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Driven: Audi launches a leaner A4 offensive

All 4 you: Audi’s latest A4 carries conservative styling but features loads of technology under the skin.

Fewer Audi A4 variants but broader scope underlines larger tech-laden mid-sizer

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Audi logo26 Feb 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

AUDI has launched the ninth-generation A4 range in Australia in downsized four-cylinder turbo-only guises for now, dropping slow-selling variants such as the V6 diesel as it prepares to reign in the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz’s best-selling C-Class.

To help achieve this goal, the larger yet lighter and significantly more efficient four-door sedan is the first of a wider family of models based on the B9 generation architecture arriving this year, followed by the Avant wagon in April, the S4 performance versions in the third quarter, and the Allroad crossover by December.

While snaring just 15 per cent of buyers in the previous iteration, the Avant might do better this time around. In Germany it takes upwards of 65 per cent of total sales.

Additional A4-based spin-offs also include the second-generation Q5 SUV set for an early 2017 release after a Paris motor show debut in October, with the A5 Sportback five-door, two-door Coupe and Cabriolet also expected to surface not long afterwards.

Designed at Ingolstadt HQ some four years ago under the watchful eye of former Audi design boss Wolfgang Egger, the A4 shares no body panels with its predecessor, though the basic silhouette (sleeker, and more aerodynamic at 0.27Cd in Australian-spec sedan guise, thanks partly to extensive underbody cladding) takes an evolutionary path.

Among the biggest visual changes are the flatter and wider Single Frame grille, arrowhead-style headlights, clamshell bonnet with four ridges, Tornado Line dual side crease, integrated boot-lip spoiler and tapered rear graphics.

According to Audi Australia product planning manager Peter Strudwicke, the conservative approach to the A4’s design evolution will not hinder sales.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily an issue,” he told GoAuto at the launch of the A4 in Canberra this month. “The A3 is a great example, with critics saying that it looked too much like its predecessor. But it’s selling at record numbers and we have difficulty keeping up with demand“I think Audi buyers recognise the quality – and the big thing is to get people to drive the car at dealerships – it’s all about experiencing the car.”

Kicking off from $55,500 plus on-road costs, the new 110kW/250Nm 1.4 TFSI S tronic (dual clutch transmission – manual gearboxes will no longer be offered) replaces the 125kW/320Nm 1.8 TFSI Multitronic continuously variable transmission combo.

The result is the smallest engine ever offered in the A4 history – as well as its four generations of 80 and Fox predecessors – a move that will not hinder the base version’s chances of success, according to Mr Strudwicke.

“The previous version was offered with a 1.4-litre model in Europe, but at the time we didn’t think it was suitable for Australia,” he said.

“But our new 1.4 TFSI is much more powerful, and only slightly slower to 100km/h than the old 1.8. And even the BMW 318i now has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine… so we expect it to account for about 15 per cent of volume.” The engine is question is the 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbo-petrol unit with variable valve lift tech, producing 110kW of power between 5000-6000rpm and 250Nm of torque from 1500-3500rpm, and driving the front wheels via a seven-speed DCT.

Weighing in at 1375kg – some 95kg less than the old 1.8 TFSI – it can hit 100km/h in 8.5 seconds on the way to a 210km/h top speed (that’s just 0.2s slower than before), yet also achieves 5.5 litres per 100km and 126 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions.

Far more popular – to the tune of about 35 per cent a piece, according to Mr Strudwicke’s calculations – will be the $60,900 2.0 TFSI Ultra S tronic and $69,900 quattro all-wheel-drive petrol-powered duo.

In the former, tipping the scales at 1405kg, the 1984cc EA888 engine delivers 140kW from 4200-6000rpm and 320Nm from 1450-4200rpm, resulting in 7.3s to 100km/h, a 238km/h V-max, 5.3L/100km, and 119g/km of CO2 pollution.

A hefty 105kg is the price paid for choosing to go quattro, along with a 1.0L/100km and 25g/km penalty, but the extra oomph (185kW from 5000-6000rpm and 370Nm from 1600-4500rpm) means faster acceleration (5.8s) and an electronically-limited 250km/h potential.

