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Audi A4 tested

2009-05-29 08:42

Hailey Philander

The Audi range now comprises some of the most desirable motor cars on the planet, with its near flawless take on the sports car, the R8, being just one of the cherries on top of its exploits thus far.

After all, Audi is determined to take on the world of cars, despite the quandary the global car industry finds itself in. The Ingolstadt-based manufacturer wants to sell 1.5 million units per year by 2015, expanding into several niche markets to facilitate this aim.

However, while models like the racy R8 and Q7 behemoth routinely hog the limelight, the A4 sedan is usually reserved for backstage duties where it busies itself ticking the more mundane tasks off its list while the brand marches to dominance.

As all-new models go, the latest A4 is bigger and more advanced than the model it has replaced. It comes with the latest gadgetry and gizmos that Ingolstadt has to offer, such as adaptive chassis control, side assist that spots objects in your blind spots, lane assist that alerts you when you're straying lanes, Audi braking guard that warns of imminent danger and applies the brakes within milliseconds, a revised Multimedia Interface (MMI) and the addition of some of the manufacturer's latest generation engines.

The new car has grown dramatically from the B7 version. Though the front overhang is shorter than before, the new car has a longer wheelbase (2 808 mm) and bonnet, and is 120 mm longer and 50 mm wider than before.

The front end, which shows off the signature Audi single-frame look, remains attractive in this iteration. The obligatory daytime running lights, while making a wonderful style statement, are also a very useful piece of safety kit.

However, it’s at the rear where the A4’s styling disappoints. The angular light clusters (that look absolutely fantastic on the A5 and facelifted A6 ranges) here lend the rump a portly, "child-bearing hips" effect, instead.

Despite this, and the views of some that A4's styling could do with a little more personality, Audi's bread-and-butter model continues to provide a winning formula.

Does bigger equal better?

This car's dynamic ability can hardly be faulted. The key to the A4's balancing act is the repositioning of certain key components. The front axle and differential have been moved further forward, swapping positions with the clutch or torque converter.

This packaging arrangement seems clever, but for right-hand drive models the drawback is that the clutch or torque converter now intrudes into the left side of the driver footwell at the exclusion of a decent foot rest. The battery is now situated it the boot.

The multi-link rear suspension and steering systems have been completely overhauled. This, along with a longer wheelbase and wider track, ensures the new A4 is stellar on road with the car's dynamism and body control the biggest indicators.

Audi's Drive Select system is optional and allows for Comfort, Normal or Sport settings, depending on the driving situation, with the bias shifting from a softer and more cosseting ride, to a harder and more dynamic ride.

However, we found the Normal mode, which operates mainly in comfort mode but automatically tightens up when things start getting exciting, to be adequate.

No matter what setting is engaged, steering is always precise making the big-boned car feel especially nimble in faster switchbacks. And thanks a host of new materials and engineering processes this is the most rigid A4 to date, despite it being a full 10% lighter than the model it replaces.

The one benefit of this car's increased girth happens to be the additional cabin space it guarantees its occupants.

As before, the interior is completely driver-focused with the most important controls falling easily to hand. Controls are intuitive and don't require too much time in the cabin to familiarise the user.

All models come standard with a central display screen with which to monitor infotainment, climate or even navigational settings, although this ranges from black-and-white for the base Attraction models to a colour screen for cars fitted with MMI. The revised MMI system, which has a joystick function, is perhaps the biggest adjustment, but even that should require the minimum amount of time to get used to.

More space, bigger presence

And as befits a car that will most likely double as the executive mover and family cruiser, there is an abundance of room to just splash out when you need the room in the interior.

Of course, if you have charges to consider, it may please you to find that the safety specification is comprehensive and A4 carries six airbags, the usual ABS and ESP and a host of additional electronic driver aids.

Wheels24 was issued two "entry-level models" - the 1.8 TFI and 2.0 TDI - for evaluation. However, although the standard price on both was around R300 000, after all the essential extras (such as the navigation system with colour screen, sports package and Audi Drive Select adaptive damping, servotronic steering and the driver information system) were added, pricing on both models pushed beyond the 400K mark.
Looking beyond the exorbitant pricing, both engines seemed very capable at hauling their respective A4s about.

The turbocharged 1.8T FSI with eight-speed Multitronic is a total gem, which is eager off the line and doesn't seem at all unsettled by the A4's larger body.

Similarly, the common-rail turbodiesel fitted with the standard six-speed manual transmission had no difficulties around town or on the open road, since there is ample torque to get the car's sizeable girth up to speed. The turbodiesel also stood out for its refinement with the cabin remaining quiet, even at idle.

However, given the characteristics of the turbodiesel unit, it would be interesting to compare the manual version with a model fitted with the Multitronic gearbox.

Generic Audi fare here, although I suspect it will look dated well before the first facelift swings about. However, its safe styling should see it treading water with the A4 faithful until then.

As expected from Audi, the interior is an ergonomic dream with all controls and switchgear neatly falling to hand. The grey expanse may become a bit much for those with a tendency to feel trapped, but a sunroof (which is an R8 500 option) may make the cabin feel more airy. 

It may look a little lumpy, but there's nothing wrong with the way this car handles. Those expecting it to be a somewhat lazy around the bends may even be a little surprised. However, improved weight distribution and a lower centre of gravity are just two things to make this model a keen handler.

In its various iterations over the years, Audi's A4 sedan has been the model tasked with doing the legwork to get the brand into the top luxury car league. And A4's success, as shown here again, is in its mix of German efficiency, handsome styling and no-nonsense motoring.

The A4 sedan remains a trooper. It may not blow your socks off, but it's extremely competent doing the daily shuffle while being a superb tourer on those longer excursions into the country.

However, for some bizarre reason, the A4 Avant feels the better sibling of the new A4 range. A star in the dynamic department, it also offers the added luxury of lots more space. And it's a whole lot more attractive (and quite a bit more expensive) than the sedan. 


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