The new Audi A4 is impressive in all respects, but most notably for the hushed, slick and refined way that it drives, as well as its overall ambience of sophistication.
Despite the similar look and shape, the A4 saloon is slightly longer and wider than its predecessor. It has a longer wheelbase, too.
Audi claims a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.23 for the A4 saloon thanks in part due to the adoption of a largely flat undertray and detailed sculpturing around the rear end. It has also worked on detailed refinements such as reprofiled and repositioned door mirrors - a tweak that cuts wind noise.
Allied with reductions in rolling resistance, mechanical friction and engine noise in the cabin, the changes mean the A4 is capable of cruising extremely quietly.
That in turn enhances the premium ambience of sitting in a cabin that sets a class standard. It’s comfortable, tastefully adorned and thoughtfully laid out, offering decent occupant space in most dimensions, controls that are angled slightly towards the driver and luggage space broadly on a par with rivals.
As a top-spec option, the ‘virtual cockpit’ multimedia and instrumentation system first seen in the Audi Q7 has been carried over in its entirety. It offers incredible clarity and an amazing array of ways to present the driving information, navigation or infotainment data.
So far, so premium, but Audi also promised us better driving dynamics with this car, and that’s where more widespread mechanical changes come into play.
First, ther are the weight savings. As with the recently launched Q7, Audi has hacked weight out of the A4, with some derivatives saving up to 120kg compared with their predecessors.
Then there are the reworked engines. Among several left-hand-drive derivatives we had the opportunity to try was the A4 2.0 TDI, which is expected to be one of the biggest sellers in the UK market.
The four-cylinder 2.0 TDI we tested has more power, at 188bhp, and is at the same time more frugal, coming in at 107g/km of CO2 when driving through an optional seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The turbocharged engine is strong and flexible from low revs, and only becomes more vocal when being asked to work hard on steep inclines. Otherwise, it feels well isolated from the cabin. It’s hard to find fault with the S tronic gearbox, which performs unobtrusively when left to its own devices.
The lighter, more powerful A4 also benefits from a newly developed suspension system. Our test car was equipped with comfort-orientated passive suspension – one of several options available on the newly developed layout, which now uses a five-link arrangement at the rear as well as the front – and showed the Audi’s ride to be more limber than that of its brittle-feeling forebear, if still slightly on the firm side.
It’ll take a full domestic test drive to determine whether it works as well on our roads, and also whether the optional adjustable shock absorbers are preferable to the fixed standard components, although Audi is planning further testing on these shores to assess whether UK-bound cars would benefit from a bespoke suspension tune.
The new A4’s steering is more feelsome, too, at least in its more comfort-orientated settings. The version we drove came with Audi’s Drive Select system, which enables the driver to alter the characteristics of the throttle, steering and S tronic gearbox for increasingly direct levels of response and weight.
There’s a notable step between the settings, although the extra resistance of the new electromechanical steering in the ‘Dynamic’ setting feels less natural. Audi’s technical chief Ulrich Hackenberg’s personal preference is to use ‘Comfort’, and that’s a good enough recommendation for us.
The way the front-wheel-drive Audi handles is by no means going to prompt BMW to rethink its rear-drive philosophy overnight, but it feels very composed.