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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?

Our Verdict

Aud A4

All-new Audi A4 zeroes in on efficiency, technology and quality but is it enough to drive buyers away from the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?

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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.

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.

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.  

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%

Join the debate

Comments
20

23 July 2015
"While its exterior styling is evolutionary"

Little more than a straight clone, is how I would put it.

 

I'm a disillusioned former Citroëniste.

23 July 2015
Will date quickly; a 2008 design won't look wonderful in 2020. No wonder they fired Durheimer; he got away with this sort of "same again" nonsense at Porsche for too long.

23 July 2015
Same as Mini then, but at least Audi doesn't make the A4 uglier as Mini does form generation to generation. But I agree that Audi isn't doing enough in the styling department. (The last truly distinctive Audi being the A2) Porsche on the other hand takes a gentle evolutionary approach that works well (Cayenne & Panarama excepted)

23 July 2015
I won't rise to yet another hurtful remark about MINI:( Actually, I agree that my new F56 is less pretty than its R56 immediate predecessor. However, this was, IMHO, cleaner and prettier than the R50 original "new" MINI. Regarding Porsche's gentle evolutionary design, I'm thinking about changing my 987 Boxster for a new 981 early next year (before they bugger it up with a flat-four engine!) so I have spent quite a bit of time comparing the two lately. In an eerie coincidence, I have concluded that the 987 was much prettier than its 986 predecessor, but the 981 actually represents a bit of a backward step. Here's why: the muscular rear arches on the 987 are beautiful and address the "is it coming or going?" look of the 986. The 981 swaps the sinuousness of the 987 for more angularity and, in particular, has an unfortunate new horizontal shut line in the rear wings aft of the doors which, I suspect, makes production simpler and cheaper. I'll still buy a 981 though (or an F-Type..?)

23 July 2015
Daniel Joseph wrote:

I won't rise to yet another hurtful remark about MINI:( Actually, I agree that my new F56 is less pretty than its R56 immediate predecessor. However, this was, IMHO, cleaner and prettier than the R50 original "new" MINI. Regarding Porsche's gentle evolutionary design, I'm thinking about changing my 987 Boxster for a new 981 early next year (before they bugger it up with a flat-four engine!) so I have spent quite a bit of time comparing the two lately. In an eerie coincidence, I have concluded that the 987 was much prettier than its 986 predecessor, but the 981 actually represents a bit of a backward step. Here's why: the muscular rear arches on the 987 are beautiful and address the "is it coming or going?" look of the 986. The 981 swaps the sinuousness of the 987 for more angularity and, in particular, has an unfortunate new horizontal shut line in the rear wings aft of the doors which, I suspect, makes production simpler and cheaper. I'll still buy a 981 though (or an F-Type..?)

Agreed on the R56 being nicer to look at than the latest version. My partner has a last off the line R56 Cooper SD in black and there is absolutely no way if it was mine, that I'd change it for the new one. The latest has IMO got a bit too big and I don't like the lights, especially the huge rears and I am not sure I like the 5 doors at all as they look disproportionate! I had the first Cooper S of the "new" Mini's and it was a lovely looking car...I felt the R56 from the outside grew a little all round but kept the nice proportions. I just can't get past those lights on the new one whenever I see one!! :-/

23 July 2015
Hi AddyT. I agree that the F56 Cooper S is way too fussy looking and the five-door is a bit of a mutt: those small rear doors and, in particular, the heavy window frames really compromise the overall appearance. It's a real shame they didn't retain the frameless windows of the three-door, which would have made the glasshouse look much smoother and mitigated the narrowness of the rear doors. Anyway, I would encourage you to drive a standard three-door Cooper before you dismiss the F56 completely. It's a belter, and you can't see the dodgy exterior details when you're behind the wheel. Actually, the big rear lights and front grille grow on you...no, really, they do!

23 July 2015
Interesting to compare this £30k A4 Estate with the £22k Superb Estate also tested today. It's a lot of money for less space, a more "premium" cabin ambience and more performance. I'd have the Superb with a bigger engine, pocket the difference and enjoy not being regarded as an a**e on motorways!

23 July 2015
I know various Audi haters are gonna flame me for this but this C segment estate hits 60 in 7.5 seconds and has the combined mpg figure (56) as the new smaller, slower Honda Jazz!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

23 July 2015
So same again styling but that was never it's biggest handicap which was handling/ ride. I would have believed the comments about stiffer chassis improving things had the suspension not been quite substantially changed, although it saves Audi admitting they got this wrong before.
The last Audi I rode in which did seem reasonably set up was an air sprung A6 Allroad. With a still good interior and useful choice of engines it looks promising, which it needs to be given the increasing competition.

23 July 2015
Sorry to have hurt your feelings re MINI, it wasn't meant to be personal - Actually there are many worse designs than Mini currently on sale, the Honda Jazz reviewed on these pages being one example. Like the Fiat 500, the Issigonis Mini is a good reference point (the 2CV is another contender. Has Citroen missed a trick here?) But in the end a reference point is just that, it should also allow the design to evolve. It's like writing symphonies in the style of Beethoven in the 21th century. However beautiful these new pieces may be, they will be out of place (or rather out of time). I suppose Mini & 500 & indeed various 911s can justify their slow evolutionary approach because car design has not changed substantially for the past decade or so. There are various changes in detailings (shutlines for examples) as a matter of fashion. But nothing substantial. When there is a paradigmatic shift in car design (who knows? Electric car which has different requirements might bring this about) then Mini, 500, 911 etc will have to change accordingly.

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