Most German saloons of the A4’s ilk have, for a long time and for obvious reasons, shared a predilection for autobahn-speed stability, often conferred by weighty, slightly inert steering that’s gently geared around the dead-ahead. Even in S line trim and with 19in wheels and sports suspension fitted, the new A4 does, too. It feels in many ways like a car tuned to make big speeds effortless and stress-free.
And so, you may argue, it probably should. It’ll certainly be a well-judged handling compromise for the majority of A4 owners. What’s disappointing is that the car isn’t a more poised, involving thing to drive in what may be assumed to be one of its more enthusiast-targeted specifications. Front drive or otherwise, the car’s sports chassis could have been made a deal more agile, incisive and composed without risking too much. Instead, this feels like a firmer, slightly grippier but no better-balanced take on an absolutely predictable Audi driving experience: ever secure but a bit inconsistent and flavourless.
The power steering starts out overly light at low speeds and slow just off centre, doing nothing to hook you in. Pick up speed and the rack finds some weight, but only belatedly, after initial turn-in. It never feels natural or communicative. Lateral grip levels are quite high when you probe deep enough into the handling mix to unearth them, but they’re balanced conservatively always to give way at the front wheels first.
The ride is comfortable enough, but as well as being a bit noisy, it’s also quite reactive, becoming gently pitching and unsympathetically damped over only averagely high-frequency intrusions. Even deceleration strips taken at sensible speeds make it jostle. In a simple sense, it feels firm and closely connected to the road surface, just as the Audi marketing department probably wanted it to feel. But it doesn’t feel poised or at one with that road surface in any meaningful way.
If anything, the short-travel, restless ride and muted, initially unresponsive steering detract slightly from the sense of stability it engenders at times. A more feelsome and precise wheel and a softer but more absorptive chassis would doubtless make it easier to place the car on typical British roads, although they may not be as well suited to a tightening autobahn exit slipway.
The A4 demands very little investment from its driver to take it close to the limit of its handling ability. Its light, sympathetically geared steering ensures a smooth and stable entry to any given corner, and it has good mid-corner stability, although the firm suspension does make the car feel keener to react to steering inputs once it’s turned in.