Anyway, this is no perfunctory mid-term facelift. As well as re-modelling virtually all of the A4’s exterior panels, Audi has also turned its attention to what lies beneath, re-engineering the four-year-old mainstreamer’s chassis and introducing four new engines along the way.
For our first steer in Sicily, we’re concentrating on the new 203bhp 2.0T, which uses the 2.0-litre FSI turbo engine from the new VW Golf GTI and, in front-drive form, is earmarked to become the big seller. Those in search of more grunt, but unwilling to stretch to the 344bhp V8 S4, will find interest in the compact 255bhp 3.2-litre V6 FSI unit already seen in the A6, and the new 206bhp 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbodiesel which is said to be capable of cracking 0-62mph in just 7.2sec in manual form.
Our test car has the six-speed version of the new-generation ML (Manual/ Lengthways) gearbox fitted to all new A4s which, as well as claiming to improve shift quality, also allows the engine to be mounted further back in the engine bay.
Something of a gift for the chassis engineers this, but they’ve been busy in their own right, endeavouring to further shrink a closing gap with the BMW 3-series, which even Audi acknowledges is the clear class benchmark.
It’s interesting that BMW was probably the first company to talk seriously about suspension elastokinematics (essentially its repertoire of moves in the face of continuously changing dynamic conditions).
For the new A4, Audi’s suspension team is said to have undertaken ‘extensive works’ on the elastokinematics and spring and damper settings with a view to improving both agility and comfort – conceivably the outcome of some personnel cross-pollination from BMW to Audi on the chassis side.
The basic architecture of the mostly light alloy suspension is unchanged with a four-link arrangement at the front and Audi’s trapezoidal-link design at the rear. At the front, several mounts and track rods have been lifted from the S4, while the mounts for the control arm come from the new A6.
Together with the revised damper settings, this is said to have enhanced the steering’s responsiveness and quality of feedback, and all but eradicated torquesteer. Beyond that, the servotronic power assistance has been tweaked to retain its lightness around town while offering improved turn-in and feel at speed.
The compact, low-weight rear suspension’s trapezoidal link is now the same as the S4’s and made from hollow-section aluminium. It acts as a rigid control arm and absorbs a large portion of the forces acting on the rear wheels. Together with the track rod located behind it, it defines the elastokinematic behaviour of the axle. The larger dampers are from the A6, as are several of the suspension mounts.
As for the chassis’ computer components, ESP 8 is the most sophisticated version of the electronic stability programme yet. It comprises anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and hydraulic brake assist, which automatically increases brake power when the driver applies the brakes in an emergency.
The traction control system (ASR) interacts with the electronic differential lock to provide efficient yaw control. New pressure sensors are said to make the intervention of the ESP functions even harder to detect, particularly when the car is under-steering, though if the nose looks like ploughing straight on all four wheels are braked until it gets back on line.