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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Improved steering response and feel, more supple ride, brilliant CVT transmission, performance and economy of new engines, interior quality and design, distinctive new exterior
Room for improvement
Some steering kickback, elegance swapped for flashy design

2 Mar 2005

"Pushing the Limits" is the new advertising tag line for the latest A4 – and in truth sums up the way it drives.

Compared to its worthy but dull predecessor, the steering is instantly noticeably fuller in feel, richer in response and more eager to engage the driver, so new ground is broken here for an A4.

On the standard 16-inch alloy wheel set-up the ride is certainly suppler, with the suspension better able to soak up bigger bumps than before.

Yet rougher roads can still be heard as well as felt, so the A4 isn’t going to win any magic carpet ride awards just yet. And irregular surfaces can create some unwelcome steering kickback through fast corners.

Larger tyre and wheel packages, along with the optional Sport suspension set-up (not sampled in the urban/country road combo drive route), may not ride as well either.

Aiding the smoothness is what’s arguably one of the best gearboxes around – the CVT automatic.

Even in the least powerful and refined motor (base 2.0), it impresses with instant power delivery and seamless upshifts.

Putting the CVT lever into S for sport brings even greater dividends for more spirited performance, without sacrificing the flow.

And the more powerful the engine, the better the CVT feels.

For the extra $5600, the 1.8T offers much more in-gear oomph and flexibility that its modest 24kW power advantage suggests. That low-blow turbo provides the sort of performance expected in a car at this level.

Of course the all-new 2.0-litre TFSI is in a class of its own, especially when tasted in quattro and six-speed manual gearbox guise.

A lovely, well-oiled gearchange really makes the most of this revvy little engine’s engaging performance, sling-shotting the A4 sweetly into the distance with no effort at all.

Meanwhile, the undisputed security of the all-wheel drive system adds a reassuring neutrality to the A4’s driving dynamics, accompanied by a surprisingly appealing engine noise.

And the six-speed Tiptronic auto in the TFSI quattro sampled proved to be a very competent mechanical match-up, with excellent response and no discernable dip in performance compared to the manual model.

Sadly no 3.2 V6 or 2.0 TDI examples were available on the launch. They promise to be even better than the very promising four-pot petrol turbos.

So gaps have closed remarkably against the corresponding but soon-to-be-replaced BMW E46 3 Series models.

And of course BMW rarely rests on its dynamic laurels, so Audi’s advances here may be short-lived.

Nevertheless, the B7 A4 seems more than adequate in quite a few other areas. And drivers won’t feel short-changed at all any more.

Plus the cabin still feels peerless in quality and design, although having been seduced by the A6’s interior, the A4 now feels a little less special in comparison – but never dated or stale. It roundly out-classes the newer Mercedes CLK’s efforts.

Which leaves the re-skin to consider.

While it looks better in the flesh than in photos, the pure elegance of A4s past is sidestepped for a flashier visage, and in some eyes that’s taking a liberty too far with this iconic design marque. Still, it’s fresh for now, and distinctive to boot.

So while you may not look as elegant in the latest Audi A4, you’ll certainly have more of it, along with precision and poise, once you make an exit.

Mission accomplished then, Audi – the A4’s limits have certainly been pushed in the right direction.

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