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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - 2.0 TFSI Quattro Sport

Our Opinion

We like
Superb ride/handling balance with optional adaptive dampers, cracking engine, quality interior, next-level tech
Room for improvement
Annoying transmission surge on urban hills, standard kit mix forces judicious options-list consideration

Audi logo5 Oct 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

THE 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport we tested is, for now, the top-spec A4 sedan, weighing in at $69,900 before on-road costs and the $18,570 of options Audi lavished on this particular example, pushing it deep into Luxury Car Tax territory and resulting in a $4321 windfall for the ATO.

Options aside, to spend more on an A4 requires stepping up, quite literally, into the jacked-up pseudo-SUV Allroad ($71,400) or the 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport Avant, which is the wagon version of our test vehicle, at $72,900.

On a tighter budget, it is now possible to have an entry level A4 with a weeny 1.4-litre engine from $55,000 or drop the quattro all-wheel-drive system and some engine performance to plump for the vanilla 2.0 TFSI Sport ($60,900).

Meanwhile, diesel lovers are catered for by the $66,900 2.0 TDI quattro Sport.

Standard equipment on the 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport variant comprises tri-zone climate control, an 8.3-inch multimedia display with Audi’s MMI touch-pad rotary controller and voice commands providing access to sat-nav with five free map updates and live traffic information, Bluetooth and USB smartphone compatibility, an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot with Google services and a CD/DVD player with 10GB music storage facility piped through a 180-watt 10-speaker sound system with six-channel amplifier and subwoofer.

The list continues with ambient lighting, tyre pressure monitoring, a reversing camera and obstacle proximity display from the front and rear parking sensors, automatic adaptive LED headlights, LED daytime running lights with ‘all-weather’ and ‘motorway’ functions, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control with brake function, keyless entry and start with hands-free boot opening, self-dimming interior and exterior mirrors (the latter featuring electric adjustment, auto-folding and passenger-side kerb view function when reversing).

Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian protection, blind-spot warning with cyclist and pedestrian detection when opening the doors, rear cross-traffic alert, rear-end collision mitigation and driver attention monitoring are also included.

Inside is leather upholstery including the rim of the multi-function steering wheel with paddle-shifters, sports front seats with electric adjustment, aluminium interior trim and a storage package comprising map pocket nets, a driver’s storage compartment, and a net, straps and hooks for the luggage area.

The A4 2.0 TFSI quattro Sport rides on sports suspension and 19-inch alloys with 10 V-shaped spokes.

Options fitted to our test vehicle comprised $1420 of metallic paint, a $3200 S line Sport package of interior and exterior garnish, Nappa premium leather at $1500, the $1900 Assistance package featuring more active safety and semi-autonomous driving features, the Parking Assistance package ($950) with enhanced cameras and self-parking tech, upgraded Matrix LED headlights ($1700), colour interior lighting ($400), the $2100 Technik package with 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel and head-up display, privacy glass ($850), adaptive suspension ($1100), a sunroof ($1950) and 755W Bang & Olufsen 3D surround audio system upgrade with no fewer than 19 speakers – some of which are illuminated – for $1500.

We tried messing with the options list to see what we could get while remaining beneath the $75,375 LCT threshold and decided the Technik package, Assistance package and adaptive suspension took priority. We’d then negotiate a discount on the Parking Assistance package or privacy glass to keep the tax man’s hands off our still-luxurious Audi.

Other options include dynamic steering ($1700), interior trim upgrades ($400), gloss black exterior trim ($950), extended upholstery ($600), heated front seats ($600), ventilated sports front seats ($2000), DAB+ digital radio reception ($600), rear-seat entertainment ($2000 with one 10.1-inch tablet or $3600 with two tablets).

Interior

Black-on-black interiors can feel a little cave-like, but Audi does these darker hues very well. Perhaps it makes the brand’s chrome look brighter, but the overall ambience of our test vehicle was lifted by the aluminium trim panel sweeping across the middle of the dash and linking to sections of the same material on the doors, upswept to follow the line of the anodised handles.

