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Car reviews - Audi - A4

Our Opinion

We like
Stylish design, persuasive tech, generous equipment, excellent packaging, Allroad’s dynamics, A5’s presence
Room for improvement
Lack of adaptive dampers (even as an option) on regular A4s, combined with much larger alloys and standard sports suspension, dilutes the previous model’s suaveness

Updated Audi A4 and A5 score for value and tech, but dynamics are a mixed bag

13 Aug 2020

Overview

 

AFTER switching to Audi’s new naming policy and receiving an equipment boost in 2019, Audi’s best-ever mid-sizer – the B9-generation A4 (and its more seductive A5 cousin) – has been gifted a midlife makeover for 2020.

 

Visually, that means plenty for the slightly older A4 sedan and A4 Avant wagon than it does for the more rakish A5 Sportback, Coupe and Cabriolet. 

 

Audi has altered almost every panel on both A4 body styles – adding subtle wheelarch blisters, among a multitude of rejuvenating flourishes, to bring the B9 A4 into line with its fresher A1, A6 and new-generation A3 stablemates.

 

Audi would argue the funkier A5 already had enough creases in its panelwork, though it too visually benefits from super-cool, cutting-edge new lighting signatures that serve to underline the classiness of these bread-and-butter models.

 

Bread and butter? Well, Australia’s bestselling variant is now the A5 Sportback (accounting for 40 per cent of total A4/A5 sales), ahead of the A4 sedan (32 per cent) and S-badged performance models (20 per cent).

 

But as our two-day drive of this extensive A4/A5 range proves, not every 2020 variant builds on the suaveness of its predecessor.

 

First drive impressions

 

Besides a comprehensive going-over of the A4 and A5’s standard equipment enticement – as detailed in our separate product report – there are several hardware changes that make an impact on the way the new A4 drives – some of them literally.

 

The former base car, badged A4 35TFSI, featured a 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four from the A3 (and VW Golf) but mounted lengthways, tied to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and riding on 17-inch alloys. For $56K, it was a refreshingly simple, subtle, and surprisingly spirited entree for the A4 line-up.

 

For MY20, the badge remains, as does the price, but the engine changes entirely. Audi has wisely ignored the rather strained and uninspiring 1.5-litre TFSI four featured in smaller models (A1, Q3) for a low-output 2.0-litre turbo-petrol producing a leisurely 110kW from 3900-6000rpm and 270Nm from 1350-3900rpm. 

 

On paper, it hardly seems primed for action yet there’s a relaxed effortlessness to this drivetrain that underscores why Audi chose this low-boost, larger-capacity alternative – one that melds seamlessly with mild-hybrid technology that introduces an idle-stop system capable of silencing the engine at speeds of up to 22km/h.

 

Only when pushed hard does the low-blow 2.0-litre start to feel a little lacklustre, though 0-100km/h in 8.9 seconds, a 224km/h top speed and 6.1L/100km on the combined fuel-consumption cycle are eminently respectable.

 

Where the new base A4 loses out compared to its former self is ride quality. Its five-spoke 19-inch Audi Sport wheels look terrific and certainly add some visual meat, but they’re a step too far. 

 

A car with this level of performance isn’t in keeping with 245/35R19 tyres, or 20mm-lower sports suspension, as per all Australian A4s. So equipped, the A4 35 TFSI is still decent to drive and feels planted, but the suaveness and sweetness of the old base A4 has been diluted.

 

And while we applaud the introduction of leather seat facings and keyless entry on Audi’s most affordable variant, you’ll still be left wanting for the front seat support of more up-spec variants, as well as their height-adjustable centre-front armrests.

 

The all-wheel-drive 2.0-litre carries over in 183kW/370Nm form in all 45TFSI quattro models. As before, it’s a superb engine with a subtle induction rasp there to reward anyone keen on exploring its redline, yet it’s also brilliantly driveable and again blends seamlessly with Audi’s mild-hybrid tech.

 

Yet where this engine does its best work is in the MY20 A4 Allroad 45TFSI quattro. 

 

With 58mm more ride height and chubbier 245/45R18 Continental ContiSportContact 5 tyres, the petrol Allroad displays a fluency that eludes the more firmly tied down A4 sedans and 45TFSI quattro Avant. 

 

It may not ultimately be as rapid, but for 98 per cent of the time, its combination of poise and absorbency makes it the most pleasant A4 to drive – more so than the frugal (5.2L/100km) but less animated 140kW/400Nm Allroad TDI quattro.

 

Ironically, the Allroad is the only A4 to offer optional adaptive dampers (priced from $1750) – ironic because it doesn’t need them on the road.

 

Unlike in the past, you can no longer option adaptive dampers on what was the finest A4 – the 45TFSI quattro – which again removes a layer of all-round dynamic polish that defined the previous model’s driving experience.

 

It’s far from ruined, of course, but this isn’t progress. Not when your chief rival is the exceptionally talented BMW 330i M Sport. And not when the MY19 A4 45TFSI quattro with adaptive dampers ran the BMW so close.  

 

Thankfully, the A5 retains adaptive dampers as an option (for a sizeable $2340 extra), and even wearing the larger, extra-cost 20-inch wheels of our test A5 Sportback, it’s enough to deliver the best ride of any non-Allroad model in the range. 

 

There’s also the advantage of having a liftback tailgate, which provides the A5 Sportback with Avant-rivalling versatility. 

 

And while the A5’s roofline is lower than the A4’s, having a slightly more reclined rear-seat package actually makes it more comfortable than the sedan.

 

You won’t be thinking along the same lines if you’re in the rear seat of an A5 Coupe or Cabriolet, though they’re far more than just two-plus-twos. 

 

You could get away with carrying four adults for perhaps a couple of hours in either variant, and even the cabrio has a reasonable 370-litre boot.

 

The 45TFSI quattro drop-top is also superbly refined with its roof up – though a little wobbly roof-down – backed by the excellent sound quality of the A5’s stock 10-speaker, 180-watt stereo or the optional 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen 3D surround-sound system.

 

That said, the introduction of a synthesised induction note for the engine, plumbed through the stereo speakers, is a textbook example of wasted resources. At least you can turn it off.

 

The softer A5 Cabriolet also rides reasonably well on its standard 19-inch wheels and fixed-rate dampers, though there’s a front-drive 140kW/320Nm A5 Cabriolet 40TFSI wearing smaller 18-inch wheels if wafting comfort takes priority.

 

No surprises for guessing that the A5 Coupe 45TFSI quattro is the finest of the fleet to drive, and also to look at. It’s so visually muscular that you’d never know there was a four-pot pumping away up front. 

 

And while you can’t enjoy an open-air experience like in the convertible, the by-product is a super-strong structure for the most focused dynamics of the lot, particularly when fitted with those elusive adaptive dampers.

 

Yet at the end of the day, it’s the humble Allroad that shines brightest. For $69,900 to $72,900, depending on engine, it costs much the same as it did way back in 2013 yet brings so much more to the table, including 6.1s-to-100km/h performance for the lusty 45TFSI quattro version.

 

And while you’re admiring its ride absorbency on the straights, you can also marvel at how beautifully built the A4/A5’s interior still is, how excellent the vast new touchscreen is – rendering the former MMI centre dial completely redundant, its place now occupied by a small lidded tray – and how seamless all the new technology looks and feels in Audi’s evergreen, ever-stylish mid-sizer.

 

There’s some gold in here – you just need to know where to find it.


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