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We drive a petrol-powered estate version of Audi's new A4. Does it make more sense than the ever-popular diesel?
23 July 2015

What is it?

The fifth-generation Audi A4, which is planned to have its public premiere at the Frankfurt motor show in September prior to the start of UK sales in November.

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the new model and its predecessor, which has been on sale here since 2008. However, Audi has extensively re-engineered the latest A4, providing it with the latest version of its MLB (modular longitudinal architecture) platform together with the latest in driveline developments. These include a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, sampled here for the first time in a pre-production version of the new A4 2.0 TFSI Ultra.

The new A4 has grown, but only slightly. With a length of 4726mm, a width of 1842mm and a height of 1427mm, it is 25mm longer, 16mm wider and the same height as its predecessor in saloon guise. This makes it 41mm longer, 32mm wider and 13mm lower than the latest Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The wheelbase has also increased by 12mm, taking it up to 2820mm.

Despite the bump in exterior dimensions, Audi says the A4’s weight has been reduced by up to 120kg through the adoption of hot-formed high-strength steel within the body structure and aluminium for various body panels, including the roof. 

While its exterior styling is evolutionary, the interior boasts a contemporary new design similar to that seen on the third-generation TT and, more recently, the second-generation Q7. As well as looking a lot more modern than before, it also provides greater space. Audi claims an additional 24mm of head room in combination with 11mm more shoulder room up front. The incremental stretch in the wheelbase has also provided the basis for a 23mm increase in rear seat legroom.

Boot space is up by 15 litres to 505 litres, increasing to 1510 litres when the standard 40/20/40 split rear seat is folded away. By comparison, the BMW 3 Series Touring boasts a nominal 495 litres of seats-up boot space, while the Mercedes-Benz C-class Estate offers 490 litres.

Among a list of standard safety items is Audi’s pre sense city system, which has been developed to prevent accidents at typical urban driving speeds. Using a windscreen-mounted stereo camera to monitor the road, it provides an acoustic warning and full preventative braking at speeds up to 25mph.

What's it like?

First up, the driving position is excellent, with generous visibility to all four corners and great pedal placement, at least in left-hand-drive form. There are also new seats, which are both better formed and provide more support than those of the old model. The added accommodation is immediately noticeable; the increase is not huge, but it serves to make the new Audi a more pleasant place in which to travel than its predecessor.

The various prototypes we drove all featured Audi’s active instrument display, which provides excellent clarity. The dashboard is to be commended for its overall simplicity and high level of quality. We also got to try the head-up display unit, which is making its debut as an option on the A4 along with features such as an 8.3in monitor, an inductive charging pad for mobile phones, sensor control opening of the luggage compartment on Avant models, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, tablet-based rear seat entertainment and the latest version of the German car maker’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) system that features an LTE internet connection.

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The front-wheel-drive A4 2.0 TFSI Ultra is one of two models to run a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. The most economical of all new petrol-powered A4 models, it replaces the previous A4 1.8 TFSI, which used an older turbocharged 1.8-litre engine that is set to be phased out across the Audi line-up.

The message with the new engine is that downsizing is not the only alternative in the search for lower CO2 emissions. Among its developments is a revised Atkinson cycle combustion process with a compression ratio raised to a high (by petrol engine standards) 11.7:1 and a newly developed exhaust manifold. Power is up by 19bhp at 187bhp, while torque remains the same as before at 234lb ft.   

The longitudinally mounted powerplant comes mated to a standard six-speed manual gearbox, although the prototype put at our disposal used an optional seven speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic unit. So configured, the A4 2.0 TFSI Ultra is claimed to return 58.9mpg combined in saloon guise, endowing it with average CO2 emissions of just 109g/km – figures that better those of the new A4 1.4 TFSI entry-level model, no less.

The new petrol unit fails to propel the A4 with the same sort of conviction or low-end urgency as the four-cylinder diesel engine we also tried. Nevertheless, it is smooth and willing to rev. Audi quotes a 0-62mph time for the A4 2.0 TFSI of 7.3sec, bettering that of the old CVT-equipped A4 1.8 TFSI by 1.0sec. Top speed is put at 149mph, up from an earlier 140mph.

