Well, how was your initial impression when you first saw the press pics of the 2016 Audi A4? Certainly: "It looks just like the old one" or "is this a facelift or just a joke?". Honestly, you are not alone with this assessment. But experience shows us: never judge the design of a car before you have not seen it in the flesh.
For this reason, autoevolution went to Venice, to have a closer look at the new A4, series B9, and we also took the midsize sedan out for a spin. Of course not in the famous Italian lagoon city but 30 kilometers north, in the hills around Treviso. Surprisingly this ended up in a quite interesting finding. Here is our first review.
Bored by downsized gasoline engines and irritated by the ongoing Volkswagen Dieselgate discussion we went for the two most powerful versions.
We have to slow you and us down a little bit, though, because we're not talking about the S4 (which was presented at the IAA Frankfurt in autumn) nor the RS4 (yes, this power Audi will also have its relaunch, the PR team assured us, but we have to be patient).
So we grabbed the currently mightiest diesel and the gasoline with the biggest turbo boost and let the games begin with 272 vs. 252 horsepower. And to ensure a better comparability, we also choose the quattro option for the gasoline A4, since the “self-igniter" has the all-wheel-drive system as standard.
Small performance difference, big difference at the checkout.
But what's that? For the 20 HP
extra Diesel power, Audi is calculating an additional charge of 5,150 Euro (according to the German price list). So the score in the battle of fuels is 50,100 Euro for the A4 3.0 TDI
quattro vs. 44,450 Euro for the A4 2.0 TFSI quattro. Is it worth the extra money?
Before we answer this question, we have to take a closer look at the exterior design of the new Audi sedan and step back from our two sparkling clean A4 (Tango Red the Diesel, Ara Blue the gasoline engine) in the blazing light of Italy. Reflecting on the two four-door cars it all comes down to the details: the refined light-refracting edge in the shoulder area, merging so wonderful with the horizontal groove of the hood.
There are also the razor-sharp lines of the headlamps, shining with Xenon gas as standard, but the full potential of their design will be achieved only if one is ordering the 1,900 Euro Matrix LED lights. Additionally, the greenhouse has been moved by the designers a little bit more to the rear. That provides very pleasing proportions over an area of 4.73 m length, 1.84 m width, and 1.43 m height. These dimensions make the A4 a little longer, a little wider, but not higher than its predecessor. So if you take your time to deal with these brilliant design details of the youngest Ingolstadt work, you inevitably come to the conclusion that this is an extremely successful evolution of the known A4 design language. To find aspects to complain about is like looking for a fly in the ointment.
Okay, we found one, and it is very subjective: in our opinion, the elegant integrated rear spoiler, which can also be interpreted as a throwback to the rear of the B5 from the 90s, is based on tail lamps lacking the design finesse of the rest. The slanted and retracted reversing lights seem to be strangely pinched.
We know that is whining on a high level, and one man will hardly be disturbed by this criticism: former Audi AG Board Member for Development Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hackenberg. Since the Diesel disaster, he has had quite different problems at the moment. But apart from the emission scandal, Mr. Hackenberg is the pioneer of all modular kits in the Volkswagen Group, and thus the father of the new A4, which is based on the MLB evo platform, recently introduced with the new Audi Q7.
The evolution finds its expression in the mixing construction technology of the "Modularer Längsbaukasten” (modular longitudinal platform) that allows a mix of steel and aluminum. The result: with the generation change of the A4 it was possible to slim down 120 kg (240 pounds) compared to its predecessor. We love to report those facts because less weight usually means better driving dynamics.
We summarize: the all new Audi A4 is lighter and has a more refined and dynamic design. So it's time to get in the sedan and press the slightly hidden start button. Another complaint again? No, because the cockpit in the A4 is of impressive quality. Art and craft are coming together in a wonderful way and present a marvelous reduced industrial design in combination with a choice of materials that you want to caress all the surfaces of the dashboard and the center console continuously.
Even the approach to the freestanding 7-inch display (we simply overlooked the monochrome 5-inch version) blends in perfectly into the overall concept. Stolen from Mercedes? As if! The Audi-typical and retractable displays are actually obsolete, because who really extends and retracts these monitors nowadays at anyway?
But the real highlight is the Audi virtual cockpit, which comes at an extra 500 Euro.
A fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster shines brightly behind the three-spoke steering wheel and makes the optional head-up display (980 Euro) not necessary. All information needed for any kind of road trip is displayed in the virtual cockpit anyway.
Actual speed, rpm, fuel consumption, driving time, route guidance, map display (brilliant: the Google Earth and Google Street View presentation coming with the 1,480 Euro navigation variant), Audi connect services, radio, and media information. Everything can be easily operated via the multifunction steering wheel. Our personal highlight: the way the analog dials of tachometer and speedometer are zooming in and out the bottom corners when you switch the infotainment mode with the “View” button on the multifunction steering wheel.
But once again: how is the drive in the all new Audi A4? After an arduous struggle through small Italian towns riddled with traffic and construction sites the Ingolstadt sedan is really starting to surprise.
Despite the fitted S line sports package, which includes sports suspension and mighty 19-inch wheels with a thin layer of 245/35 tires, the German compact executive is rolling pleasantly over potholes and grooved road surfaces such as transversal grooves or rail crossings.
The magic words are Dynamic Damping Control. The chassis development department arrived at the conclusion that hard is not automatically sporty. A further confirmation comes from leaving the coastal strip and climbing the first hills. The more the traffic density drops, the pace increases and we start to rub our eyes in disbelief after the first tight corners: Where is the annoying sound of understeer?
It lacks, and fast S-curves in the A4 are taken unexpectedly precise and nimble. It feels like a paradigm shift. Beneath the optical evolution, a dynamic driving revolution took place, and one engine fits perfectly with that new approach: the diesel.
Petrolheads have to be brave now. Even though the gasoline engine has enough power in every situation in life, it's 150kg lighter (1585 kg vs. 1735 kg), pushes the A4 in less than six seconds to 100 km/h (62 mph) and is connected to an S-Tronic dual-clutch gearbox that is shifting as quick as lightning, the self-igniting diesel does everything a little bit better.
This powertrain pampers its passengers with the soothing sound of a great six-cylinder engine and stands out with a creamy power delivery.
It's also ably supported by the eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission that governs in a superb way the spread between luxurious gliding and exciting gear changes.
Certainly, with 600 Nm (443 lb-ft) at 1,500 rpm one has a massive torque argument, but to be honest, the promised 4.9 liters of diesel at 100km (48 mpg) and the 129 grams of CO2 per kilometer will never be reached. Not if the driver wants to experience the 5.3 seconds from standstill up to 100km/h or the turbo boost at low revs more than once. But Audi instilled abstinence to the newest generation of the V6 diesel, and the conclusion is: the A4 3.0 TDI quattro is just more fun than its brother with the moaning four-cylinder. Therefore, the extra price is worth every Euro.
Independent of the engine choice we would prefer a more noticeable differentiation of the Audi drive select driving modes. Especially the dynamic mode could provide a tick more tightness in the suspension and a little more precision for the steering. And of course, finally, there is this wish for the larger engine in combination with the letter S.
Audi has catapulted its ninth generation of the A4 on par with the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and in some disciplines perhaps even beyond. This includes, among other things, the "predictive efficiency assistant". What sounds so bulky is an impressive linkage of navigation data, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning to reduce fuel consumption in everyday life, far away from any standard cycle.
The starting point is the use of the cruise control, which receives GPS data of the road shape from the sat nav. If a curve on the road ahead requires a lower speed to pass through safely, the system is not just braking but pushing the automatic transmission in freewheeling mode before the driver recognizes the curve at all, and the A4 starts „coasting“ to save fuel.
At the corner exit, the system accelerates gently again to the preselected speed, unless the onboard camera system detects a road sign with a speed limit. Again, the vehicle reacts autonomously to those law settings. It is fascinating how the system is adapting itself to the current circumstances, some of which are not even apparent to the driver.
In practice, it all works very reliably, but the number and type of unexpected interventions are really something one needs to get used to. And not just us driving the new A4 but also the Italian road users. Because who is braking on an empty highway, just because an 80 km/h (50 mph) sign is at a distance?
Of course, the driver of a German car with a German number plate! We were overtaken by wildly gesticulating drivers while the predictive efficiency assistant stoically pursued his service. Somehow word must go around of how good the new Audi A4 is, and that you also can have a “Vorsprung durch Technik” during braking maneuvers.