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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, interior, handling, quality, space, elegance, safety, smoothness, style
Room for improvement
Samey exterior design, firm ride with non-adaptive dampers, some rattles, fiddly T-bar shifter


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25 Feb 2016

DESPITE appearances suggesting gentle evolution, everything about the all-new, ninth-generation A4 whispers revolution. All you have to do is take a closer look at the details.

On paper, the design is disappointingly samey, but at least, in the flesh, the beautifully proportioned and executed B9 sedan has a quiet and confident grace lacking in some of the Ingolstadt car’s competitors. The Saab 900-like clamshell bonnet, for instance, is especially arresting to Euro brand fans.

However, it is inside where Audi does not pull any punches, thanks to an incredibly obsessive attitude to design, layout, and materials, all melding into an appealingly lush and upmarket looking interior.

Even the base variant’s dials, analogue as they are, appear smarter than the average premium-medium contender in optional Virtual Cockpit guise, the ambitious use of car-related operation info and multimedia is surely a template for many future iterations to build upon. It’s both alluring and surprisingly intuitive to figure out.

Of the more mundane aspects like interior space and practicality, seat comfort, ventilation capacity, and overall ergonomics, the A4 continues to push with the segment best, though the odd T-bar operation is unnecessarily complicated. A couple of rattles were audible in two of the cars driven, so it’s not quite a perfect cabin environment in there. But it does come close.

Audi has completely overhauled the A4’s lightweight architecture and drivetrain as well, with the initial lot of models coming in all-turbo four-cylinder front or quattro all-wheel drive formats.

Early misgivings about the 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo in the base 1.4 TFSI has given way to respect for its energetic acceleration, that’s only really bothered by the lack of cubic inches when overtaking or tackling a steep hill.

In normal commuting conditions, the smooth and sweet nature of this modern downsized powerplant is likely to win it more friends than not.

Most A4 buyers, however, will plonk for either of the stirring 2.0 TFSI, in 140kW front-drive or 185kW quattro versions. And that’s utterly understandable.

Both are remarkably rapid off the line, pull harder than a coxswain in an Olympic rowing competition, and are sheathed in a veneer of treacly and gooey refinement. These engines feel properly powerful and fast, and suit the Ingolstadt brand’s smart exec savvy image down to a tee.

If you’re into torque, however, then the astonishingly gutsy 140kW 2.0 TDI quattro might be for you, since the seven-speed S-tronic dual clutch transmission (as found in the rest of the range) seems to mate especially well with the heady 400Nm of tree-trunk lugging twist action on offer.

Effortless hardly describes how naturally this thing transports its desensitised occupants towards the horizon, and you cannot hear any of the turbo-diesel din associated with such engines either. Note, however, that low-speed responses can at times be a little delayed, as that big old turbo does take a moment to spool up.

Power without control, of course, is a wasted opportunity, but the revised electro-mechanical steering and all-new five-link front and rear suspension set-up really does offer far-superior handling and cornering characteristics compared to the remote old A4. The helm feels sharp and eager, the roadholding (over the dry and flowing roads around the ACT) is nothing less than tenacious, and the composure at speed unflappable.

Short of the supernaturally talented Jaguar XE, this might be the tool for enthusiasts to revel in. Could we really be talking about an A4?But… without the $1950 adaptive damper option, the ride goes from busy to pitchy all too often, so we absolutely recommend a dip into the A4’s bewilderingly comprehensive options catalogue for that one. Both test quattros (but not the FWD variants) featured the latter tech, and the resulting softer tune was very welcome. Conversely, so was the even more aggressive sport dynamics, turning the A4 into an involving sports sedan at last. Too bad that no amount of additional add-ons can quell the at-times obvious tyre drone entering the cabin.

Never mind, because Audi has achieved something we never thought we’d say about one of its 3 Series rivals – a true driver-orientated family sedan with athleticism and comfort A4s have long been about quality, cabin layout, refinement, performance, and image, but the B9 is the most complete car that the company has sold in this class in generations.

So the latest is also the best-ever A4. Niggles are few, delights are plenty, and multi-faceted. Even the most hardened BMW/Benz supporter will admit that the Audi revolution is a real cause for concern, especially as the familiar design says otherwise. We’re deeply impressed.

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