With a new lighter platform, the Audi A4 brings the advantages of doing a lot more with less. And it takes the opportunity to beef up its tech package
Author: Raj Warrior | Photography: Elvis John Ferrao
The entry-level premium sedan market couldn’t be more interesting. The established players have a wider than ever offering – now the range starts with the 1-series, A-class and A3. So the C and C-D segment is now more of an upmarket offering, with their smaller siblings doing the job of getting the right price points.
The A4 has thus got a little bit bigger than before. With this generation, the Audi A4 platform is now called the B9 – and the B9 platform brings with an increased use of tailored blanks, ultra high strength steel and aluminium in parts like the door and hood panels. The platform has also been refined in terms of aerodynamic efficiency – with a figure of 0.23 the coefficient is the lowest on any major sedan.
The sedan is 4,726mm long and stands on a wheelbase of 2,820mm. This makes it just a little bit bigger than before but brings with it the advantage of offering a larger cabin. The styling of the sedan has also become a lot edgier than before. The signature theme is now closer to that of the sportier TT but still stays very much in tune with the A3 below it and the A6 above. A lot of this edginess is connected with the new sharper headlight assemblies that carry the theme of an individualised LED light signature ahead. These bracket the slightly more aggressive grille layout – in some versions the grille sits ahead of an automatically adjusting louver that controls the air flow over the engine, increasing the Cd of the car. Much of the design underbody has also focussed on making the slipstream the slipperiest ever, with the engine bay shielded and aerodynamic elements added to the suspension components in addition to the tailored airflow paths under the cabin.
The sedan’s profile has also become a little more emotive – it’s almost as if the A-pillar has been shifted aft a bit, while the front axle seems to have been shifted ahead. It’s largely visual, but the few extra millimetres available on the longer wheelbase has helped in a major way. With a rising waistline and a sharper fastback like profile, the car gets a dose of energy. In comparison the tail treatment is almost secondary – with a slightly wider taillamp with LED light signature. Of course the latest technology makes its presence felt even in the lights as various grades offer different types of lighting, from Bi-Xenon focus beams to LED Headlight elements. Since we aren’t even looking at a potential RS4 at the moment we won’t expect Laser lights to be on offer.
The cabin is a good evolution over the older one. The general treatment of the dashboard is to emphasise the width of the cabin, it is split into stacked zones of dashboard soft feel plastic, air-conditioning grilles, a touch of wood and metal inserts and then the lower zone hard plastics. A large tablet sits in pride of place over the centre console and in the 2.0-litre Ultra variant that we were driving, the driver gets the advantages of the virtual cockpit. With this arrangement, the driver is able to switch between display modes that prioritise the IP element that he needs – so whether it’s large tach and speed dials or a larger navigation map, you choose. What this also does is to offer the display for integrated driver assist in the centre of the IP. Driver assist is linked to various inputs including the sensors for adaptive cruise control, driver pedals and navigation maps to send information to the driver asking him to ease off the accelerator as he is approaching a junction or to warn that the car ahead is too close.
The wheel and dashboard switches have all been changed, as have the shape and form of the stalks behind the wheel. In particular, the piano switches used for air-conditioner control have a capacitive input which means the display reacts to a touch on the surface and operates appropriately with a proper force on the switch.
The roof lights also have this level of thoughtfulness engineered in – you can switch on the light for a quick read by touching the surface or keep it switched on by actually using the switch. In addition to that the new generation of MMI seems to have matured very nicely. You get the dial and switch arrangement along with the ability to jump to home or go back a step. But what’s more important is that the finger writing input is using a more elaborate algorithm that recognises scrawled input. It is much easier now to input a destination while driving, as you don’t really need to look down at the controller anymore. Of course the same has happened with the voice controller. You can partner your smartphone with the car’s system and you get mirrored operations. The connection is so seamless that the message from the MMI telling you that it can’t get online reminds you to leave the phone’s data connection switched off. If you do operate the car in a connected mode, the maps can be updated as well as other connected data delivered to you.
The nicely thought out ambient lighting also boosts the quality feel of the cabin, LED pipe lights sits in recessed parts of the door and foot well as well in the cup holders. Even the steering wheel mounted controls have the same level of backlighting and elegance.
The seats are slightly better sculpted – offering a good, firm support around the hips and lower back, the extendable thigh support allows you to get your leg placed just right. You can move the lower back bolster up or down. Rear legroom is similarly slightly improved, but you do still grab onto the headrests ahead of you as you lever your way out of the door. And moving over to the boot – it follows the advantages offered by the broader VW group platform with a large storage volume.
The A4 is offered in the region with three petrol engine option – beginning with the 1.4-litre TFSI unit that offers 150hp and two 2.0-litre TFSI versions, one rated at 190hp and the other at 252hp. The version we had was the 2.0-litre Ultra rated at 190hp. While the basic difference between the two grades is the level of boost offered. But the less powerful engine is also a showcase of engine technology, offering variable compression ratios linked to demand and a combination of throttle body and direct injection. The compression ratio is linked to the ability of the input valves to closer later or earlier. In practice, you will never figure out where the valves are anyway – the power delivery is always on tap and combined with a nicely programmed 7-speed S tronic transmission you juts have to floor the accelerator and you are away. The engine offers a peak torque of 320Nm and that’s way more than enough on this light platform, especially factoring in the wide torque band offered by the turbocharger.
You also have the ability to select a drive mode that toggles between various modes from Normal, comfort, eco and dynamic or you could also set an individual setting. The difference is tangible – in engine note, response times, gearshift patterns and even in the steering feel. A huge level of computing power goes into tailoring the car’s responses depending on your choice.
The car drives like a gem – even in the two-wheel drive arrangement of this engine grade. Quattro is available with the 252hp engine. Suspension response is stiff with just enough yield and handling on curves is predictable with just a little understeer as the inherent vectoring compensates. On dynamic settings and with the gear selector in S, you can really push the car hard – you wouldn’t believe that it didn’t have a V6 under the bonnet. It hits the standing 100 km/h in 7.3 seconds and tops out at 210 km/h. You do get better performance out of the peppier 2.0-litre with the 100 at 5.8 seconds and an electronically limited 250 km/h top speed.
This Audi A4 really brings the momentum back to the D-segment premium car market and makes it so much harder to choose. But it does make for a tech-powered winner if you choose this bearer of the four rings.