Finally – until the S4 lobs in – there is the $66,900 2.0 TDI quattro that Audi expects 10 per cent of buyers to choose its direct-injection common-rail single-turbo engine is untainted by the Volkswagen Group emissions scandal in this application, and pumps out 140kW between 3800-4200rpm and 400Nm from 1750-3000rpm.

Zero to 100km/h is 7.2s, top speed is 235km/h and fuel us and emissions are rated at 4.6L/100km and 121g/km.

Averaged out, the B9 sedan is 65kg lighter than the B8 released in 2008, and that’s due to the series switching to Audi’s vaunted new MLB (Modular Longitudinal Matrix) platform.

Lighter yet stronger than before, the A4 is 25mm longer at 4726mm, 16mm wider at 1842mm, but exactly the same height at 1427mm. Along with a 12mm wheelbase stretch, the size increases result in 24mm more front headroom, 11mm more shoulder space, and 23mm extra rear legroom, giving the A4 the biggest cabin in its class.

The suspension has been completely overhauled, with an aluminium-intensive independent five-link axle at both ends replacing the (5kg heavier) trapezoidal link found in the rear of the previous car. Two optional adaptive damper set-ups are available – a Sport (minus 23mm ride height) and Comfort (minus 10mm), while the base tyre size is now a 245/40R18 rating.

Steering is via a speed-dependent electro-mechanical rack and pinion set-up, for an 11.6 metre turning circle regardless of drive configuration. However, going quattro means scoring bigger four-wheel disc brakes (and a four-litre larger fuel tank).

The A4’s interior adopts the simplified TT’s Virtual Cockpit option ($2100), bringing a 12.3-inch high-res colour display in place of the regular analogue dials, offering comprehensive vehicle operation and multimedia info ahead of the driver.

Key changes include a big increase in magnesium for the rear seat backs, wheel and middle touchscreen revised MMI central controller interfacing with a tablet-style central screen (and optional rear-seat mounted dual monitors) tri-zone climate control with intensive filtration processes and dash-wide outlets for less intrusive air diffusion and LCD readouts set within the knobs the use of metallic rocker switches to heighten the quality look and feel better storage solutions including a larger (at 480 litres) boot and the use of acoustic windscreen material, as well as an available side-glass insulation package that brings noise levels down to the flagship A8 limousine.

The A4 gains driver-assist upgrades, which include predictive efficiency systems using sat-nav-sourced topographical info to moderate engine output, adaptive cruise control with intelligent coasting and Traffic Jam Assist to see and actively steer the car at speeds up to 65km/h, a free wheeling mode to save fuel, and next-generation idle stop tech.

Also offered are rear cross-traffic alert with braking, (driver) exit warning to reduce the incidents of dooring cyclists, automatic self-parking, Audi Pre Sense tech including Pre Sense rear that rapidly strobes the tail-lights to warn drivers behind, turn assist that brakes to stop a turning Audi cross into oncoming traffic, and lane-departure warning with optional ‘gentle steer’ help.

Multi-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, surround aerial-view camera, tyre pressure monitor, eight airbags, and the usual suite of electronic anti-lock braking, stability, and traction control systems, all help the A4 achieve a five-star ANCAP crash-test rating.

The A4 is the second Audi after the A8 to offer Matrix beam headlights, with dozens of LEDs, and using the high beam all of the time, with the software deciding when it is appropriate to switch to low beam around town. It also recognises people and animals by the side of the road and keeps them illuminated.

Standard features in the 1.4 TFSI include the aforementioned blind spot warning, Audi pre-sense basic (with belt tensioning, window closing and other preventative measures in an emergency), Audi pre-sense rear, rearview camera, 18-inch alloys, LED headlights with ‘adaptive function’ and dynamic rear indicators, MMI Navigation with DVD player, 10mb of music storage and a new smartphone interface that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, part-leather sports seats, paddle shifters, tri-zone climate control, and a 7.0-inch screen in front of the driver.

2016 Audi A4 pricing*
1.4 TFSI (a)$55,500
2.0 TFSI (a)$60,900
2.0 TDI quattro (a)$66,900
2.0 TFSI quattro (a)$69,900
*Excludes on-road costs

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