Its key rivals have been upgraded or are brand-new, so it’s time for the latest generation Audi A4 to take a bow, writes Matt Joy
This is a big car for Audi. The A4 has been the cornerstone of Audi’s remarkable success in the premium segment and for lots of status-seeking types it is the default choice. But this is the compact premium saloon sector, where two other German offerings also play hardball and have just been joined by a British interloper in the shape of the Jaguar XE.
So when Audi says this car is new, they really mean it. An all-new body achieves the lowest drag coefficient in the class, there’s new engines, a new cabin with lots of clever new technology and the underpinnings come from the latest generation of shared architecture. Expectations are high because no stone has been left unturned.
You won’t mistake this car for anything other than an A4, which is exactly how Audi wants it to be, but happily there are notable improvements over the old car in the looks department. It’s a slicker effort than before; there’s more sharpness to the front end and the rear has more purpose than the outgoing car, which looked faintly apologetic from some angles. Naturally, you need a decent size of alloy wheel to get the most from it, but it will cut more of a dash in the car park.
The instant recognition you get with those four rings and trapezoidal grille are a big part of that very strong Audi image. The haters aren’t keen of course, but an Audi key on the table means you can afford the finer things in life, which is what it’s all about.
This might be a compact saloon, but Audi hasn’t neglected the need to better accommodate passengers and luggage. Incremental improvements in legroom, headroom and boot space all add up to a cabin that is pleasingly spacious without sacrificing anything in terms of the feel-good factor.
In fact, the new cabin design has an impressive stripped-down look, with just the MMI control and the climate buttons to disturb the clean appearance. You can also specify the clever virtual cockpit that replaces the analogue dials with a configurable screen. It works well and is easy to use too.
As with a succession of recent Audi models, the A4 is considerably lighter than before, up to 120kg depending on the model, and with the new chassis and suspension set up taking full advantage, there are some significant dynamic improvements over the outgoing version.
Most impressive is the ride quality, which is markedly smoother and more controlled than before. Audi is pitching the A4 as a ‘mini-A8’ and the unfussed ride quality combined with the impressive noise reduction goes a long way to fulfilling that ideal. Even so, the new A4 handles and steers with pleasing accuracy and engagement. The excellent ride means you’re not thrown off line over bumps and, although electrically assisted, the steering encourages you to enjoy the performance.
There’s a whole suite of engines, many of which wear the high-efficiency ‘Ultra’ tag, but the 2.0-litre 150PS diesel is likely to be one of the most popular choices - even after the events of the past week. Smooth at low revs and with just a hint of a four-cylinder rumble when pushed, it works well with the manual gearbox option, giving more than sufficient performance with impressive economy.
A segment as competitive as this is good news for buyers; the standard kit list on every A4 is not going to disappoint.
The entry-level model gets 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, three-zone climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors and the 7-inch infotainment screen.
There’s tons of extra kit you can add of course, including traffic jam assist, which will not only brake and accelerate for you, but also keep you in lane in slow-moving traffic.
This new A4 improves on the old car in all the obvious ways; tech, weight and efficiency, but is also better looking and better to drive in a number of environments. It’s still not the last word in driving pleasure, but arguably it is the best all-rounder in the segment, without any discernable compromises throughout.
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