If there’s one car that symbolises the relentless progress that Audi is making these days, it is this, the facelifted Audi A4. Usually, midi-life facelifts are superficial affairs, often restricted to new lights and grilles, a few new features inside and, perhaps, a new engine. This upgraded Audi A4, however, is the result of some very invasive surgery. One senses that Audi, buoyed by recent advances across its line-up, simply could not wait to implement such upgrades on its bread-and-butter model. The result is a car that can firmly stand its ground against its major German competition, even the models that are still to be launched.
Much improved looks for Audi A4Look closely and you may still be able to identify the outline of the previous model, but there’s no question about it – this model actually looks all-new. And to vividly illustrate just what a significant departure it is from its predecessor, Audi claims that the only body panel the two have in common is the roof! The general consensus is that the new looks endow the Audi A4 with not only a more distinctive character, but also elevates its premium status. Up front, there’s Audi’s new trademark single-frame grille, and at the rear some neat new tail lamps. The overall shape is very coherent, with little in the way of ornamentation. This accentuates the sense of solidity that the Audi A4 exudes. The build quality really is exquisite, with very tight and consistent panel gaps. The subtly flared wheelarches also frame the 17-inch wheels very “tightly”. Our test unit had an optional sports pack, which drops the ride height by 33 mm.
Inside, the changes aren’t quite as extensive, but it wasn’t necessary because the previous Audi A4 already boasted a great interior with superb quality and ergonomics. Audi has just added some neat trim details to elevate the premium ambience even further. What they haven’t quite managed to improve is the rear-seat accommodation, where legroom remains slightly pinched. The boot, however, is massive, and able to swallow 460 L-worth of luggage.
There are no comfort-oriented concerns up front, because the A4’s seats boast excellent cushion comfort and lateral support. The driver will appreciate the standard height-adjustment (manual) as well as the rake/reach adjustability of the steering wheel. As is the case with all Audi products, everything that is regularly touched has a solid, silky feel that leaves a long-lasting impression of quality.
The standard features package is quite comprehensive, with this Audi A4 boasting climate control, auto lights/wipers, a radio/CD player and a multi-function steering wheel. Navigation is optional, and there’s a neat full-colour screen on the facia that swivels up to reveal SD card slots. Six airbags are also fitted, as is ESP (electronic stability system).
Heart of the GTIBeing part of the giant Volkswagen group certainly has its benefits. One of them is access to a vast range of very efficient, powerful engines, such as the direct-injection, 2,0-litre, four-cylinder unit utilised in this Audi A4. The engine is shared with the Golf GTI, where it is used to great effect, delivering strong power, flexibility and great refinement. The outputs of 147 kW and 280 Nm may not sound earth-shattering, but are nevertheless enough to propel this 1 425 kg luxury sedan to 100 km/h in a brisk 7,6 seconds, and on to a top speed of 235 km/h. It is also economical when circumstances allow, and can return a consumption figure of as low as 7,8 L/100 km. The engine is mated with a six-speed manual transmission that impressed with its slick and precise shifts.
It is said that Audi implemented a lot of lessons learned with the latest-generation A6 and A8 models in the revised A4. Generally speaking, Audis have always offered great stability and grip, but have never managed to offer the same kind of dynamic agility as a BMW, for example, without a wooden ride quality being the compromise. In an effort to improve matters, Audi has not only improved the weight distribution but has fettled with the suspension set-up, too. Anti-roll bars are used at both ends. This Audi A4 test car boasted the lowered and stiffened “sports” suspension, so it’s hard to say what the effect will be on run-of-the-mill standard models, but there’s no question that improvements are very perceptible.
While the low-speed ride certainly is on the firm side, it is never harsh, and the Audi A4 manages to feel more alert and “light on its feet”, as the speeds rise. Subjectively speaking, there appears to be slightly more feel in the steering, too, but it remains perhaps slightly too light. It also tends to feel a bit numb, though precision is actually not bad. Overall, however, this Audi A4 is more fun to drive fast than before, and much of that is due to the engine. Because the torque is available across such a wide spread of the rev range, responsiveness is excellent.
Audi A4 - VerdictDon’t think of this Audi A4 as a mere facelift, it is a significantly improved product in all facets and certainly will provide stiff competition for the likes of the upcoming new BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class. It only really has two flaws – tight rear space and numb steering – and these are unlikely to limit its sales success, because the package is otherwise so superb. If this is what Audi can do with a facelift, imagine the leap it will make once the next all-new model arrives! Scared yet, BMW and Mercedes? You should be…
- New looks
- Build quality
- Cabin quality
- Standard features
- Tight rear space
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol
Power: 147 kW @ 5 100 rpm
Torque: 280 Nm @ 1 800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 17-inch alloy
Top speed: 235 km/h
0-100 km/h: 7,6 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,8 litres/100 km
- BMW 325i: Although BMW’s charismatic six-cylinder engine remains a delightful powerplant, it is outpunched by the turbo Audi. That said, the BMW remains a great choice for the driver that puts the emphasis on entertaining chassis dynamics. But a new model comes soon.
- Volvo S40 T5: Slightly cheaper, and marginally smaller, the Volvo packs a fair bit more power courtesy of its turbocharged five-cylinder engine. A great interior and generous standard specification are further highlights. A bit ragged on the edge, though.
- Alfa Romeo 156 2,5 V6 TI: Still a thing of beauty, but has fallen behind the best in terms of interior execution and sophistication. The glorious V6 engine delivers great performance, but is rather thirsty. Build quality niggles remain.