No surprises but simple, effective sedan improvements that make a driver’s life easier, and cleaner, boost Audi’s mainstay executive car
Photos: Audi, Derryn Wong
In contrast to larger, more expensive Audis, the Audi A4 sedan has always fielded very well against rivals from Audi’s two German compatriots/competition.
The success of its sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and sportbacks (hatches and fastbacks) are significant, but if ever there has been a ‘main model’ for Audi, the A4 is it.
The previous B8 iteration really gained a foothold for the company in Singapore, and the current-gen B9 cementing that position as a car that could truly see eye-to-eye with the 3 Series and C-Class.
It’s been four years since that car’s debut though, and with a new BMW 3 Series just landed in Singapore, along with a majorly facelifted Mercedes-Benz C-Class, here is Audi’s response in the form of a major product update to the A4.
As we’ve laid out in our ‘What’s New’ story, since this is a mid-cycle update, the A4 retains the MLB Evo platform as before, though there are significant improvements in almost every area.
The car’s exterior been almost totally redesigned, the better to fit the current ‘Prologue’ design language. Only the roof and bonnet are retained, all other body panels are new. You’ll notice the headlight design as the most striking difference, in fact the whole front end of the car seems more athletic this time around.
The grille is wider and lower and now has a strip between it and the bonnet. S Line cars have a black slit opening here, a tip of the hat, Audi says, to the original Audi Quattro (ur Quattro).
The impression of a more potent machine is once again a result of Audi’s brand of line work. This generation of A4 was the first with the now signature ‘quattro blisters’, that is, figure lines on the body above each wheel.
The update sees these lines now separated from the shoulder line (running from the headlights to the taillights), which give the impression of a wider, lower stance, although the car’s overall dimensions have remained unchanged, a small increase to length aside.
It does lend the revamped A4 a more purposeful air, especially with S Line (or S4) models that have blackened highlights instead of chrome, although we’re not such big fans of the rear end. That’s where the emphasis has been placed on horizontal lines to match the A4’s bigger brothers, and it seems at odds with the overall ‘cleanliness’ of the A4’s design and ethos.
The interior is broadly similar to before, again clean lines, an upper operating space for infotainment, and other functions such as climate and drive modes below. Ergonomically, for the driver, there are no complaints and this is about as Zen-like as you can get for a modern executive sedan.
There is more storage space since Audi’s Multimedia Interface (MMI) rotary controller has disappeared, replaced by a 10.1-inch touchscreen (previously the largest available was an 8.3-inch unit) following the move-to-touch-only-input trend laid down by the Audi A8 luxury limo.
The new system uses MIB3 (VW Group’s latest generation infotainment hardware) and displays clear graphics with a simple menu system, as well as a drag-and-drop tile choice.
You’re probably familiar with CarBuyer’s stance on touchscreens: We dislike them and find them distracting, often challenging to operate while driving, and the new MMI Touch system here is no different.
Your mileage may obviously vary, but like Porsche’s touch-focused systems, a black OS theme gives a driver no favours when it comes to bright sunlight and fingerprints.
The Audi A1’s dashboard integration of the MMI touchscreen is better than the A4’s
It also doesn’t help that it rises abruptly from the dashboard, rather than being integrated into the dash as is the case with the new Q3 and A1, and a driver’s hand has to reach further to make contact with it than either of those cars.
We’ll say it now: Bring back the rotary controller and we won’t hold it against you.
We tested chiefly the Audi A4 40 TFSI model. The new numbering nomenclature Singapore’s cars will not adopt, and it’ll be probably be known as the A4 2.0 TFSI 190hp.
It’s broadly similar to the A4 2.0 ‘ultra’ of the current gen that’s sold in Singapore, being front-wheel drive and equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch S Tronic gearbox, so we should expect them to be similar in both price and equipment-spec.
Equipment highlights of the car we test drove included the Audi Virtual Cockpit 12.3-inch active instrument panel (it will be standard on Singapore’s cars, and now for the first time it allows theme customisation), manual-adjust seats, Audi Drive Select (drive modes), 10.1-inch infotainment with navigation and smartphone integration, and the new comfort adaptive suspension option.
Approximately 200hp is more than sufficient for any modern car, and the A4 40 proves that no lie, thanks in part to its very generous 320Nm of torque. The drivetrain is optimised for efficient cruising, which leads to a slight lag in torque delivery on occasion, such as exiting an uphill corner, but it’s nothing the more sporty ‘Dynamic’ mode won’t solve.
But for 90 percent of daily drive situations in Singapore, ‘Auto’ is more than sufficient, and if the 2.0 ultra model is anything to go by, the A4 40 should be a real fuel-sipper, even more so considering the fact that it has a mild hybrid system (MHEV), with Audi claiming a 0.3L/100km improvement thanks to the MHEV system alone.
It’s a less complex (and thus less expensive/heavy) system than the 48V one found on larger Audis, but it’s well-suited to the task here. The belt driven alternator/starter is purely for recuperating energy, which is stored in a small lithium ion battery in the boot, but it doesn’t just allow smooth, fast restarts, but also highway coasting with the engine entirely shut off.
The system is unobtrusive and requires little sacrifice from the driver, though back in Singapore the lack of an electric-powered AC compressor means the AC won’t deliver cool air when the engine is off.
Still, every little bit helps in this day, and it’s systems like these that will allow us to continue to own and drive automobiles. If this is how electrification reaches the mainstream, most people will hardly mind it at all.
Smooth and fast is the name of the game for the A4, as it’s become noticeably more refined, both in terms of its ride quality as well as cabin quietness.
Dynamically, the A4 is at its best when driven in a manner befitting its nature, smooth and flowing, but the car makes that easy to achieve that with its light, accurate steering, and well-controlled body.
The new comfort adaptive suspension is quite simply, a revelation.
Seriously, all luxury cars should have suspension tuned this way. Even in the hardest Dynamic setting, the suspension shrugs off tarmac snakes and depressions with ease, and adds a huge boost of confidence for the driver. Its most relaxed Comfort mode adds a little wallow, but it’s still better controlled than a similarly setup C-Class with adaptive suspension in Comfort mode.
As a luxury car, drivers expect a little more all-round ability, and the A4 has that as well. It won’t egg you on the way a 3 Series does, but it will handle B-roads with a fair amount of enjoyment behind the wheel because of the confidence-additive nature of the car’s setup.
Our own drive through the tight and winding mountain roads of Bolzano could have been quite scary, but the A4 took most of the fear out of the equation. At one point we ascended all the way to the Erbe Pass at 2,000 metres at the for a stunning view of the Italian Dolomites, but the car’s ability to fluently blend steering and braking, plus its torquey engine, made it pure enjoyment.
As you’ve read in our review of the BMW 330i M Sport, stiff suspension isn’t always the best choice for our roads. The new A4 with comfort adaptive suspension will be excellent for Singapore’s terrible tarmac, judging from the way it handled the degraded roads of the mountain passes.
The new A4 has a vast range of improvements, all of them (touchscreen aside) are very welcome, and the improved ride and more fluent handling are things that help emphasise its sedan-ness, and possibly its further success.
Audi A4 2.0 190 TFSI
|Engine||1,984cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||190hp at 4200-6000rpm|
|Torque||320Nm at 1450-4200rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||TBA / 136g/km|
|Availability||First half 2020|