Suede-like fabric door trims provide a premium, attractive look and comfort-enhancing feel. It all looks and feels expensive but not flashy. It has a restraint lacking in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, more flair than a BMW 3 Series and altogether more class than a Lexus IS or Infiniti Q50.

Minimalist it may be, but in typical Audi fashion, the A4 cabin is brimming with delightful attention to detail, impeccable finishes, quality craftsmanship and a logical, user-friendly layout.

For example, the rotary temperature controls for the tri-zone climate system have crisp digital temperature readouts built in, and the smooth but perfectly weighted action reminded us of the volume or radio tuner settings on high-end hi-fi equipment. Meanwhile rotary audio volume and multimedia system controllers had a similarly classy feel, but with the notched action of a quality ratchet wrench.

Other switchgear is consistent in its tactile appeal, operating with a satisfying click that pleases both the fingertips and ears. The same it true of the slick yet solid gear selector feel and action.

The optional head-up display and Virtual Cockpit instrument panel fitted to our test vehicle combined to provide so many options for at-a-glance information about almost every on-board system that the 8.3-inch central display was almost rendered redundant.

But unlike some Audi models, this screen did not retract into the dashboard when turned off, missing an opportunity to further de-clutter an already tidy environment.

While the Audi multimedia system is generally slick and easy to use, enhanced no end by the ability to draw letters and numbers directly onto the touch-sensitive top of the rotary controller for things like sat-nav destinations and phone numbers, this latest iteration encourages the input of addresses in a natural number/street/suburb/state order but this frustratingly gets things wrong more often than not. We found it much easier to force it to access the address in traditional state/suburb/street/number order.

Also annoying was the loud beep when selecting reverse, along with the over-sensitive and hyperactive parking sensors, which would go into a frenzy of shrill bleeps during tight-space manoeuvres and provide more of a distraction than assistance. After some scrolling through the menu screens, we found the lowest volume setting. In any case, the optional 360-degree cameras of our test vehicle much more useful for accurate parking positioning.

The adaptive cruise control was clearly designed by a German who would laugh at Australia’s lack of motorway lane discipline. While we admire its undertaking-prevention principle, this was regularly confounded by other drivers weaving in and out of traffic, or not keeping left unless overtaking.

For example, at one point we were overtaken by another vehicle that then inexplicably decelerated, forcing the A4 to brake and match its speed, even though it was in a different lane.

Back to basics. We found the seats to be extremely comfortable, with a great driving position quickly achieved due to heaps of adjustment for both seat and steering column. There is plenty of space up front for tall occupants and rear legroom is adequate when seated behind a long-legged driver, but the optional sunroof of our test car robbed headroom, forcing the statuesque to stoop or slouch.

The back seat’s central armrest forgoes cup-holders in favour of a shallow tray, although the small door-bins provided front and rear can accommodate 600ml drinks bottles.

On the subject of drinks, the large twin cup-holders in the centre console are located a little too close to the numeric keypad, which is of little use unless programmed as shortcut keys, meaning we constantly caught one of the buttons with our knuckle and caused a message to display on the central screen. Larger vessels stored there can also obscure the row of parking sensor and self-park buttons.

Although the main glovebox is not huge, the secondary one beside the driver’s knee is surprisingly capacious. Small rubberised trays can accommodate keys or a small phone and beneath the multi-adjustable front armrest are USB and audio input sockets. Coat-hooks on the B-pillars are a neat touch and the A4’s Isofix child seat anchorages are among the easiest to use. A 480-litre boot is well-shaped, decently capacious and furnished with plenty of convenient tie-downs, nets and straps.

