What is it?
We’ve been here before: not only does the new, fifth-generation Audi A4 look fairly similar to its predecessor, but the messages about the car coming out of Ingolstadt are familiar too.
When the outgoing car was launched in 2008, Audi told us the new model was bigger, more dynamic, cleaner and more spacious inside and that it featured more technology than the version that it replaced.
Our road test team was less convinced by the sum of those parts, awarding the car a three-and-a-half-star rating and bemoaning that it didn’t quite live up to the lofty claims of its maker. Mind you, that didn’t prevent the A4 from selling strongly around the globe and, to be fair, Audi improved the car in many key areas during its lifetime.
Guess what? The new version is bigger (marginally) and the message coming out of Ingolstadt is that it is more dynamic, roomier, cleaner and more tech-laden than the outgoing car. So what makes Audi’s case more compelling this time around?
Despite the external styling being similar, there have been some much more radical technical changes under the familiar skin, all of which have contributed to making the new A4 a more refined and sophisticated car. Read more about the changes here.
The Audi A4 will make its first official appearance at September’s Frankfurt motor show and go on sale here in November, but had early access to drive pre-production versions in the Black Forest in Germany.
What’s it like?
The new Audi A4 is impressive in all respects, but most notably for the hushed, slick and refined way that it drives, as well as its overall ambience of sophistication.
Despite the similar look and shape, the A4 saloon is slightly longer and wider than its predecessor. It has a longer wheelbase, too.
Audi claims a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.23 for the A4 saloon thanks in part due to the adoption of a largely flat undertray and detailed sculpturing around the rear end. It has also worked on detailed refinements such as reprofiled and repositioned door mirrors – a tweak that cuts wind noise.
Allied with reductions in rolling resistance, mechanical friction and engine noise in the cabin, the changes mean the A4 is capable of cruising extremely quietly.
That in turn enhances the premium ambience of sitting in a cabin that sets a class standard. It’s comfortable, tastefully adorned and thoughtfully laid out, offering decent occupant space in most dimensions, controls that are angled slightly towards the driver and luggage space broadly on a par with rivals.
As a top-spec option, the ‘virtual cockpit’ multimedia and instrumentation system first seen in the Audi Q7 has been carried over in its entirety. It offers incredible clarity and an amazing array of ways to present the driving information, navigation or infotainment data.
So far, so premium, but Audi also promised us better driving dynamics with this car, and that’s where more widespread mechanical changes come into play.
First, ther are the weight savings. As with the recently launched Q7, Audi has hacked weight out of the A4, with some derivatives saving up to 120kg compared with their predecessors.
Then there are the reworked engines. Among several left-hand-drive derivatives we had the opportunity to try was the A4 2.0 TDI, which is expected to be one of the biggest sellers in the UK market.
The four-cylinder 2.0 TDI we tested has more power, at 188bhp, and is at the same time more frugal, coming in at 107g/km of CO2 when driving through an optional seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The turbocharged engine is strong and flexible from low revs, and only becomes more vocal when being asked to work hard on steep inclines. Otherwise, it feels well isolated from the cabin. It’s hard to find fault with the S tronic gearbox, which performs unobtrusively when left to its own devices.
The lighter, more powerful A4 also benefits from a newly developed suspension system. Our test car was equipped with comfort-orientated passive suspension – one of several options available on the newly developed layout, which now uses a five-link arrangement at the rear as well as the front – and showed the Audi’s ride to be more limber than that of its brittle-feeling forebear, if still slightly on the firm side.
It’ll take a full domestic test drive to determine whether it works as well on our roads, and also whether the optional adjustable shock absorbers are preferable to the fixed standard components, although Audi is planning further testing on these shores to assess whether UK-bound cars would benefit from a bespoke suspension tune.
The new A4’s steering is more feelsome, too, at least in its more comfort-orientated settings. The version we drove came with Audi’s Drive Select system, which enables the driver to alter the characteristics of the throttle, steering and S tronic gearbox for increasingly direct levels of response and weight.
There’s a notable step between the settings, although the extra resistance of the new electromechanical steering in the ‘Dynamic’ setting feels less natural. Audi’s technical chief Ulrich Hackenberg’s personal preference is to use ‘Comfort’, and that’s a good enough recommendation for us.
The way the front-wheel-drive Audi handles is by no means going to prompt BMW to rethink its rear-drive philosophy overnight, but it feels very composed.
Should I buy one?
This Audi had to be good. The compact premium segment in which it dwells is rapidly intensifying, and the new A4 will step up against the new Jaguar XE, revised BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Fortunately, the early signs are that Audi isn’t going to disappoint when its final production specification is nailed down. Without apparently straying too far from the template set out by its big-selling predecessor, the German manufacturer has made a more complete car in every way.
The package reeks of sophistication. It’s likely that many customers will be won over simply by the way the Audi looks, particularly the classy interior, which sets a very high standard and is packed with the kind of technology that features high on buyers’ priority lists these days. Admittedly, to get all of the goodies you have to pay more, but that’s never been something at which Audi customers have blanched in the past.
Dynamically it represents a step forward compared with previous A4s, even if the BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE will likely remain the go-to models for the keenest drivers.
On the evidence of our early tests, the engines look competitive in terms of performance, frugality and emissions, which should put the A4 on the shopping lists of company car drivers, too.
We’re slightly reserved in our judgement for one reason: our first test of a UK model in the autumn will define exactly how good the new Audi A4 copes with our roads, and judge how well Ingolstadt has re-engineered the car for right-hand-drive, which is something that we found to be below par in the old car.
For now, though, there are plenty of positive signs, and it looks like Audi is about to make the decision-making in this market segment even more difficult.
Audi A4 2.0 TDI 190
Price £31,500 (est); Engine 4 cyls in line, 1968cc, turbodiesel; Power 188bhp; Torque na; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1430kg (est); Top speed 147mph; 0-60mph 7.7sec; Economy 68.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 107g/km, 19%
What is it?