2016 AUDI A4 Launch Review – Midsize Luxury Has A New King

The most technologically advanced Audi ever. That’s how the company from Ingolstadt is describing the new A4. They’re not wrong, and even in the segment, it’s one of the most feature-packed and tech-heavy cars on sale.

That it drives beautifully, has superlative quality and has more space than ever is simply icing on the cake.

Vehicle Style: Prestige medium sedan

Price: $55,990 (A1.4 TFSI) to $69,900 (2.0 TFSI quattro)

Engine/trans:

  • 1.4TFSI – 110kW/250Nm 1.4-litre turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp auto
  • 2.0TDI quattro – 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel 4cyl | 7sp auto
  • 2.0TFSI – 140kW/320Nm 1.4-litre turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp auto
  • 2.0TFSI quattro – 185kW/370Nm 1.4-litre turbo petrol 4cyl | 7sp auto

Fuel Economy claimed:

  • 1.4TFSI – 5.5L/100km
  • 2.0TDI quattro – 4.6L/100km
  • 2.0TFSI – 5.3L/100km
  • 2.0TFSI quattro – 5.3L/100km

OVERVIEW

Audi Australia has high hopes for the new A4. Sedans still outsell SUVs in the premium segment, and with increased competition from its German rivals the A4’s update couldn’t come soon enough.

While the styling is evolutionary, the new Audi A4 (known as B9 internally) is more than just a reskin. It uses a new platform (MLB Evo) and is longer, wider and lighter than before. It’s also more efficient, has been pumped full of technology and is safer, too.

The real question, then, is whether it’s enjoyable to drive, and how does it compare with the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series? To find out, TMR headed to Canberra to put the range through the wringer on the winding roads around the capital. The verdict from our first drive of it is good. Very good indeed.

THE INTERIOR

  • Standard equipment: 1.4 TFSI – 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with adaptive function and dynamic rear indicators, electric driver’s seat, sports steering wheel with shift paddles, leather-appointed seats, three-zone climate control, 2.0 TFSI – Convenience key with hands-free opening for boot (kick function), auto dimming centre mirror, electric passenger seat; 2.0 TFSI & TDI quattro – 19-inch Audi Sport alloy wheels, sport suspension, Audi sound system, Memory driver’s seat, Folding exterior mirrors, with heating, dimming and memory functions
  • Infotainment: 7.0-inch infotainment screen in 1.4 TFSI, MMI Navigation plus with 8.3-inch screen in other grades, MMI touch, DVD player, 10GB music storage, live traffic and 5 included map updates, Audi connect, Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, 2 USB inputs
  • Cargo volume: 480 litres with rear seats up

Open the door and your first impression is that this is a thoroughly modern interior which makes the superseded A4 look old hat. Looking more like a shrunken Q7 inside, the new A4 is brimming with tech – both visibly and behind the scenes.

There’s hardware from graphics card company Nvidia (shared with the Q7 and TT) that enables simple English commands to be understood, while Audi Connect – which turns the car into a wifi hotspot – is standard across the range.

The brilliant 12.3-inch screen (Audi calls it Virtual Cockpit) that replaces the analogue instruments is optional and is paired with a head up display that doesn’t wash out when wearing polarized sunglasses.

Even in standard form, you still get a seven-inch screen between the dials which displays Google Earth mapping for its sat-nav. Very cool.

But it’s how everything has been put together that makes the cabin feel opulent. With a machined aluminium accent that spans the width of the dash (and flows onto the doors), Audi has stayed away from the “drowned in black” look that has plagued cars of the past.

The full width air vents are all functional, and the climate controls are simple to read and use. The climate control also features a carbon filter which Audi says reduces foreign micro-particles twice as effectively as its rivals.

The flat-topped shifter is straight from the Q7, and the 8.3 inch centre screen features a beautifully machined magnesium surround.

There’s more space, too, with 23mm more rear legroom, 13mm more shoulder room, and 16mm more front headroom.

Audi’s MMI infotainment system can be controlled by the rotary dial with touch-capacitive top or as mentioned, simply through voice commands.

MMI has made leaps and bounds and is far friendlier than Mercedes’ Comand system, but still can’t quite match the intuitiveness of BMW’s iDrive. But there’s plenty of scope for customizing everything, including the drive settings.

One interior option we couldn’t go past for the price is the superb Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker setup for an extra $1500. It’s crisp and bassy but doesn’t drown out the midrange, delivering very faithful sound reproduction.

If there was a criticism, it’s that the Drive Select button is too far away from the driver (it’d be far handier if it were on the right-hand buttons) and to finish off the aesthetics, it would be nice for the cupholders to be covered, rather than left exposed.

Other than that, there’s very little to complain about.

ON THE ROAD

With more and more technology being shoved in behind the scenes, it’d be simple for Audi to take a passive route and allow tech to become the centerpiece of this car, overshadowing the drive experience.

After all, add more layers of safety and the driver becomes further removed from the equation. But Audi has cottoned on to the fact that people who buy these cars do enjoy their driving. Which is why the new A4 is a revelation.

Starting off in the base model, the 1.4 TFSI produces 110kW and 250Nm and channels its power through the front wheels only.

While those figures don’t sound especially brilliant, it uses each and every kilowatt to good advantage, running to 100kmh in 8.5 seconds. Thanks to intensive use of lightweight aluminium, its fuel consumption is a commendable 5.5L/100km.

If there was a model in the range that showed that forced induction was being used, this is it. You’re quite aware that a turbocharger is helping things along, with a bit of lag off the line and when overtaking.

