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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Improved value, excellent entry petrol engines, quattro road grip, quality cabins, fuel efficiency of all engines, S tronic transmission, S4 Avant styling
Room for improvement
Minute styling changes don’t reflect mechanical refinements, CVT still flawed, electric steering too light around town, expensive extras

Audi logo28 Jun 2012

APPROACHING the new A4, you would be forgiven for assuming that the upgraded model brought very little new to the table. But looks can be deceiving.

Under the (still contemporary) body sits a more frugal and potent engine range that Audi is depending on to wrest sales from its traditional foes – the segment-leading Benz C-Class and BMW’s popular new 3 Series.

The range is as broad as ever – sedan or wagon, diesel or petrol, front-wheel-drive or quattro, manual, CVT or dual-clutch automatic – but there are some commonalities.

Interior changes are subtle, but Audi didn’t need to do anything more because they remain the best in the business. From the $52,700 entry model to the $123,900 S4 Avant, the cabins are chic, logical and built with a Teutonic precision and eye for detail.

A simplified navigation system (standard on all variants except the base petrol and diesel, where it costs a frightening $3450), sportier leather steering wheels and greater use of chrome inserts do enough to keep things fresh.

The exorbitant cost of the sat-nav is indicative of the rest of the vast options list, although one box we would tick is the Assistance package, which for $900 ($1900 on base models) adds Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and front/rear parking sensors.

The lane-assist system in the A4 is better than most, providing subtle counter-steer if its detects movement outside the lines (it only works on well-lined and sealed roads like freeways), while the adaptive radar cruise has programmable distance control, brakes autonomously and returns to a set cruising speed once road congestion or obstacles clear.

Up front, the A4 is roomy and the driving position comfortable, but things are tighter in the rear seats for anyone above 180cm (6ft in the old vernacular), though it’s about standard for this segment.

Boot space in the sedan is almost as large as the load-lugging wagon, at least until the rear seats are folded.

All A4s are now fitted with an electro-mechanical steering system that cuts fuel use by a claimed 0.3 litres per 100km. While the improvements to economy are commendable, the steering is still no match for a BMW, being too light at lower speeds around town for our liking.

At higher speed things are better, with more weight and artificial feedback dialled in, while levels of grip from the front-drive and particularly the surefooted quattro drivetrains proved confidence-inspiring on twisting and occasionally damp Tasmanian roads, sitting flat on the road.

The suspension is pliant, especially on entry variants, but even the performance-oriented S4 never feels needlessly firm.

Road noise is also subdued, especially on 17-inch wheels, although the Avant is a victim of its own boxiness, with noticeable wind boom at freeway speeds.

In terms of powertrains, the entry-level 1.8 TFSI is among the most improved. Power of 125kW still trails the C-Class and 3 Series, but a huge jump in torque gives it mid-range punch and tractability almost on a par with a small diesel engine. The fact that Audi has squeezed 320Nm (up 70Nm) from a 1.8-litre petrol engine is startling, and puts it well above its fellow Germans.

We didn’t get to sample the six-speed manual, but found the CVT (fitted for fuel savings) to be better than most, though typically subdued off-the-line.

The entry 2.0-litre TDI diesel is, like the base petrol engine, vastly improved over the old version, with substantially more power, torque and efficiency than the slightly anaemic previous iteration.

It’s a fine engine to be sure, but is also only 1.0-litre per 100km more frugal and not a great deal richer in torque than the 1.8 TFSI while being $2400 more expensive, so the value equation is murky. The progress being made with entry-level petrol engines, courtesy of technology like forced induction and idle-stop, means that we will surely see an increasing number of cases like this.

As good as the base petrol model is, the $61,700 2.0 TFSI quattro is the pick of the range. Audi has lopped a lazy $8000 off this variant and, while the engine is unchanged, its 155kW/350Nm outputs were hardly an issue to begin with.

For the extra outlay over the base model you also get the rear-biased quattro all-wheel-drive system and, as effective as Audi’s front-drive system is, the four-paw set-up feels safer, with tenacious levels of grip when the going gets trickier.

You also get the excellent S tronic dual-clutch automatic, which is much snappier than the ‘multitronic’ CVT, intuitive enough to rev to redline in sport mode and change down when braking hard into a corner. The six-speed manual is a cheaper option, but there were none available for testing.

The larger of the two diesels is the 3.0 TDI V6, available in smaller 150kW/400Nm tune in front-drive CVT guise, and 180kW/500Nm when paired to a quattro drivetrain with S tronic, though only in a sedan, which is a shame because what a ‘bahnstorming’ and practical beast an Avant version would be.

This is a seriously quick engine once it gets up and going and, while it lacks the immediacy of the V6 petrol, it feels like it could pull a train.

The front-drive version, meanwhile, manages to be the most frugal V6 in the country, officially consuming just 0.1L/100km more than the smaller 2.0 TDI. Single-day quick-tests are not an ideal place to monitor real-world fuel economy, but a week-long road test will reveal if this claim is reflected in daily driving.

The trade-off with both of these larger and heavier diesels is the extra weight over the front axle, which made them feel less nimble across the scenic Tassie roads than the V6 petrol.

The V6 petrol in question is a supercharged petrol unit, available in both the 3.0 TFSI and S4. While it’s not wanting for pace, Audi has arguably made it too muted and subdued in the lesser model, perhaps to provide sharper contrast to the sportier version.

When massaged to 245kW/440Nm in the S4, the engine is transformed. A standing sprint time of 5.0 seconds is nothing to be sneezed at, but the barking soundtrack is glorious and downchanging via the paddle shifters emits a lovely blip from the quad exhaust pipes.

It’s hard to think of a better test route for the S4 than a Targa Tasmania stage, and this drive reinforced the S4’s standing as a slightly less mental (and more affordable) alternative to the BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG.

The combination of quattro drive, excellent P Zero tyres and body-hugging sports seats make this car a hoot on more challenging strips of tarmac.

The S4 comes standard with four switchable driving modes, with the Comfort setting softening the ride and lightening the steering enough to make this eminently liveable in urban crawling, especially now it can be paired with the practicality of the wagon.

It may be a side point, but we also think the Avant bodystyle looks better than the sedan, and is indeed one of the nicest looking silhouettes on the road.

Overall, the entire A4 range is both more competent and accessible than ever. Don’t be fooled by the same-again styling because the new engines underneath give it a new lease of life and puts Audi back on the pace with BMW and Mercedes.

A starting price of $52,700 (or $55,500 for the automatic) makes the 1.8 TFSI sharp value next to the C200 and 320i, but the massively-reduced 2.0 TFSI quattro is, for our money, the best buy in the range.

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