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Audi: Born again

The new Audi A4 is bigger, more comfortable and more dynamic than the car it has replaced, reports Ashish Masih.

autos Updated: May 28, 2008 17:25 IST
Ashish Masih

Turns out, Audi had saved the best for last. After lying low while rivals Mercedes and BMW went about updating their C-Class and 3-Series ranges respectively, Audi has finally pulled its new A4 out of the hat.

And it's hoping the last-mover advantage works in its favour. Beyond skin deep The new car's look attempts to link it with the outgoing model but unlike the earlier car, which was too understated, the new A4 has plenty of character. It gets the same emotive front styling, the lamps look menacing when they're on and pretty good even when they're switched off.

The A4's sides get strong lines running across the body from front to rear. It's a design that lends the A4 a lean, muscular look and a very purposeful stance. The rear is quite similar to the earlier car, tidy and in harmony with the car's graceful design.

But just because the new A4 bears a similarity to its predecessor, doesn't mean this is merely a cosmetic update. Beneath the surface, the changes are substantial. It's also bigger and wider than the C-Class and the 3-Series.

Audi is aiming to position the A4 as the sportiest car in its class (and outgun the 3-Series in the bargain). It has clearly worked overtime to improve the A4's driving dynamics. To do that, it's integrated a longer wheelbase thanks to a repackaged engine/transmission, which Audi got after moving the front axle forward by 154 mm. Audi has also used light weight, high-strength steel and suspension components to keep the car's overall weight down.

You also get the Audi Drive Select (as optional), a system that can adjust the operating characteristics of the engine, automatic transmission, steering and shocker absorbers at the touch of a button.

There's a ‘comfort' setting, and an ‘automatic' mode that reacts to how the car is driven. The ‘dynamic' mode has the sharpest responses. You can also input your own settings by choosing the ‘individual' mode.

The A4 also gets Audi's dynamic steering, which operates with a superimposed gear system that varies the effective steering ratio according to road speed. The A4 will come to India with a choice of three engine options: a 2-litre, 143 bhp diesel, a 3.2 FSI (fuel stratified ignition) 250 bhp petrol (which will be on sale immediately) and a 1.8 litre, 158 bhp turbo petrol, which will be offered later.

We started off driving the 2-litre TDi, which is likely to be a bestselling model in India. This is the first common-rail engine from the VW Group, which has been strident about the advantages of the Pumpe-Düse motor over commonrail technology for years.

However, tightening emission norms have now forced it to abandon the former. The new commonrail diesel is much more refined than the old Pumpe Düse unit and the cabin is now a noticeably quieter place. Easy rider The motor is more free-revving too, showing no resistance all the way to its redline at 5400 rpm. This car will also have an eight-speed Multitronic gearbox. The diesel A4 will be sold as a front-wheeldrive only. But there is so much grip on offer you'd really question the need for a Quattro.

Push the car hard into corners and it'll go where you want it to without any fuss. The little under steer present in the older car has now been eliminated. The ride is much improved too. And it's more comfortable than the BMW 3Series. The new A4 feels reassuring on faster highway speeds as well.

The flagship 3.2 V6 Quattro provided a good opportunity to sample how well the A4 will fare as a sporty saloon. The 3.2 Quattro comes with a 40/60 front/rear power bias, which gives it brilliant traction. To say that the 250 bhp 3.2 is quick is like saying icecream is cold.

Shift the car into first, floor the throttle and the power comes in one massive shove. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and pre cise but it doesn't like to be rushed. The last of the A4 engines is the 1.8 turbo petrol, which will not be on sale right now. Its responsiveness improves hugely once past the 2000rpm mark and the motor delivers a strong middle range and plenty of power at the top as well. Bigger, better The old car's cabin scored well on build quality but not on space, especially for rear passengers. The new car excels on both fronts. Thanks to its larger dimensions, there is ample space for four. At 480 litres, its boot is bigger than those of its rivals.

The multi-media interface controls on the A4 are more intuitive to use than BMW's iDrive system. But the dashboard is still cluttered with too many buttons. Overall, the new A4 is definitely an advancement over the car it replaces, across the board. It's bigger, more comfortable and definitely more dynamic.

At Rs 29 lakh for the 2-litre TDi and Rs 36 lakh (both ex-showroom, Mumbai) for the 3.2 Quattro, the new car seems to be decent value too. But is it better than the 3-Series or the C-Class? Only a full comparison will answer that but for now, Audi has made a very strong case for itself with the new A4.