We attended the launch of the new Audi A4 in George last week. Could the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer's compact executive sedan be the new benchmark in a tightly-contested segment?
The A4 is one of Audi South Africa's most important products – since its introduction in 1994, more than 110 000 units have been sold on the local market. Despite its successes, the A4 has come under fire from critics, some of whom labelled the car "boring" and "uninvolving". We recently took an example of the outgoing A4 for a drive and the criticism seemed justified. Compared with its main competitors, BMW's 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the old A4 felt, well, old.
Audi has sharpened its pencil for the new A4 and imbued its sedan with much-needed zest. Buyers shopping in the mid-size executive sedan segment will be pleased to know that the new A4 is a vastly improved product over the previous-generation car. Yes, the new A4 still looks like an A4 (its exterior design is an evolution of its predecessor's), but it’s just that much sharper, leaner and... elegant. The new A4 has shed some weight too (up to 110 kg, depending on model) and that’s a good thing because it makes the sedan more athletic. When you factor in that power has gone up by up to 25% and fuel consumption has improved by up to 21%, you have a vehicle that’s more balanced in terms of proportion and performance.
For all the details regarding specification take a look at: Audi A4 (2016) Specs and Pricing in South Africa
The interior of the new A4 deserves a special mention because it represents a giant leap forward from the outgoing model. Once you step inside the cabin you are welcomed by comfortable leather seats and a three-spoke multifunction steering wheel. The dashboard is home to horizontal air vents for the climate control system (they're remarkably similar to that of the new Audi Q7) and there’s a "floating" 8.3-inch monitor with a touchpad rotary controller ahead of the shift lever. It all looks much more contemporary and smart than the previous A4's interior. This one has a real sense of occasion.
A major highlight of the new A4 is that Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is available as an option. It’s a marvellous system that replaces the traditional instrument cluster with a 12.3-inch, high-resolution LCD digital display that provides easy access to navigation and all the vehicle functions. Wizardry comes at a price, however. Expect to pay as much R39 000 to have the Virtual Cockpit fitted to your new A4.
What's the new Audi A4 like to drive?
The launch route encompassed 360 kilometres and included a total of four mountain passes that put the A4's dynamic capabilities to the test. We had the opportunity to test both the 110 kW/250 Nm 1.4T FSI and the 140 kW/320 Nm 2.0T FSI during the launch event. Audi did say that the more powerful 185 kW/370 Nm 2.0T FSI quattro derivative will arrive in April 2016, while the 140 kW/400 Nm 2.0 TDI turbodiesel will become available later in the year.
Our first drive was in the 2.0T FSI Design and it soon became evident that the driving experience of the new A4 is significantly more refined and comfortable than before. Fitted with a 7-speed S tronic dual clutch transmission, this model felt pleasantly punchy under hard acceleration. The 2.0T FSI responded well to throttle inputs and in-gear acceleration was impressive too. The transmission is well matched to the engine and the shifts through the gears are virtually imperceptible to the driver. The steering feel is on the lighter side, but adequately direct and precise, providing good feedback to the driver.
We were particularly impressed with how poised the A4 felt while cornering. Even at higher speeds, the new A4 held its line with confidence. The car certainly felt lighter and more agile than the outgoing model and managed to soak up bumps well with its balanced suspension setup. Audi claims a fuel consumption figure of 5.4 L/100km for this 2.0T FSI.
Although Audi says that major efforts were made to reduce noise levels in the cabin, we couldn’t help but notice an obtrusive rumbling noise emanating from the test unit's 18-inch tyres. Perhaps it's a credit to the cabin's noise, vibration and harshness control that the tyre noise was that noticeable...
We also spent some time behind the wheel of the 1.4T FSI model and although its handling was identical to that of the 2.0T FSI, there was a major difference in performance. With 30 kW less power and 70 Nm less torque available, the smaller-engined model's more moderate performance was immediately noticeable. However, the model's performance was satisfactory – it was by no means sluggish to drive. Overall, both models delivered a comfortable and refined driving experience. Audi claims a fuel consumption figure of 4.9 L/100 km for the 1.4T FSI.
The new A4 is a very accomplished product. It incorporates major improvements over the previous-generation A4 and its higher levels of refinement and sprightly performance are refreshing. The cabin not only looks more modern and up-to-date, but it also offers more space for the driver and passengers. That, plus the addition of various in-car technology and driver assist features makes the A4 much closer matched to its natural competitors. In fact, a direct comparison between the Audi and its rivals could see the newcomer come out on top in certain aspects, perhaps overall. Look out for a full review of the A4 on Cars.co.za in the near future, when we'll gladly delve deeper into the Audi's merits.
Audi A4 prices in South Africa
|1.4T FSI manual (110 kW/250 Nm)||R441 000|
|1.4T FSI S Tronic (110 kW/250 Nm)||R459 000|
|1.4T TSI Design S Tronic (110 kW/250 Nm)||R488 000|
|1.4T FSI Sport S Tronic (110 kW/250 Nm)||R492 000|
|2.0T FSI S Tronic (140 kW/320 Nm)||R496 000|
|2.0T FSI Design S Tronic (140 kW/320 Nm)||R513 000|
|2.0T FSI Sport S Tronic (140 kW/320 Nm)||R517 000|
|2.0T FSI Quattro S Tronic (185 kW/370 Nm)||R616 000|
|2.0 TDI S Tronic (140 kW/400 Nm)||R517 000|
|2.0 TDI Sport S Tronic (140 kW/400 Nm)||R538 000|
|2.0 TDI Design S Tronic (140 kW/400 Nm)||R534 000|