Audi makes no secret that the latest incarnation of its highly successful A4 is aimed slap-bang against the new 3 Series. Executives at Audi are also adamant that the latest A4 is not just a "facelift" but a complete new model range.
They even have a different code-name and internally Audi refers to it as the B7, whereas outgoing range is known as the B6.
No matter how you look at the debate whether the latest A4 sedan and Avant are face-lifted models or all-new cars, there is no doubt with me that it is a huge improvement on a product that was already impressive.
Looking at the engineering and technical changes to the A4 one can hardly regard the update as "only a facelift".
With the new A4, Audi is presenting not only a fresh design, but also revised the car's suspension while offering a greater choice of premium options. An array of new powerful petrol and diesel engines are also available.
Taking this into account the new range actually has very little in common with that of the outgoing model.
There are 11 models in the new A4 range and for the first time, Avant models will be offered in all engine derivatives with the exception the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol manual and multitronic models.
Topping off the range is the highly charged S4 sedan and Avant. In May 2005 the 3.2 FSI V6 model will also join the local range.
There is the choice of Sports and Executive packages while the even more exclusive S line exterior trim package from quattro is also on offer.
In addition, the Sports and Executive packages can be combined with the S line exterior package for the ultimate in designer expression.
Audi introduced styling cues of its striking Nuvolari concept car on the new A4 and the most noticeable changes have been made to the front and rear of the car.
In fact, with the exception of the roof, Audi says that the new A4 doesn't share a single exterior panel with its predecessor.
At the rear of the sedan and Avant it is easy to spot the Nuvolari's influence where the new two-piece taillights resemble that of the concept car's. These lights arches a long way inwards resulting in a complete different look from before.
The A4's most prominent new design feature is Ingoldstadt's new single-frame grille as seen on the A6 and A3 Sportback. It is no secret anymore that the trapezoidal grille is to become a standard styling element on all Audi products.
Audi also redesigned the side panel sections and the gently curving arc of the shoulder line divides up the panels, sculpting a dynamic, three-dimensional structure.
On the inside the car's interior styling is basically unchanged, apart from a new steering wheel of which the centre piece echoes the look of the trapezoidal grille.
In addition, door sill trims with aluminium inserts and numerous aluminium inlays are a standard feature of all new A4 versions.
Inlays in Walnut, fine-grained Birch wood grey or fine-grained Birch wood beige can be ordered as an alternative.
New cloth and two exclusive leather grades as well as a leather/Alcantara version can be ordered for the interior surfaces and the seats.
Luggage space is catered for by 460 litres of space in the saloon while the Avant offers up to 1 184 litres of space (with the rear seat folded down).
All A4 models feature as standard a rain and light sensor, multi-function steering wheel, servotronic steering (optional on the 2.0 petrol, 1.8T and 2.0 TDI), dual zone climate control, remote central locking, a CD-based sound system, electrically operated windows and side mirrors, ESP 8 traction and stability control, six airbags and ABS assistance for the all-disc brake system.
All six-cylinder models and the 2.0 T FSI features also have 17-inch wheels and tyres as standard.
There are three completely new engines in the A4 range. Carry over engines are the 96 kW 2.0-litre petrol, 120 kW 1.8-litre turbo charged petrol and 253 kW 4.2-litre V8 engine found in the S4.
The 2.0-litre TDI engine replaces the 1.9-litre TDI. It offers 103 kW at 4 000 r/min and 320 Nm of torque from only 1 750 r/min. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard equipment while a seven-step multitronic variable ratio transmission will be available as an option from May 2005.
Furthermore a new 3.0-litre V6 diesel, which is a reworked version of the one found in the A6, has also joined the range. Power output is rated at 150 kW at 3 500 r/min and a powerful 450 Nm of torque available from a low 1 400 r/min.
The A4 3.0 TDI is only available with quattro all wheel drive and offers buyers the choice of either a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed tiptronic automatic.
