Audi A4 1,8T FSI Ambition Multitronic (2008) Driving Impression

Audi A4 2008

Following its very intensive mid-life facelift, the previous-generation Audi A4 finally reached parity with its two long-standing German rivals. In fact, so impressive and far-reaching was the upgrade that the Audi A4 was still a convincing rival even when new-generation versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class arrived. Now, with the arrival of the all-new Audi A4, the expectation is that Audi could, perhaps for the first time ever, steal a march on its rivals and position itself as a clear class leader. We tried out the new Audi A4 1,8-litre CVT derivative that is likely to constitute a big percentage of overall Audi A4 sales volumes.

Elegance all over for Audi A4

Even at a first glance the Audi A4 appears to be a more substantial car than before. This is certainly not an illusion, because the new A4’s body is 120 mm longer and 50 mm wider compared with the previous model. The wheelbase, too, has been stretched (to over 2 800 mm), pushing the wheels out to the corners and contributing to a sleek, elegant bodyshape that boasts some beautiful detailing, especially as it tapers to the rear end. The standard wheels on this model are somewhat small (16-inch alloys), but Audi offers a vast range of options, including bigger wheels, sport kits and lowered suspension set-ups to beef up the car’s appearance even further.

The bigger dimensions have certainly benefited cabin space, because the Audi A4 now not only offers very spacious front seating, but also much improved rear legroom. The boot is big too, and can accommodate 480 L of luggage. However, it is not the spaciousness of the cabin that will grab your attention, but the build quality and sophisticated design. In short, Audi has not only equalled what is on offer from BMW and Mercedes, but has eclipsed them. The attention to detail is staggering for a car of this size/price, and would not look out of place in an A6/A8. And the way that Audi has managed to integrated “classical” themes and materials with high-tech info-tainment systems is massively impressive. Seated behind the beautifully designed instrument panel and steering wheel, the Audi A4 creates the impression of being even more expensive than it really is.

Comfort levels are exceptionally high, aided by a steering wheel that boasts probably the largest range of rake/reach adjustment we’ve experienced for a while. The seat, too, offers a good range of adjustment as well as excellent support and long-distance comfort – the cushion length in particular is perfectly judged. At first glance the centre console appears to be rather cluttered with buttons, but it doesn’t take too long to figure out how it all works. In fact, Audi’s MMI control system remains a lesson in logical design.

Audi may offer a vast range of optional extras but the standard specification for this Ambition trimmed model is not to be sniffed at. You do pay extra for park distance control and navigation, for example, but cruise control, auto lights/wipers, radio/CD with a multifunction steerwing wheel, leather and six airbags are all standard. There’s a lot of technology in this car as standard that is quite easy to forget about, including an electronic park brake, MMI and an electronic stability system with traction control.

Consummate cruiser

Considering the extensive amount of equipment on board, in addition to the increase in size, the A4’s relatively light weight of 1 450 kg comes as a surprise. In fact, depending on the model, the new Audi A4 can be as much as 10 % lighter than its equivalent preceding model. Audi has achieved this through the extensive use of aluminium and other lightweight materials in the car’s construction. A major benefit of this is, of course, improved fuel consumption, but theoretically performance should also be better.

The engine powering this particular model is a turbocharged 1,8-litre, four-cylinder that delivers 118 kW and 250 Nm of torque, the latter figure already available at a low 1 500 rpm, which indicates excellent tractability. Also worth noting is that the torque curve remains steady all the way to 4 500 rpm, so there shouldn’t be too much reason to shift around looking for overtaking power. Not that you’ll have much choice in the matter (gear shifting)…

The engine is mated with a continuously variable transmission that also offers eight manual “steps”. CVTs are an acquired taste, mostly because of the elastic power delivery effect and the constant drone, but the example fitted to the Audi is certainly one of the best. For one, the noise is not so pronounced, largely due to the fact that the Audi’s cabin is so beautifully insulated. The other reason is that, because the engine delivers its torque so low down in the rev range, there really isn’t much need for the transmission to keep the revs high. Consequently the Audi A4 is a very relaxed, quiet car to cruise in.

It is also rather fast when needed, with a 0-100 km/h time of below nine seconds and a top speed of near 220 km/h. And yes, the weight saving and the CVT have benefited fuel economy, because the consumption figure of 7,4 L/100 km is superb. Admittedly the CVT is less impressive when there’s a hurried driver behind the wheel. It tends to chase the engine speed up but this does not always result in the anticipated pick up in performance.

Relaxed, but agile

Audi has worked really hard to address the pronounced understeer that plagued its previous models. In the latest Audi A4 the centre of gravity has been lowered, and the weight distribution improved. For those buyers who want something even sportier, there’s the optional Drive Select system that allows you to fine-tune the car’s steering, throttle etc. But even without Drive Select the Audi A4 feels more agile and composed than before, without sacrificing its trademark stability and grip. The steering still doesn’t really talk, but at least the precision is good.

Of more importance for the likely target audience of this specific model is the ride quality. Unlike the previous Audi A4, which could feel a trifle “wooden” on large wheels, the latest model appears to have more supple suspension, so the bump suppression is excellent, even at low speeds, and remains so at higher speeds too. And the suspension is impressively quiet, contributing to the overall impression of excellent refinement and sophistication.

Audi A4 - Verdict

There’s not much that’s wrong here… Yes, Multitronic (CVT) is an acquired taste but if you’re not a particularly hasty driver, it won’t bother you. Perhaps Audi could have thrown a few more goodies into the standard features pot, but then again what is already there will be sufficient for most. What we have here is a brilliantly refined, beautifully designed and finished, quality product that shoots straight to the front of its class. The ball’s in your court, BMW, Mercedes…

We like:

  • Stylish looks
  • Build quality
  • Cabin space
  • Interior design
  • Refinement
  • Ride/handling balance
We don’t like:
  • CVT’s unnatural sound
  • No standard split rear seat
  • Pricey options

Fast facts

Engine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol

Power: 118 kW @ 4 500 rpm

Torque: 250 Nm @ 1 500 rpm

Transmission: CVT (continuously variable transmission – 8 steps)

Wheels: 16-inch alloy

Top speed: 218 km/h

0-100 km/h: 8,6 seconds

Fuel economy: 7,4 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • BMW 320i Exclusive Steptronic: A very tough rival indeed... The BMW is similarly priced, specced and powered, yet offers class-leading rear-wheel drive dynamics and very engaging handling. It is well built, too, but the Audi’s interior ambience is now superior.
  • Mercedes-Benz C200K Elegance Touchshift: The Mercedes has arguably set a new class benchmark, offering a balance of comfort, refinement and agility that is near perfect. In C200K guise it is also more powerful than the competition, but at a price, of course.
  • Lexus IS250 Auto: For similar money, you can also get Lexus’s very attractive IS250, a car that may not be able to match the Germans’ cabins, but which boasts a deliciously creamy in-line six, great dynamics and a comprehensive standard features list.