What's it like?
The new A4 can best be described as a polishing of the established A4 formula, rather than a reinvention. Much of the car’s story revolves around fuel efficiency and the introduction of some autonomous technology, such as the automatic city braking.
The remarkable fuel-saving coasting function, which uses information from various on-board sensors to suggest to the driver that he lifts of the throttle, uses the car's kinetic energy - rather than its fuel - to carry it along.
Audi has also taken a conscious decision to tune the new A4 more for comfort than hard-core handling prowess. Indeed, Audi chairman Rupert Stadler told Autocar that customer requests had been for a more ‘comfort-orientated’ car.
On the roads north of Venice, this A4 is just that: a free-rolling, long-legged and somewhat languid driving companion. It is certainly comfortable and swift at motorway speeds, showing unexpected real-world ground-covering ability for a relatively modest powertrain.
The gearshift is very smooth and slick, although the lever is quite tall and the throw long. This biggest problem in making super-smooth progress is at lower speeds, where the difficulty of finding the clutch's biting point on its featherweight pedal action is a hurdle.
This car has the Audi ‘Drive Select’ system, which offers three settings: Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. There’s no need to experiment, just select Dynamic and leave it there. The Comfort setting is a mystery. It leaves the A4 underdamped and unable to track straight and true at motorway speeds.
However, in the spirit of the A4’s new character, Dynamic is not remotely about sporting responses. It is very well judged, offering good body control and - on the Italian roads - the ability to soak up and smother away poor surfaces.
Get the A4 engaged in, say, a long curve such as you’d find on a big roundabout, and the car will lean in to the bend noticeably. It is not unpleasant and in many ways makes a refreshing change in this market segment.
To get the best out of the new A4, the driver has to make measured and gentle inputs with all the controls, especially the steering. Once you’ve got the hang of it the A4 can be piloted at a decent lick on a back road, but it doesn’t encourage heroics and you can come to appreciate the unfussy way it makes progress.
Audi is making great claims for the in-cabin refinement of the new A4. However, under hard acceleration the engine’s distinctive note is quite noticeable, and although the cabin is a place of calm, on certain road surfaces there was a little too much swirling road and wind noise.
It’s possible that this is simply because the very refined transmission and sound-deadening acoustic glass used in the front side windows is simply accentuating what remaining noise there is. But, like the A4’s dynamic performance, the final conclusion can only be reached on UK roads.
Should I buy one?
The new Audi A4 1.4 TFSI is a very pleasant, swift and potentially frugal machine, which is handily spacious in the cabin and beautifully finished inside and out. It also seems well priced considering some of the advanced features that are included as standard.