The A4 rides on a new platform which not only has a longer wheelbase, but which also features revised running gear intended to improve its chassis balance and the precision of its steering. By placing the driveshafts ahead of the clutch instead of behind it, Audi has ensured the longitudinal engine/transmission unit can have its wheels a hefty 154mm further forward.
This reduces the front overhang and the total weight the front wheels have to bear, which should make this A4 more agile and better-riding than before. The steering rack's trackrods are shorter and more rigid, too, achieved by mounting the rack under the engine instead of high up behind it.
The Audi’s bodyshell is 10 percent stiffer than before, 10 percent lighter and more aerodynamic, and its drag co-efficient matches the 3 Series’ excellent 0.27. Much engineering effort has gone on introducing new systems to the car, too, although most are optional.
They include dynamic electric steering, with gearing that allows automatic counter-steering at the edge of adhesion to prevent understeer and improve braking stability, and Audi Drive Select, which allows the driver to play with the settings of the dampers, throttle response, the automatic transmission’s shift points and the steering weight. The range of choices here widens from three to 24 if the car is specified with the MMI infotainment system, which allows each element to be programmed individually.
In contrast to many Audis, the A4 copes well with most short, sharp shocks – even on the optional, lower-profile 245/40 ZR18 tyres rather than the standard 225/50 ZR17 rubber. This A4’s ride is now more restful over pock-marked roads and more in keeping with its civilised demeanour. That said, bigger-amplitude bumps are absorbed less well, and if the camber changes frequently the A4’s body rocks from side to side a little uncomfortably. Road roar is sometimes intrusive too, although wind noise is well suppressed.
This is certainly a better-handling A4 than its predecessor. It turns into corners with greater enthusiasm (thanks to the reduced mass ahead of the front axle), it maintains decent body control and it resists understeer pretty effectively, making it quite a tidy car through twists. And you can trim its line with the throttle, something that previous models have barely allowed.
It’s a pity, then, that all of this is undermined by the optional Servotronic steering system whose weighting – and range of weights – underlines its artificiality. At very low speeds the wheel feels very light, but the loading increases swiftly as you build speed so that beyond 40mph it becomes almost too weighty. We'd avoid this Servotronic option and go for the standard power steering system, which is also electric but has more consistent weighting.