Not that it hampers progress, but it’s noticeable at low revs. Get the tacho needle swinging and the car picks up and accelerates with smooth linearity.

It’s quiet, too, shifting gears in the background and getting on with the job with minimal fuss. On its standard suspension, however, it’s quite stiffly-sprung and tends to pick up small imperfections much more noticeably than the adaptive suspension fitted to the more expensive models we drove.

The steering in Comfort mode is also far lighter and more remote than the bigger-engined cars, but switching it into Auto on the Drive Select button does help to give it amore natural feel. The 1.4’s value for money, though, is very convincing.

Step up to the diesel 2.0 TDI and you’ll feel the immediate advantage of 400Nm of torque. Add to that 140kW of power and the oil-burner has the right ingredients to sprint to triple figures in 7.2 seconds.

Forget about lag and forget about slow take-up from a dual clutch transmission – they’ve both virtually disappeared. What you get is smooth power delivery, a seamless gear change and plenty of low end grunt.

It’s virtually as quiet as the petrols but with a fuel use advantage that makes this the most economical all-wheel-drive diesel on sale in Australia. At 4.6L/100km, it beats anything in any segment.

Riding on adaptive comfort suspension, the A4 impressively smothers the pitter-patter of badly bitumised roads but even more staggering is how it takes on gravel tracks.

With our sat-nav opting for a path unknown, we ended up taking a very different route to the rest of the group, with rocky, dusty, unsealed roads making up a good portion of our “custom” drive route.

The A4 simply glides over rubbish surfaces feeling completely planted. A few sweeping corners later, we decided to experiment with the quattro all-wheel-drive system, using more aggressive steering angles.

It cleverly shuffles the power front and rear to maximise grip, and if things do get out of shape at speed, the stability control quickly reins lateral movement in. Even deliberate, slalom-like turns on gravel don’t catch it out.

For covering our varied roads, the 2.0 TDI is comfortable, quick enough and miserly, all while maintaining a luxurious feel.

We moved from there to the first of the bigger petrols, the 2.0 TFSI front-wheel-drive. This engine returns 5.3L/100km, making it the most economical petrol engine on sale.

On our country run, though, we recorded a bit more than that, using all of its 140kW and 320Nm to overtake slow trucks up the mountain roads.

Despite being the lower of the power outputs from the 2.0-litre engine, you never feel like it’s lacking. The engine is quiet and smooth, and what you’d expect from a $60K car. Again, the dual-clutch feels exactly like an auto (all that lag from step off is gone), and it’s happy to hit 100kmh in 7.3 seconds.

There is some torque steer under hard acceleration, but on the plus side, the steering isn’t dead either. But for those who thirst for more power and more control, the 185kW quattro version beckons.

This two-litre engine is a belter and, like the 140kW version, operates completely lag-free. With 370Nm on tap, it’s able to get from 0-100kmh in just 5.8 seconds – not bad for an executive express. There’s a nice metallic note when revving out, but despite the lack of a bassy exhaust it never sounds like its straining, nor does it grate like a dentist’s drill.

Our test car had the S-line package in addition to the optional adaptive sport suspension fitted. It’s biased toward firmness but Audi’s suspension work has been magical, with no crash or thumping.

Even running on gorgeous 19-inch wheels, the body control is fabulous, in comfort mode it’s able to iron out rough patches with aplomb and in dynamic mode it firms up nicely and offers incredible grip.

On one winding mountain pass, the A4 felt completely at home, engine singing to the heavens, paddle shifters clicking away, and carving up the tarmac with the agility of an Audi Sport model. Its balance is superb, sitting flat and neutral and firing out the other side of corners, leaving the C-Class and 3 Series in its wake.

Dynamically, there’s a model or option to suit all tastes, and it’s worth remembering that as impressive as this is, it’s “just” an A4. The S4 and RS 4 are still to come.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars (tested Feb 2016)

Safety features: Audi has packed the A4 with plenty of safety tech, and scored itself a five star rating. Audi Presense is standard, which prepares the car if an impact is imminent.

With eight airbags, parking sensors front and rear, reversing camera, blind-spot warning, active bonnet, seltbelt pretensioners, autonomous braking, and the standard ABS, ESC, brake assist and brake distribution, there’s enough to keep everyone safe.

A key inclusion is the “Exit Warning” function which scans the road for approaching cars or cyclists and warns you if you’re about to open your door into something or someone.

You can also option an Assistance safety package ($1900) which includes active lane assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go including traffic jam assistant, distance indicator and Audi pre-sense front, turn assist, collision avoidance assist, and high beam assist.

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL

There’s little doubt Audi has cornered the market for anyone looking for tech-loaded transportation for under $60K. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are standard, the optional virtual cockpit is a winner and the Google maps overlay is very nice.

But the A4 goes further than this and is genuinely enjoyable to drive. The previous A4 (B8) was certainly well built, but lacked involvement. The B9 iteration solves that. You don’t feel like it’s distant – you’re completely involved, enjoying every minute.

Dynamically, it used to lag behind the C-Class and 3 Series. Now, the suits in Stuttgart and Munich will undoubtedly be biting their fingernails.

With excellent steering, massive grip, a well executed ride and brakes to match, the A4 quattro models are now on par with (in some cases ahead of) its rivals.

Factor in the safety, technology and build quality and the A4 has nudged ahead to become the best buy of the segment.

PRICING

  • A4 1.4 TFSI – $55,990
  • A4 2.0TDI quattro – $66,990
  • A4 2.0TFSI – $60,900
  • A4 2.0TFSI quattro – $69,900