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Car reviews - Audi - A4 - TFSI sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Refined and economical 1.8-litre engine, accomplished dynamics, quiet and refined cabin
Room for improvement
Clunky manual transmission, electric hill-holder function, space-saver spare tyre

11 Jul 2008

BUYING an entry-level luxury sedan just became a little harder thanks to Audi. The Inglostadt company has often been considered the poor cousin to the established luxury marques BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but not any more judging by the company’s new entry-level A4 1.8 TFSI sedan.

Sliding into the driver’s seat, the first impression is of a very up-market interior.

The cabin is well-designed and roomy, with materials that look and feel good to touch.

With some cars – the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes-Benz C-class included – you can see where the bean-counters had their say, but it’s hard to see any evidence of that with the A4. Even the painted boot hinges are capped in a satin plastic.

The instrument binnacle is really simple with the typical Audi red backlighting for the central information centre flanked by four analogue gauges to the sides.

The central info centre can look cluttered as the relatively small board displays quite a few items of information, but that does not apply to the audio and climate control information panel at the top of the centre stack, with its large and clear screen that neatly angles towards the driver. The radio and climate controls are also are simple to operate.

With narrow pillars and no other obstructions, there is no problem with vision to the front and side, but the shallow rear window and thick C-pillars don’t help with reversing manouvres.

The front seats are supportive, comfortable and, with the steering wheel offering rake and reach, provide enough adjustment to allow most drivers to find a suitable seating position. The only annoyance for the driver is the pedal positioning because the footrest can interfere when operating the clutch.

Bottle holders are provided up front in the door pockets and, while trays are not in abundance, there is enough storage to satisfy most people.

Rear seat comfort and space are adequate, but the seat base is quite short and, as with others in the class, the centre occupant gets a raw deal with less comfort and less legroom than those in the outboard seats.

Storage space in the back is tight, with narrow door pockets the only place to store items. There are two adjustable air vents and a 12-volt socket on the back of the console, as well as what appears like a foldout ashtray on the back of the console that could be useful for… hairclips perhaps?

The sweeping rear glass restricts the boot opening aperture but beyond that it’s all good news. The forward-hinged boot lid opens up to allow easy placement of cargo in a deep, squared-off space. There are four tie-down loops and the 60-40 split fold rear seat provides more cargo space if required. The only negative here is the 80km/h speed-limited space-saver spare wheel stored under the boot floor.

The 1.8TFSI engine is a new design from the Volkswagen Group. It has a very strong, responsive mid-range and the 7000rpm soft cut-out is worth reaching for. It is quiet at low to middling revs and sounds great when revved out, but is never harsh or intrusive.

The only blot in the 1.8 TFSI’s otherwise perfect resume is throttle response off the mark – especially when the engine is cold – as it feels artificial and slow to respond to the throttle. Oddly enough, low rpm response in the higher gears is very good, the A4 pulling away crisply from 1000rpm in sixth.

The six-speed manual has a slightly clunky, cable-operation feel and it can baulk at times, but there is no problem with the directness of the change, with none of the seven gears hard to find. The clutch is light and has a nice, gradual take-up.

An electrically operated handbrake has a hill-hold function that is a little more intrusive than other similar systems. When gently rolling to a stop, it activates while the car is still moving, bringing the car to an abrupt stop. It also feels sticky when releasing, which is amplified by the engine’s less-then linear throttle response. It is not a particularly useful feature for stop-start traffic on anything but steep inclines but at least it can be easily switched off.

Audi quotes a 7.1L/100km fuel consumption average and we achieved a figure not far from that (7.6L/100km) in mostly urban driving conditions.

While the steering feels too light at low speeds, it firms up quite noticeably at around 35km/h. It is disconcerting to feel the change in weighting at that speed. As speeds rise, the steering settles down and is consistent and direct, providing feel that is as good as you can expect from electric assist steering.

The ride is surprisingly supple, soaking up large bumps without any sharpness at all. There is some suspension noise, probably magnified by the fact that the cabin is generally very quiet, and a slight wind rustle around the B-pillar beyond 90km/h.

Cornering ability has been greatly improved with the latest A4. The optional 17-inch tyres offer plenty of grip but the chassis itself is very agile and responsive.

Comparisons are inevitable with the A4’s rear-drive competitors, the 3-Series and C-class. While these competitors are ultimately more rewarding to drive, the A4 is much closer to the rear-drive competition than it has ever been, despite its front-drive tendency to push wide through corners.

A problem shared by the A4 and its competitors is the cost of options. The car we tested had $13,150 worth of extras fitted, and there were not many of them.

The Audi drive select with adaptive dampers ($3200) provides three settings for dampers, throttle and steering response and, after a day of playing with the three settings (‘Comfort’, ‘Auto’ and ‘Dynamic’), the novelty was over. Auto appeared to be the best compromise to settle with.

Audi side assist and lane departure warning (lane assist) is a $2400 option that borders on being a gimmick. It activates when the car is veering near or onto lane markings when the indicator is not on, vibrating the corresponding side of the steering wheel, but can become annoying, especially when it senses the remnants of old markings on the road. It could be argued that this is a great safety device for tired drivers but really the only safe thing a tired driver can do is pull over for a rest.

The new entry-level A4 is a surprise package. It appears well-made, spacious and, even without the options, does not feel like the cheapest sedan in the range, unlike its competition.

The engine, aside from its low-speed lethargy, is an excellent powerplant and the dynamics are among the most rewarding of front-drive sedans. The A4 is not a brilliant car, but it is certainly a very good one.

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