THE NINTH-GENERATION Audi A4 saloon and Avant (or, as you and I would call it, estate) are new from the ground up, but you’d be hard pushed to tell by looking. That’s for good reason: Audi, the Bavarian car maker that is the automobile success story of the past decade, has spent a great deal of time “not making one thing 100 times better than before, but 100 things a little better”.
Which is why, outwardly at least, the new cars appear to be a case of evolution rather than revolution. As Frank Lamberty, the Audi A4 and A5 designer, asked with admirable confidence, “Why have revolution when we’ve got things right?”
Even so, there is a lot to talk about. Audi confiscated phones, cameras and computers from journalists at the preview, in a hangar at a secret location, to stop the leaking of pictures of a car that looks just like the one it replaces.
But it is an important car. Audi, with BMW and Mercedes, has become the new choice of the mass market, overtaking Ford and Vauxhall in sales of large family saloons and estates. Drivers are attracted to the combination of premium badges, posh interiors and competitive running costs.
The key points of the new A4 are the technology (many of the gadgets are shared with the new Q7 luxury SUV – reviewed here), a range of more efficient engines and an interior that takes the executive saloon closer to the luxury end of the car market than ever before.
Let’s start with the exterior, which has been whittled down in the wind tunnel to make it more slippery though the air. If you’re interested in such things as drag coefficients, the figure has been brought down from 0.26 for the old saloon to 0.23 for the new car (0.26 is the figure for the new A4 Avant, also an improvement of 0.03), which in less scientific terms means more miles per gallon. Audi claims this is the new segment benchmark and the best figure for any production Audi.
Little tweaks here and there to the styling have helped the aerodynamics: a lower nose, more slanted A-pillars, active inlets on the grille as well as small air inlets just in front of the left and right front wheels and more angular side mirrors (engineers spent two months working on these alone).
Audio clarity is aided by greatly improved sound deadening and reduced wind noise – an art known as ‘aerocoustics’, apparently
Audi’s sister company Seat has developed a reputation for covering its cars with creases – which make manufacture trickier – and Audi has ventured slightly further down this road with the new A4 too. In addition to a razor-sharp rear spoiler, a pronounced fold runs the length of the car, from the outer corners of the front headlights to the rear light cluster.
The headlights are new – xenon is now standard in all versions, with optional LEDs or, in high-spec cars, the Audi Matrix LEDs that can track oncoming cars and dip portions of the light pattern to prevent dazzling, while keeping the rest of the road illuminated with full force. And in case you were wondering, yes, the new A4 features Audi’s “progressive indicators”, which use LEDs to give the impression of the light sweeping from the inside out, in the direction the driver intends to turn.
The Avant is identical to the saloon in design from the rear haunches forwards. The estate rear end has two main differences over the outgoing model: the roof spoiler is now longer and ends deeper on the hatch, and the rear window is now flanked by two side panels. Both of these tweaks help to stop reduced pressure behind the car, which is more of a problem on a slab-backed estate than it is on a saloon.
If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to fit luggage and a pushchair in the boot, you’ll be pleased to hear that the Avant’s space has increased by 15 litres to 505 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1,510 litres with them down. The saloon’s boot is the same size as before: 480 litres.
Under the bonnet sits one of three TFSI petrol or four TDI diesel engines ranging in power from 147hp to 268bhp – an increase of up to 25%. Audi says fuel consumption has decreased by 21% across all variants, however, and CO2 emissions have improved, too.
The voice control system now recognises many phrases from everyday speech, such as “I want to call Peter Miller”. We’re not sure why you’d want to call Peter Miller, but it’s nice to know it’s possible
The A4 2.0 TDI saloon with 147bhp, for example, will get you from 0 to 62mph in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 136mph, yet returns 62mpg and emits just 99g/km of CO2. Go for the “ultra” version of the same engine and you’ll get 63.5mpg and 95g/km of CO2. This engine puts the car in the lowest band for road tax (nothing to pay under the current rules) and will be tempting to company car drivers wanting to minimise benefit in kind tax.
The completely revised powertrain includes a six-speed manual transmission, a seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox and also an eight-speed tiptronic, for drivers who prefer to take control of the automatic box more often.
The new saloon is 120kg lighter than the previous model, despite being 20mm longer and 16mm wider. This increases the wheelbase by 12mm, increasing cabin space – there’s 23mm more room inside, allowing six-footers to sit one in front of the other with ease, as well as shoulder width and head clearance increases of 11mm and 24 mm respectively.
Front-wheel drive is standard on all cars except for the range-topping 3.0 TDI diesel, which has quattro four-wheel drive. Quattro is available for the 2.0 TFSI petrol with 248bhp, and the more powerful 2.0 TDIs.
Now the interesting stuff – gadgets. As with the new Audi Q7 and TT, the A4 has the virtual cockpit (on higher-spec cars), which gives drivers a fully digital LED instrument binnacle to display sat nav or car info; top end cars also get a head-up display.
Customers who opt for MMI Navigation Plus will have cars that connect to the internet via the high-speed LTE network, allowing email and web browsing via a wi-fi hotspot generated by the car. The Audi MMI features Apple Car Play and Android Auto, and an induction charging plate in the centre armrest allows wireless phone charging.
Top-spec models’ audio is provided by Bang & Olufsen and the clarity is aided by greatly improved sound-deadening and reduced wind noise – an art known as “aerocoustics”, apparently – with help in particular from those carefully reworked side mirrors.
Buyers will also benefit from a plethora of safety systems. The parking assistance option features 12 radar sensors, positioned on the front and rear, which get the car into front-on or parallel spaces without you having to touch the wheel.
Pre Sense City is standard in all A4s and scans the road for pedestrians within 100 yards of the front of the car at speeds of up to 53mph. If it senses danger it will either warn the driver or, if a collision is imminent, apply the brakes.
Are you paying attention? The Audi A4 will be able to tell with its attention assist, which is also standard equipment. If the car detects your concentration is waning, it will tell you off.
Optional systems include Pre Sense Basic, which will set the car up for crashes by engaging hazard lights, tightening seatbelts and closing the windows and sunroof.
Adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist takes the effort away by accelerating and braking to maintain the car’s distance to the vehicle in front, and can even steer at speeds of up to 40mph, using lane markings and other vehicles for orientation.
The new A4 is just one step away from an autonomous (self-driving) car, as it can steer, accelerate and brake to a stop on its own. The only thing it can’t do is overtake
Predictive Efficiency Assistant uses information from the sat nav, adaptive cruise control and cameras to recognise curves, roundabouts, traffic signs and other hazards that the driver may not have seen and can warn the driver well in advance of a hazardous situation.
Audi says that all of these gadgets working together mean that the new A4 is just one step away from an autonomous, self-driving car at speeds of up to 40mph. About the only thing it can’t do is perform an overtaking manoeuvre.
Audi says it has also developed the voice control system to recognise many phrases from everyday speech. It’s a smart and logical development that follows the lead of Apple’s Siri and other such systems.
The new Audi A4 will debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September and will go on sale in Britain before the end of the year. Prices will be announced nearer the time. Expect the new A5 (the coupé version of the A4) to arrive in the first quarter of 2016, with all the same technology.