As a surprisingly affordable upgrade compared with the five-digit pricetag usually associated with Audi’s Bang & Olufsen premium audio systems, sound quality in our test vehicle was even better than expected, with a richly atmospheric output that uses all 19 speakers to great effect by making it impossible to pinpoint exactly where the music was coming from and the effect that occupants felt as though they were at the centre of a live performance. It certainly beats the Burmester system of a C-Class hands-down.

We rarely needed to crank up the volume, either, for the A4 interior is a well-insulated place to travel, with road and engine noise all pleasantly muted – even on the coarsest country lane bitumen – although we did detect a little too much wind rustle when driving into a head-wind.

Engine and transmission

The A4 tested had the higher-output of the 2.0-litre petrol engines available, with 185kW of power developed from 5000-6000rpm and 370Nm of torque from 1600rpm all the way through to 4500rpm. Combined with the zippy seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive traction, it’s good for 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds.

Audi has put the B9 A4 on a diet, and it shows. Pedal to the metal, our test car would positively fly and the responsive transmission combined with grunty mid-range punch from the engine made easy work of short motorway on-ramps or country road overtaking.

It’s such a smooth, sweet-revving and refined driveline in most driving scenarios that the engine does a great job of hiding the fact it is a turbocharged four-cylinder rather than a big naturally aspirated (or even supercharged) V6.

Above 4000rpm, and especially north of 5000rpm, it becomes a bit of a lunatic – in a good way – with lightning-fast redline up-shifts just under 7000rpm and the next ratio perfectly placing it back at the 5000rpm ultra-sweet spot to continue the relentless surge of acceleration.

Considering the complete lack of histrionics, this is astonishing stuff from a four-cylinder in a not-so-small car. It’s enough to make anyone buying an S4 look greedy.

Unfortunately, the transmission did the usual dual-clutch surging, lurching and clunking on low-speed inclines. From our experience in a hilly urban environment, regardless of efficiency, comfort or dynamic driving modes, we expect the A4 would be difficult to drive smoothly around Sydney without resorting to manual mode and the paddle-shifters. We could also hear it switching clutches sometimes, which was an unwelcome mechanical intrusion to an otherwise slick vehicle.

The official combined fuel consumption figure of 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres would be difficult to achieve, considering a motorway run resulted in 6.6L/100km and the fact we averaged 7.8L/100km in mixed driving with 12.1L/100km during a combination of urban/suburban commuting and twisty road blasting.

Ride and handling

An A4 with large alloy wheels, low-profile tyres and S-line trim was previously a recipe for a crashy, uncomfortable ride with little dynamic reward in return.

But our week with this mid-sized Audi was a revelation in this regard, although we suspect the $1100 adaptive suspension upgrade had much to do with it. This A4 just soaked up the miles brilliantly with its serene, relaxed cruise.

It rode beautifully, even in dynamic mode, which seemed to transmit more audible bump-thump into the cabin rather than the expected additional brittleness. Naturally it also kept things a bit flatter and neater under fast cornering, on smoother surfaces at least.

Being a quattro, we enjoyed unshakeable all-wheel-drive traction during the damp conditions that accompanied the dynamic section of our road test route.

Audi even seems to be well on the way to quashing its unenviable reputation for understeer and overall grip levels were impressive.

The steering is buttery smooth and friction-free, making the A4 a joy to thread round town, while being more engaging beyond the city limits than many Audis have been to date, including some wearing the hallowed RS badge.

After pushing though a slight and subtle rubbery sensation just off-centre, turn-in was positive. Through the steering wheel and seat we could feel plenty of detail about the surface below the tyres, if not the same level when it came to impending limits of grip, but it’s big step in the right direction.

Jaguar has it pipped, but the A4 is at least on-par with its German adversaries in terms of steering feel, feedback and accuracy. Excellently judged steering weight when driving at speed in Dynamic mode translated to a bit too much meatiness at urban speeds, where we found it preferable to switch back to Comfort.

