Hot on the heels of the new BMW 3 Series is this sharper-looking, cleaner and cheaper-to-run A4. Should BMW be worried?
You can tell that Audi knew a new BMW 3 Series was coming. No sooner have we driven the new 320d than we’re behind the wheel of a heavily revised A4.
We weren’t able to test the two ! cars back-to-back for this issue, but we have full details of the new A4 – and they will give any compact executive buyer food for thought.
The changes apply to all A4S, including the Avant estate, S4 performance car and Allroad, but I technically this isn’t an all-new car.
How has it been changed?
The most obvious changes are to I the styling: at the front there’s a I new bonnet, grille and headlights, while the rear end has a new bumper and different tail-lights.
Inside, there’s a range of new steering wheels, new materials and trims, plus numerous tweaks; the stalks have been redesigned, for instance, as has the MMI central control system to make it simpler.
Ever, so, the changes aren’t ; immediately obvious – which is no; bad thing, because the A4′s cabin was always one of its strengths.
It remains a spacious and comfortable place for a driver, I with plenty of adjustment for the seat and wheel. The dashboard is I clear, too.
There are disappointments, though: some materials don’t have I the quality you might expect, and the controls for the ventilation are complicated-you need to press two buttons to adjust the speed of the fan, for instance.
Likewise, although the A4 will take a couple of adults, it’s not the most spacious car in the back. The new 3 Series feels larger, and it has a boot to rival the Audi’s.
What are the new engines?
Given that mos: A4S will go to business users, possibly the most important changes are to the engines and transmissions.
Across the (fully turbocharged) range, C02 emissions are lower and mpg figures higher by an average of 11%, helped by standard engine start-stop. However, the headline-grabber Is the new 134bhp 2.0 TDIe engine, with emissions of just H2g/km and claimed economy of 65-7mpg – figures that would be all the more impressive were it not for the 109g/km BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics.
Beyond that, the regular 141bhp 2.0 TDI unit also emirs less than 120g/km. while a 161bhp version of the 2.0 TDIe is quicker, but still emits just 115g/km of C02 and averages 64.2mpg.
If you want more performance, the new 201bhp 3.0 TDI will get you to 62mph in scarcely more than seven seconds, and incurs only 18% car tax.
The petrol engines are cleaner, too. Even the more powerful of the two 1.8 TFSI units averages almost 50mpg and emits just 134g/km – a significant improvement on the previous engine.
Arguably, the engines are the most impressive part of the new car, the diesel engines in particular. We drove both the H2g/km 2.0-litre TDIe and the 3.0 TDI quattro, and both gave easy performance, with good pull from emits so little C02, but the 2.0-litre will doubtless find its way on to more people’s shopping lists – and they ‘ll be very happy with it.
By contrast – and good though they are – the 1.8- and 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engines don’t suit the car quite as well. They don’t have such strong low-rev pull as the diesels, so need to be worked harder. When you rev them, they’re noisy, too.
What’s it like to drive?
Audi’s engineers have also been working to improve how the A4 drives, but the revisions to the suspension and steering seem to have changed relatively little.
On the positive side, that means the car still grips well and corners hard; there are no nasties waiting to catch you out in the handling, and it’s a solid and generally refined motorway cruiser. The engines are almost inaudible, so only the noise from around the door mirrors spoils the calm.
On the other hand, some of the weaknesses of the old car haven’t been ironed out. In particular, we found the firm ride irritating; all too often the car seemed to make a meal of apparently smooth roads. That was regardless of whether we put the Audi Drive Select system into comfort or dynamic settings.
The steering also proved a disappointment, lacking the feel and feedback a keen driver will appreciate, and with too much play at the straight-ahead position.
For all that, there’s no denying the A4 will inspire confidence in its driver, but it will only rarely raise a smile. It certainly doesn’t have the same ability as a 3 Series.
How much does it cost?
Prices for the new models have gone up by around L200, and start at L23,625. The cheapest trim is SE, with 17-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers.
Diesel-engined SEscan be upgraded with the L1100 Technik pack (leather upholstery, sat-nav, an iPod connector and a more sophisticated parking-assistance system), while S line has larger alloy wheels, lower sports suspension, and a unique look inside and out.
Beyond that, the Black Editions are based on S line, and – for an extra L1250 – add 19-inch alloys, a black styling package and an uprated audio system.
Last, but not least, a host of new options is available. These include the ability to turn the car into a Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as plenty of new safety features: adaptive cruise control with a sub-18mph collision-avoidance system, and a lane-assist system that detects accidental changes of lane and turns the steering wheel to keep drivers in the correct lane.
Should I buy one?
The latest A4 is certainly the best yet. Its combination of sharp styling, high quality and low tax liabilities makes a compelling case, while it also boasts some features that its rivals can’t.
Model for model, it generally undercuts the equivalent 3 Series, too, meaning lower company car tax – and that could be enough for some.
However, we expect the BMW to have stronger resale values, making the Audi more expensive to own for private buyers and business users alike. Our initial impression is also that the Audi is second best to the 3 Series on the road, although we’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve driven the cars back-to-back in the UK.