Getting into the latest Audi A4 recently was like meeting an old friend, especially considering how many of them decorated the driveway chez Colley down the years. All of which were picked by ‘er indoors – as it should be.
Going back to the time when the A4 had not been invented and the Audi 80 was the name of the car which preceded it, there have been many Audis in the household. Indeed, that was the case until the start of this year when, in a shocking volte-face, the better half finally spurned the brand with the four interlocking rings and switched loyalty to Range Rover.
In truth, though, she loved her Audis – right from the first time she purchased an 80 and then through a series of A4 (all Quattro versions) from when the model was launched in the mid-1990s. There were various petrols and diesels and I think I can say with some confidence that there wasn’t one of them that was met with anything other than unbridled enthusiasm.
A late-in-the-game switch to a Q3 SUV was something of a surprise in this quarter, but I never got the impression that my dearly beloved never quite liked that machine in the same way she loved her A4s.
So when the very latest fifth generation of the car arrived for testing a few weeks ago, it was with some considerable interest I awaited her reaction to it. Unsurprisingly, it was like she was being reacquainted with a long-lost love.
As she walked around the newly re-styled car – which was a 35TFSI SE model, and, no, I don’t understand Audi's new nomenclature regime either – a hand rubbed its svelte Floret Silver metallic flanks with a sort of fond wistfulness.
"It’s not my colour," she complained, nevertheless complimenting the look of the new and attractive A4; it was noted this was not a Quattro, but had catwalk looks. She smiled and wondered what a two-car driveway would cost. We laughed.
But really and without recourse to silly romantic ideas, I think she briefly felt a twinge of regret that she had left this degree of saloon sophistication and chic for a different level of same in the SUV segment. There was an equivalence of regret, certainly.
And I can understand why.
The new A4 is simply a terribly appealing car and even though it has a raft of excellent competitors in the compact executive sector, it has held its own on many levels since we first saw it.
As this model was launched last year, Irish buyers may have been a little slow to pick up on it – many hanging on for the new licence plate, perhaps, or killed by the order to delivery time – because the figures to the end of last month report the A6 to be the company’s best-seller with 201 units sold. The Q3 is next (recently ditched by herself) with 187 units and the A4 third with 173.
I suspect that the Irish market will catch up, however, and that the A4 will quickly resume its mantle as the company’s main earner, as is the situation worldwide, where the A4 is Audi’s biggest winner.
Nearly a quarter of the company’s global sales fall to this car and despite the raft of SUVs and other products launched by the firm in recent years. Every fifth Audi sold has an A4 badge on it and that is why Audi has taken a steady-as-she-goes approach with this new one.
The Ingolstadt people will tell us that practically everything about the new car has been changed for the better, but from a visual perspective the car is still very readily identifiable as an A4. Only the bonnet, roof and boot lid are unchanged from the previous model and there are new LED front and rear lights, a new aggressive grille and the faux air intakes at the front are now similar in style to those found on the A1.
Inside, there’s a new 10.1” touchscreen and the whole infotainment/connectivity/climate control functions have been revised (there is now no rotary dial) and the whole thing is very easy to use and does not distract the driver. You also get Audi’s excellent virtual cockpit with its cracking graphics and astonishing navigation system.
The thing is that there’s a wonderful familiarity here and that’s good because one of Audi’s great strengths has always been the quality and solidity of their interior design and layout. The interior of this car is a really nice place to be.
On the engine front the tester was fitted with the lesser-powered two litre petrol engine – outputting 150 bhp (there’s also the 187 bhp 40 TFSI version) – and it is very much more than adequate for anything any normal motorist will ever want it to do. Top speed is 230 kph, while the 0-100 kph dash is achieved in 8.9 second and fuel consumption will come in at a not unreasonable 6.6 l/100 km (42.2 mpg).
Audi’s S-Tronic seven speed dual clutch auto was fitted to the tester and while it was not quite as sharp as some rivals in delivering snap changes when you wanted them, you could always resort to the paddle shifters if needed. All told, though, it delivered more smoothness than most even if it was not as quick-witted as some opponents.
As a front drive car, the A4 was pretty much without any evil wiles and the ride and handling therefore were surprisingly good. I would be a committed Quattro person when it comes to the brand, but the lesser front wheel drive option was not without merit.
It is also worth mentioning that the tester was fitted with sports suspension (a €488 option) and no doubt this made the car a lot sharper – and especially so on twisty B-roads – for those who crave an engaging driving experience. It might still not be up to 3 Series levels of dynamism on this front, but only a small percentage of drivers will ever know – or concern themselves – about such matters.
As elegant and sophisticated as ever, then, the A4 now looks sharper than ever and is more technologically refined than we’ve seen heretofore. It might still not be as driver centric as some rivals, but it is so well put together, so nice to live with and so obviously an expression of premium motoring, you could forgive it nearly anything.
I certainly know one person who is looking at the A4 in their new rear-view mirror and experiencing feelings of wistfulness and perhaps even an element of melancholy.
From €42,850 - €50,299 as tested.
An excellent two-litre petrol.
Standard spec. is very thorough.
Not best in class, but oozes elegance and class.
Star Rating: ****