Better still, the A4 was obedient as a well-trained dog when faced with crappy corner surfaces and never allowed such trifling issues as a lack of road maintenance to disrupt our enjoyment of what is a challenging loop of coarse-chip, ridged, rippled, nuggety, potholed and patchy country road.

Although the worst examples of road neglect would send the occasional shimmy through the A4’s body or elicit a little twitch from the tyres under greasy cornering conditions, steering kickback was thankfully absent and, provided we were not deliberately provoking it, the Audi held its line brilliantly regardless.

Otherwise, body control was excellent and the slight roll into corners, even in Dynamic mode, quickly settled. Scrubbing off speed was also a pleasure thanks to delightful pedal feel and powerful brakes.

Our only concern was the bizarre hopping feel experienced when the stability control was active. Similarly, the self-steering facility on the active lane-keeping assist system is comprehensively outclassed by similar tech on a Mercedes. That said, the nagging nature of the Benz when it thinks the driver’s hands are not on the wheel is much better addressed in the Audi, which seems to better sense the subtle level of resistance to self-steer actions provided by the meat in the seat.

It all adds up to a sense of confidence that encourages the keen driver to push harder and challenge themselves while providing a sense of calm when taking things at a more leisurely pace. That’s a hard nut to crack, so hats off to Audi.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP gave the A4 sedan a maximum five-star safety rating, with 90 per cent scored for adult occupant protection, 87 per cent for child occupant protection, and 75 per cent each for standard safety assist features and pedestrian protection.

In addition to the active safety tech described in the price and equipment section, the A4 range comes standard with dual frontal, side chest and side curtain airbags, along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control and seat belt reminders for all seats.

Service intervals are annual or 15,000km and under Audi’s Genuine Care Service Plan, the first three years of scheduled services (up to 45,000km) can be pre-paid for $1620 at participating dealerships, transferrable between owners.

The A4 is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Verdict

Even in facelifted form, the previous-generation A4 was feeling its age so this update was welcome. But we never expected it to be this good.

Technology and interior improvements were a given, but this Audi is such a leap forward in terms of driving pleasure that we’d struggle to choose between an A4 and a C-Class with our own money on the table.

From a desirability point of view, that choice depends largely on whether the understated Audi aesthetic appeals more than the recent Mercedes trend towards bling.

With our sensible shoes on, the as-tested Audi feels like the more cohesive package but we suspect that to get the best out of this car relies heavily on the careful selection of options, while Benz provides most of the kit you’d actually want as standard, albeit in lieu of the Audi’s superior engine performance.

Either way, we reckon it’s seventy grand well spent. It’s about time we could say that about an A4.

Rivals

Mercedes-Benz C250 sedan from $69,400 plus on-road costs
Logical equipment mix means fewer visits to the options list, but the engine is down on power compared with others at this price point. Great interior and driving experience go a long way to making up that shortfall, though.

Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport sedan from $68,615 plus on-road costs
The segment’s dynamic benchmark is let down by its drab cabin, and the fact we’d wait for Jag’s new Ingenium petrol engine than the ageing Ford-sourced four-pot.

BMW 330i sedan from $69,900 plus on-road costs
Keenly positioned on value against hot competition and with a long list of customisation options. The punchy petrol Audi out-torques BMW’s impressive new four-cylinder, but Munich hits back with an extra ratio from its automatic transmission and sweet rear-drive dynamics.

Lexus IS 200t Sports Luxury from $77,750 plus on-road costs
A slightly higher sticker price than the Audi but the only option available on this slick, smooth and sporty Lexus is premium paint, so it’s comprehensively equipped. However, the A4 is leagues ahead technology wise as well as being more comfortable and spacious.

Infiniti Q50 Hybrid S Premium AWD from $74,400 plus on-road costs
Six cylinders and hybrid drive provide punch way above the Q50’s price-point, as do the long warranty and a long, long standard equipment list. Aside from some subjective styling quirks, we found this car hard to fault. It’s a left-field choice, though.

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