As a measure of the added efficiency brought by a claimed drag co-efficient of 0.23, along with reduced mechanical drag and lower rolling-resistance tyres, the A4 2.0 TFSI is claimed to roll 450 metres further than its predecessor from a speed of 80mph. That’s a distance of over four football fields.

The steering, a speed sensitive electro-mechanical set-up, is lighter in nominal weighting than before in Comfort mode but also proved to be quite accurate. The initial sharpness of the previous A4's rack has been traded for a noticeably more progressive action across the first quarter turn of lock, giving the new model a more natural feel in most situations. We’d still like more feedback, but it is nevertheless a big improvement.

The same can be said of the dynamic properties, which have been dramatically improved. There is now a greater subtlety and fluidity to the A4, which not only makes it more accommodating but also a good deal more entertaining over any given road than the car it replaces.

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The transformation can be traced to the newly developed body structure, which Audi technical chief Ulrich Hackenberg describes as not only being lighter but also significantly more rigid than that used by the old A4. Further gains have been made with the adoption of new integrated cast aluminium front suspension towers that, he says, allow road shock to be dispersed with greater effectiveness than before.

As a result, the new model receives softer springs and more progressive damper rates than its predecessor right across the line-up. The roll bars have also been upgraded, with the diameter up by 4mm in certain cases. The elastokinetic properties have also been heavily revised with bushings that are described as providing greater initial bump absorption.

Audi says it looked at providing the new A4 with an optional air spring suspension like that offered on the latest Mercedes C-Class. However, the gains made with the standard underpinnings are such that Hackenberg decided against it. “The new platform can easily be adapted for air suspension, but it is not planned," he said. "Not yet, anyway.”

The upshot is a significantly improved ride. The prototypes of the new A4 we drove felt more settled over a variety of surfaces than we remember the old model ever being. This is especially noticeable at lower speeds, where added compliancy has brought enhanced comfort. The new car is occasionally caught out by transverse ruts, which tend to induce a nasty thump from the front end at higher speeds, but for the most part the mid-range Audi proves a much smoother riding proposition than its predecessor.

Equally as impressive is the handling. The more natural feel to the steering happily extends to the cornering nature of the new A4. Of particular note is the roll stabilisation, which was exemplary on the early examples we drove. The softer springs allow more lean than with the old A4, but deft damping qualities introduce greater progression to the body movements.

Should I buy one?

Perhaps, but it is going to take a much more thorough test of a true production example, rather than an earlier pre-production prototype, to tell just how far the A4 has progressed compared to its executive class rivals.

On the strength of what we’ve seen so far, it is a more engaging, comfortable and refined car to drive than its predecessor. The new A4 is also a more likeable car in which to travel over any given distance thanks to an excellent new interior, which not only offers the latest in connectivity, infotainment and safety options but also more enticing materials and greater space than before along with an enhanced overall feeling of well being.  

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Audi A4 2.0 TFSI 190 Avant S tronic

Location Germany; On sale November; Price £30,500 (est); Engine 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 188bhp ; Torque 236lb ft at 1450-4200rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight na; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 148mph; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 114g/km, 17%

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Comments
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hare1964 12 September 2015

Premium?

Not sure I would want to spend premium money on a car where the designer hadn't properly integrated the satnav. Looks like an iPad afterthought. Also, why buy a cheap to make fwd car now when there are three properly premium rear drive cars on the market to choose from. I think Audi have missed an opportunity here to distance itself from its cheaper brands like skoda.
spqr 24 July 2015

Dreary Styling

The styling is so dreary that most of the comments on an article about what could be a transformative model for Audi are about MINI, Porsche, Skoda etc. Perhaps Audi should re-think the cookie-cutter approach to styling and get their own version of Chris Bangle in for their next model generation. I would never have a Audi as they are just VW Group cars in business suits. The point about getting the Skoda and saving the difference is valid. you are basically getting the same technology and in most cases the same chassis, engine, transmission etc for a lot less.
Guy08 24 July 2015

Star rating

I'm surprised that Autocar hasn't given this car 5 stars. Very odd.

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