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New Audi A4 review, test drive

It’s hard to tell the new A4 apart from the old one and so we took the help of the 38-page Audi press kit to spot the changes. The most obvious difference is the headlamps, which now sport a continuous band of LED daytime running lights, which look pretty good.

autos Updated: Jan 14, 2013 13:26 IST

Mid-life facelift brings with it a whole lot of subtle improvements.

It’s hard to tell the new A4 apart from the old one and so we took the help of the 38-page Audi press kit to spot the changes. The most obvious difference is the headlamps, which now sport a continuous band of LED daytime running lights, which look pretty good. But, the tail-lamps and the new rear bumper are so lightly tweaked that they could slip under your radar.

The car’s lines are cleaner and more elegant, and points out that the grille is now hexagonal and the fog lamps rectangular. There is some truth in all this because after staring at it for a few days, admittedly, the new A4 does look fresher and from some angles and there’s a bit of A6 in it too.

Being a mid-life update, Audi has understandably not splurged on completely changing the A4’s interiors. Instead, the cabin quality and design have been subtly improved. The gear lever is new, as is the steering wheel, which is similar to the one in the Q3, and the MMI system gets an interface like the one in the A6. It’s easy to overlook some of the minor upgrades, but as a whole they lift the feel of the cabin substantially. In fact, the A4’s cabin quality is now simply the best in its class.

Engine & Gearbox

The new A4 comes with three engine options, the potent 3.0-litre V6 diesel, the staple 2.0-litre diesel, and the base 1.8-litre petrol, which we have tested here. This direct-injection, turbocharged motor was also present in the old car, but has now been significantly revised. With the upgraded engine comes better performance, driveability and emissions. The key changes lie in the cylinder head – it’s now got two injectors per cylinder, one for direct and the other for indirect injection. The direct-injectors work at startup and with big throttle inputs, while the port injectors work under periods of low loads and speeds, and this helps improve particulate emissions and fuel efficiency.

The improved driveability is thanks to an electronically controlled turbocharger wastegate that responds faster and quickens the engine’s response to throttle inputs. This engine now makes 168bhp (10bhp up from the old engine) and a healthy 32.6kgm of torque all the way from 1400rpm to 3700rpm.

The transmission is not the expensive twin-clutch gearbox that’s almost de-rigueur on Audis these days. What it does have, though, is an eight-step continuously variable transmission that sends power to the front wheels – a combination that works in unexpectedly entertaining ways.

Performance

Slip into the Audi’s seats, push the key into the slot and you’ll be shocked at how smooth and unbelievably quiet this four-cylinder engine is. There is some initial lag when you feed in the throttle, but when the engine crosses 2,000rpm there is a spike of power that sends the front tyres chirping. Controlling this surge of power in start-stop traffic requires effort, and this uneven power delivery is the only issue we had with this engine. Once past the initial hesitation, the engine pulls strongly, cleanly and smoothly right upto its 5900rpm redline.

Performance is aided by a CVT that thinks it’s a regular torque converter. It swaps its preset ‘steps’ like a gearbox with proper gear-ratios, the rubberband effect – the bane of regular CVTs – is minimal, and the transmission feels direct and responsive. It’s even fun to use in manual mode where it actually responds to requests for downshifts like a regular gearbox. The only time the CVT’s annoying rubberband effect does come into play is when you hit the kick-down switch. The revs shoot up to a constant 5000rpm and the car then catches up with it.

Performance feels satisfying rather than ballistic, and the 0-100kph time of 9.5sec is quick enough to see off most of its competition with comparable engines. Where the A4 feels best though, is on the highway because, once at cruising speed, it will happily stay there all day long, the engine’s supreme refinement adding to its long-legged nature.

Ride & Handling

This base A4 doesn’t get Audi’s Drive Select system, which means it has regular, non-adjustable dampers. This, for most purposes, is a good thing as this car rides really well. At low and medium speeds, it isolates you from the road brilliantly, the suspension absorbing imperfections and sharp bumps with equal aplomb. Up the speed and there is some float and some pitching over long undulations, but never to the point of being uncomfortable. We did wish the brakes, though strong enough, had a bit more pedal feel.

Around town, the new A4’s electrically-assisted steering feels extremely light making it easy to park and manoeuvre. But like most in most Audis the steering has inert feel to it and isn’t particularly entertaining. It weighs up the faster you go and at highway speeds, there’s enough communication from the road filtering through to be keep you reassured. There’s tremendous grip from the 225/50 R17 tyres and the electronic differential lock that unobtrusively applies the brakes on the wheel that’s slipping, tightens your line and quells the understeer to give you a fair amount of entertainment through corners.

You don’t really notice at first, but the door mirrors are smaller than before. They don’t really compromise visibility but their smaller size reduces wind noise and more importantly, drag. In fact, this, along with the flat underbody help the A4 return 12.5kpl on the highway and a not too bad 8.5kpl in the city.

Verdict

The subtle tweaks to the A4 have unquestionably improved it over the old car. Though not immediately apparent, it looks fresher, the interiors are plusher and the 1.8-litre turbo-petrol motor is silky smooth. Sure, it may not be the most entertaining or engaging car to drive and the rear seats may lack a bit of thigh support, but it rides well and is a lot more spacious than the competition. It makes a good case for itself as a chauffeur-driven car and a decent proposition as a self-driven one too. But the clincher is the value proposition the new A4 comes with. Priced at Rs 27.85 lakh, this 1.8T is now Rs 60,000-70,000 cheaper than the outgoing model and, if you factor in the rise in the Euro, the value is even greater. It’s hard to understand how Audi has managed to price the new A4 so low, but we’re not complaining.

Technical Specs

What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi) Rs 27.85
Warranty 24months/40,000km

Engine
Fuel Petrol
Installation Front, longitudinal
Type 4cyls 1798cc
Bore/stroke 82.5/84.1mm
Compression ratio 9.6:1
Valve gear 4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Power 168bhp at 3800-6200rpm
Torque 32.63kgm at 1400-3700rpm
Power to weight 114.29bhp per tonne

Transmission
Type Front-wheel drive
Gearbox 8-step CVT automatic

Dimensions
Length 4701mm
Width 1826mm
Height 1427mm
Wheel base 2808mm
Boot volume 480 litres

Chassis & Body
Construction Monocoque, four door saloon
Weight 1470kg
Wheels Alloy
Tyres 225/50R17
Spare Space saver

Suspension
Front Independent, upper and lower wishbones, tubular, anti-roll bar
Rear Independent, trapezodial-link anti-roll bar

Steering
Type Rack and pinion
Type of power assist Electric
Turning circle 11.5m

Brakes
Front Ventilated discs
Rear Solid discs
Anti-lock Yes

Performance
0-20 1.27
0-40 2.42
0-60 4.01
0-80 6.27
0-100 9.36
0-120 13.18
0-140 18.00
0-160 24.75
0-180 30.90
0-200 48.01

Economy
City 8.5kpl
Highway 12.5kpl
Tank size 63-litres