The new A4 is the first Audi model in South Africa to feature the new 2.0-litre turbo charged FSI four-cylinder engine. It develops 147 kW peaking between 5 100 and 6 000 r/min linked with 280 Nm of torque available at 1 800 r/min.
Transmission options are either a six-speed manual gearbox or seven-step multitronic.
From May 2005, the A4 3.2 FSI V6 petrol will be added to the range. This unit produces 188 kW at 6 500 r/min and 330 Nm of torque at 3 250 r/min.
The car features Audi's dynamic chassis with four-link front suspension and self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension, which has been completely modified and numerous new components added.
These modifications add up to a significantly higher level of agility and precise handling, combined with first-class ride comfort ? qualities which benefit both drivers of the A4 saloon and the avant in equal measure.
This also applies to the brakes, the dimension and consequently performance of which have been adapted to suit the potential of the new engines.
Models fitted with servotronic steering offer a greater level of sensitivity around the straight-ahead position and a sharper initial turn-in response.
With the car's new styling it is clear that Audi wants to project the idea of a timeless design, and this is thanks to the influences of the Nuvolari concept. Furthermore there is a good balance between elegance and an overall feeling of youthfulness...
As with other Audis the new A4 also continues to live up to the expectations of top notch fit and finish. Its most outstanding feature is its superb build quality and the amazing feeling of luxury that surrounds you when entering the car.
On the road the car is even better than before and the upgraded suspension and damper setting ensures a great and dynamic ride. Furthermore the new A4 doesn't loose its composure easily in difficult and tricky situations.
The new Servotronic steering also results in a better steering feel especially when tackling twisting roads and responds well to the inputs of the driver.
We only drove the 2.0 T FSI and 3.0 TDI models on the launch. The V6 diesel offers some potent pullaway power and acceleration is of course instant.
There is no doubt that this engine is a jewel in Audi's crown and very few cars can match its sporty drive.
I was equally impressed with the 2.0 T FSI unit, which is due to become available in the A3 as well in July. This turbo-charged, direct-injection petrol A4 delivers strong performance as well as rapid acceleration.
At a glance the new A4 and its updated engine range will ensure that Audi won't loose significant sales to BMW with the upcoming launch of the 3 Series.
It is a stylish package that comes with sporty genes meaning that the A4 offers a great motoring experience. Although its new face gives the A4 more prominence it is still an understated vehicle without being dull... It is not too much in your face and more about a sense of knowing.
Furthermore it feels like a quality piece and its engine range is exciting. There is no doubt that the latest A4 is to continue the range's success as a worthy alternative to its two German rivals.
2.0 manual: R225 000
2.0 multitronic: R239 500
1.8T manual: R253 000
1.8Tmultitronic: R267 500
2.0 TDI 6-speed manual: R258 500
2.0 TDI multitronic: R273 000
2.0T FSI 6-speed manual: R272 500
2.0T FSI multitronic: R287 000
3.0 TDI quattro 6-speed manual: R349 500
3.0 TDI quattro 6-speed tiptronic: R362 500
3.2 FSI multitronic: R349 000
3.2 FSI quattro 6-speed manual: R349 500
3.2 FSI quattro 6-speed tiptronic: R363 500
S4 6-speed manual: R518 500
S4 6-speed tiptronic: R531 500
1.8T manual: R269 000
1.8T multitronic: R283 500
2.0 TDI 6-speed manual: R274 500
2.0 TDI multitronic: R289 000
2.0T FSI 6-speed manual: R288 500
2.0T FSI multitronic: R303 000
3.0 TDI quattro 6-speed manual: R365 500
3.0 TDI quattro 6-tiptronic: R378 500
3.2 FSI multitronic: R365 000
3.2 FSI quattro 6-speed manual: R365 500
3.2 FSI quattro 6-speed tiptronic: R378 500
S4 6-speed manual : R534 500
S4 6-speed tiptronic: R574 500