Overall rating: 4/5
Status quo remains in the junior executive class, with the new Audi A4 delivering the same offering as previously, with a few notable and welcome enhancements. Still want that facelifted BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE?
In the Metal:
Sure as night follows day the new Audi A4 was never going to be a radical redesign. It's all-new underneath, however, riding on a new platform (called MLB Evo - if you follow such things) with over 90 per cent of its components new. An opportunity missed on the design front, or an entirely sensible strategy? We'd plump for the latter; after all, the previous A4 wasn't exactly slow in flying out of the showrooms. Despite the thrusting dynamic lifestyle the marketers and advertisers project on cars like the A4, the reality is actually pretty conservative - and radical designs have the potential to upset buyers, with a negative impact on sales. So the bottom line demands the A4 looks like an A4, which means that you could miss this one as new, but pore over the details and there are some advances - you just have to look pretty closely.
Do that, and you'll realise that the A4's a handsome car, nicely proportioned and larger. That's to the benefit of gravitas and space inside - it looks more A6 in scale. It's enough to make its key BMW 3 Series rival look a bit puny in comparison. That matters, as does the interior, which as ever rockets to the top of the class for fit, finish and the sort of tactility that'll see you touching surfaces just for the hell of it. Others come close to achieving that, Mercedes-Benz of late for example, but only Audi achieves it. Audi fitted Virtual Cockpit (see our review of the Audi TT for more of that) to all the launch cars, the TFT instruments taking the place of conventional dials, but don't expect it to be standard on anything but the top-range models. It's clever, perhaps a bit too clever for its own good, to the point of distraction. You'll not miss it if you have the conventional dials. There's more passenger space, legroom in the back in particular, improved and a big boot. We'll be driving the even larger Avant estate soon as well.
Let's get it out of the way immediately: the BMW 3 Series is a more interesting car to drive, from a purely driver-focused perspective. If agility is at the very top of your wish list then buy that Beemer; it is rear-wheel drive to the A4's front-drive (unless you opt for a quattro 4x4 model) and we reckon that's a good thing. Not that the A4 is without talent in the bends; indeed, it conducts itself with a surefooted agility, high grip and relatively roll-free stance that'll exceed the expectations of all but the most demanding drivers. There's precious little feel at the steering wheel, but the weight is consistent and accuracy is commendable. If you've stepped out of the previous A4 and into this you'll be suitably impressed, and likely surprised. Audi has made some real advances of late in making its cars ride with more composure, and the A4 holds promise. As all launch cars were fitted with optional adaptive damping, and the roads were glass-smooth too, we'll find out for sure on standard, passive dampers soon, on Irish roads, but we're not expecting its ability to fall to pieces when so specified.
What is apparent is what's missing in the proceedings. Audi has worked tirelessly at hushing the A4 to A8 levels of refinement, and if anything it feels like it has surpassed the luxury range-topper. It's an eerily quiet cabin, with an almost entire absence of any noise. The diesel engine is only audible as a muted background sound, and even then only if you're not listening to the stereo - giving the A4 a luxury feel that's not matched by any of its rivals. The 150hp 2.0-litre TDI engine, by far the biggest seller, remains as impressive as ever, with plenty of low-rev urgency, punch that makes Jaguar's new Ingenium engine look rather lacking in easy performance in comparison. That's years of development for you. The 2.0-litre TDI model wears the 'ultra' badge, denoting the cleanest offering in the range, which makes the 8.9 seconds to 100km/h time all the more impressive, though it's the not the pace that'll convince buyers they want it, instead it's the official combined economy figure of 74.3mpg (3.8 litres/100km) and 99g/km of CO2 that'll really count. That should be a fairly easy 60mpg (4.7 litres/100km) in the real world, which is thanks to some weight loss, as well as Audi's wind-tunnel work that makes the A4 as slippery a saloon as you can buy. You'll take a slight economy hit if you opt for an automatic, though the six-speed manual is decent enough not to make the auto a compulsory upgrade.
Not exciting then, but incredibly capable, the A4's qualities are different to the rest of the sector, as they've arguably always been. Only here Audi has built on them, and some, elevating the A4 to a point where it genuinely offers something of a different proposition in the class. It'll keep the existing buyers happy, but now it's a far more compelling purchase for those bored with their BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars. Job done, then.
What you get for your Money
Audi Ireland will announce pricing for the new A4 next week following the Irish rotation of the international launch. We will update this review then.
We weren't expecting to be surprised by the new Audi A4, and for the most part we weren't. It remains a compelling purchase, with build quality, refinement and luxury at the forefront, but there's agility and poise, too. On top of all that there's plenty of connectivity, space and standard equipment, and in 2.0 TDI ultra guise, economy and emissions that put it at the top of the class.