘individual’ mode.

The A4 also gets Audi’s dynamic steering, which operates with a superimposed gear system that varies the effective steering ratio according to road speed.

The A4 will come to India with a choice of three engine options. A 2-litre 143bhp diesel, a 3.2 FSI (fuel stratified ignition) 250bhp petrol, which will be on sale immediately, and a 1.8, 158bhp turbo-petrol, which will be offered later.

We started off driving the 2-litre TDi, which is likely to be a best-selling model in India. This is the first common-rail engine from the VW Group which has been strident about the advantages of the Pumpe-Düse motor over common-rail technology for years. However, tightening emission norms have now forced it to abandon the former. The new common-rail diesel is much more refined than the old Pumpe Düse unit and the cabin is now a noticeably quieter place.

The motor is more free-revving too, showing no hesitance all the way to its redline at 5400rpm. The car will also have an eight-speed Multitronic gearbox. The diesel A4 will be sold in front-wheel drive only. But there is so much grip on offer that you’d really question the need for a Quattro.

Push the car hard into corners and it will go where you want it to without any fuss. The slight understeer that was present in the older car has been eliminated. The ride has improved too. It is more comfortable than the BMW 3 Series. The new A4 feels reassuring on highway speeds as well.

The flagship 3.2 V6 Quattro provided a good opportunity to sample how well the A4 will fare as a sporty saloon. The 3.2 Quattro comes with a 40/60 front/rear power bias, which gives it brilliant traction. To say that the 3.2 with 250bhp is quick is like saying that ice-cream is cold.

Just shift the car into first, floor the throttle and the power comes in a massive shove. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and precise but just doesn’t like to be rushed. The last of the A4 engines is the 1.8 turbo petrol, which will be on sale later on. Its responsiveness improves hugely once past the 2000rpm mark and the motor delivers a strong mid and plenty of power in its top range.

The cabin of the old car scored well on build quality but not on space, especially for the rear passengers. We’re happy to report that the new car excels on both fronts. Thanks to its larger dimensions, there is ample space for four. At 480 litres, its boot is bigger than those offered by its rivals.

The multi-media interface controls on the A4 are more intuitive to use than BMW’s iDrive system. But the dashboard is still cluttered with loads of buttons.

In the overall analysis, the new A4 is definitely an advancement over the car it replaces across each area. It’s bigger, more comfortable and definitely more dynamic. At Rs 29 lakh for the 2-litre TDi and Rs 36 lakh (both ex-showroom, Mumbai) for the 3.2 Quattro, the new car seems to be decent value too. But is it better than the 3 Series or C-Class? Only a full comparison can answer that but Audi has made a very strong case for itself with the new A4.

ASHISH MASIH

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