Up there with the best in class, but you have to look closely to see why
There is no class of car evolving or improving more rapidly than the compact premium saloon and its derivatives. In the past two years there has been an all new Mercedes C-class, a brand new Jaguar XE, a completely revised BMW 3-series and now, an Audi A4 that bears no relation to any released to date.
Hard to believe, isn’t it? You might even wonder if the picture editor has found the wrong photograph, but it’s true: despite looking scarcely any different at all, this Audi A4 is completely new from its body and structure to its engines and suspension. And it could hardly have chosen a tougher marketplace at which to fling itself.
I’ll start by saying I think Audi has made a fundamental mistake with this car. I know that, as the Porsche 911 proves, time and again evolutionary design has proven a better choice than a bolder approach. But at least we’ve never struggled to tell one generation of 911 from the last and that’s the point: you want to buy into the design language for sure, but you also want people to know you’ve bought the very latest version. With this new A4, only the most committed Audi-ophile will
be able to tell.
But the car itself is an impressive technical achievement. The 2-litre 190bhp diesel I drove was good enough in all regards to question the merit of any other engine: its performance was outstanding, its refinement unquestionable. And while it didn’t get anywhere near the frankly risible fuel consumption claims made for it, I still find the fact it will do a genuine 50mpg in normal driving truly impressive. Nor am I going to dwell too long on the fact that there’s little in its handling to interest the enthusiast, because which A4 was ever any different? There’s grip aplenty, accuracy and composure near the limit and that’s about it. If you care about driving you’ll buy the BMW or Jag.
It is the car’s civility that has taken the most substantial step forward. Not only is this the first A4 to ride properly, its cabin seems to have leapt not one but two generations. It’s perhaps still not quite so luxurious as the C-class but the technology it puts at your disposal, including the same TFT instrument pack first seen in the TT is extraordinary.
You can have two individually configurable and vast colour navigation maps, dials that grow or shrink according to need and Apple CarPlay, which basically turns the car into an external monitor for your iPhone, which in turn gives you Google maps and, as if you ever needed it, a third means of reading your satnav instructions.
Is this a genuine benefit to the owner or just more pointless gimmickry? The fact that none of it is foisted on you and it can all be turned off if required inclines me to the former view. But then I’m a bit of a techo-nerd when it comes to such things.
As for the car itself, it depends on what you want: a C-class is more luxurious, a 3-series or Jaguar XE far better to drive. But I’ll say this: this is the first A4 I have driven I’d not consider a poor relation to the class leaders. I’m not saying it’s the best, but it’s up there with them and for Audi that is a revolution, even if it does not look like one.
Engine 2.0 litres, 4 cylinders, turbo diesel
Power [email protected] rpm
Torque 295lb [email protected] rpm
Transmission eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power to Weight 124bhp per tonne
Top speed 147mph