I write this with unshakable presumption that most car buyers looking to one-up their car game will gloss over the all-new Audi A4 B9. I say that because eight out of 10 conversations I’ve had end up with people saying they wouldn’t spend that kind of money on a car that “didn’t look too different from the model before”.
Okay. It’s not the bedazzling makeover every superficial shopper wished it to be. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed when I first saw pictures of the A4 B9 nearly two years ago. I expected much more, and quite honestly the second-generation A5 that came after was an even bigger setback if I were to judge solely by its looks.
But my self-assigned role today is not to force the bulk of you to buy the Audi A4 over the exceedingly tantalising bargain of the BMW 330e or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Instead, I want to intimately acquaint you with the nuances of the A4 and why I feel like it’s a high contender on your wish list. If anything, consider this piece a bearer of enlightenment.
|Variant||Audi A4 1.4 TFSI||Audi A4 2.0 TFSI||Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro|
|Engine||1,395cc; inline-4 turbo with Audi valvelift system||1,984cc; inline-4 turbo with Audi valvelift system|
|Transmission||7-speed S tronic (dual clutch automatic)|
|Max Power||150 hp @ 5,000 – 6,000 rpm||190 hp @ 4,200 – 6,000 rpm||252 hp @ 5,000 – 6,000 rpm|
|Max Torque||250 Nm @ 1,500 – 3,500 rpm||320 Nm @ 1,450 – 4,200 rpm||370 Nm @ 1,600 – 4,500 rpm|
|0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed||8.5 seconds; 210 km/h||7.3 seconds; 240 km/h||5.8 seconds; 250 km/h|
It looks largely the same, but it’s actually 90 percent new
Every panel, part and component is reengineered with greater meticulousness and the results really speak for themselves. The gap between each piece of exposed metal is aligned with such surgical precision that it makes the current Audi A8 – a yardstick of impeccability – feel haphazardly put together. Fortunately for all, this frenzied sense of OCD trickles further into the cabin, which we’ll get to in a minute.
The fascia cuts an imposing sense of presence and the chiselled rump helps draw a fair bit of attention (thanks in part to dynamic indicators) – even more so than the front, I feel. However, the chromed horizontal slats in the Singleframe grille remains as the only jarring design element of the A4, becoming acceptably palatable only if it’s finished in black (pictured below). If you hadn’t notice, the overall design of the grille hasn’t really changed much since the days of the A4 B7.
None of the standard wheels – from the 17-inch on the 1.4 TFSI to the 18-inch on the quattro – do the A4 any justice, because quite frankly it domesticates what would otherwise be a go-to sight for sore eyes. These are upgradable through Audi Genuine Accessories, albeit in very limited designs.
Nobody is better at interior design than Audi
It is, bar none, the most impressive cabin in its class. The C-Class is runner-up in my books, and even that pales in comparison to the A4’s obscene levels of regality and tactility. The entire cabin is brand new, injecting a welcoming dose of desirability to the rapidly ageing A4 B8. Just as the competitors caught up, Audi pulled a fast one to extend their lead.
The touchy feely bits will satisfy even the most astute of nitpickers thanks to generous use of high quality materials, more so for the 2.0 TFSI quattro. All A4s get a sporty three-spoke leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, but the quattro is the sole recipient of perforated hide. This extends to the gear shifter which altogether provide a more pleasant sensory experience.
On the topic of gear shifters, Audi has done away with the traditional gated-type box and implemented an electronic rocker much like BMW’s. They’re both incredibly intuitive to operate, far more reasonable in practice than the C-Class’ stalk-type novelty or the rotary dial of the Jaguar XE.
Rear occupants now benefit from improved legroom and headroom than before, with a tad more knee room compared to the F30 3 Series. Approximately 10 speakers with 6-channel amplifier (180 watts output) are fitted across the range, and the same goes for the 3-zone electronic climate control.
The 2.0-litre engines are jam-packed with technology
I get it. Hybrid propulsion is all the craze today. However, for the hesitant adopters of such technological complexity, Audi has a non-compromising solution and it is highly sophisticated. The 2.0-litre four-banger EA888 unit cranks out two outputs: a lean 190 hp & 320 Nm of torque for the 2.0 TFSI and a hotter 252 hp & 370 Nm of torque for the 2.0 TFSI quattro.
Here’s what makes it special: the engine combines multipoint injection (MPI) and direct injection (FSI) technologies for optimum performance and fuel efficiency. More commonly known as “Miller cycle”, Audi’s Valvelift technology enables the valves to close early under load, effectively giving it a displacement of 1,400cc, yielding a best-in-class non-hybrid fuel consumption of 5.0 litres per 100km. That’s slightly better than the 1.4 TFSI’s combined 5.2L/100km figure.
Our brief drive to Janda Baik didn’t leave much room to corroborate the figures, but on a mildly spirited drive the 2.0-litre quattro returned a respectable 6.8 litres per 100 km. Both 2.0-litre variants come with a “coasting” feature which only works in ECO mode. Basically, the transmission will “detach” itself from the engine when your foot is off the gas. This significantly reduces drag on the engine (it drops to idling rev), improves fuel efficiency and is incredibly seamless in execution.
Things get turned up a good few notches in Dynamic mode: throttle response sharpens, the dampers stiffen and the engine revs with wild abandon. Peak torque (all 370 Nm of it) is instantly available from 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm, slightly later and lengthier than the non-quattro’s 2.0-litre unit (1,450 rpm to 4,200 rpm). In fact, I’d go as far as to say the EA888 in this tune sounds a fair bit better than the N20/B48 four bangers in the F30, but most won’t care to bother.
So how is it like to drive?
Right off the bat, one thing stood out almost immediately – steering feel and response. The A4 turns with greater urgency and remains hardly perturbed up at speed. While ride height remains identical as the A4 B8 quattro, the newfound composure is largely attributed to the car’s added width (+16mm). Tyres are the same as before – 245/40 R18. Let’s not forget that it also weighs 60kg less than the B8 quattro!
Steering is now electronically assisted instead of hydraulics like before, and although still lacking in feedback, there’s a better sense of feel and, in turn, is more engaging to drive spiritedly. As with any quattro models, traction is pervasive. At any given point, quattro predominantly sends power to the front axle, but the ratio split is infinitely variable depending on velocity, g-metering and road conditions. In the real world, it’s hard to tell when quattro is at work because it’s electronically actuated and is constant. But rest assured, it truly works.
Honestly, the A4 2.0 TFSI quattro strikes a remarkable balance between sporty driving and daily usability. There’s a new five-link system for both the front and rear suspension (up from the four-links previously), with adaptive dampers fitted as standard on the quattro variant. This makes damping almost as good as pack leader F30 3 Series, except the Audi is much snappier in gearshifts and won’t slide out wide in the wet when driven hard.
Is this car for you?
The A4 is for the most part, the ideal car to have if comfort and the feel-good factor (relative to spending more time in the cabin) are of high importance to you. I found no faults with the type of materials used and adore the breadth of luxury permeating throughout the cabin. Even the rear air-con vents have their own charcoal filter to eliminate odour.
For all the superfluity this brand new A4 has going for itself, the struggle for firm footing in the Malaysian car-buying scene is contradictory and ironic. Because in one corner you have this clear standout performer that’s as good, if not better than its closest competitors. But in the other lies this inward reluctance among us to take the road less travelled.
Maybe it’s the lack of dealer representation, the absence of competitive financing plans or even an all-out preference for badges that are better likened to “prosperity”. Heck, maybe all of the above! But for those who are willing to take a chance and personally give the A4 a go, it will do all but disappoint. I’m sure of it.