Venice, Italy -- In a world dictated by consumerism, one in which I delve, owning or being seen in the shiniest and newest and most expensive of them all means almost everything to some. Unfortunately, we do not all make millions of dollars so we strive for the gateway car of the manufacturer that builds that most fabulous of cars in our opinions.
Popular you say?
Enter the entry-level luxury car, bar none, the most important player in the carmaker’s portfolio. Here are a few facts: Bestselling Mercedes ever? C-Class (including the 190E -- just under 10.25 million sold). Bestselling BMW? 3 Series (10 millionth just delivered). What about Audi? Ladies and gentlemen, 12 million A4s have been delivered since it first arrived in 1972 as the Audi 80.
Here’s a little food for thought: If these cars were not as popular, we’d probably live in a world without the likes of the Merc-AMG GT, the M6 Gran Coupe and (I can’t bare to think of it) on a planet deprived of the R8. Nooooooo! Thankfully, we love the entry-level stuff. Let’s all give ourselves a hand.
When it comes to redesigning these precious commodities, much care goes into every decision, especially where styling is concerned. A quick glance would mistakenly reveal that Audi was timid when they penned the new car, but if we’re honest, there was little to do to the previous car even though it dated back to 2009. How’s that for nailing it?
The new B9 Audi A4 has grown subtly in elegance and in volume. The 2017 A4 is marginally longer and barely larger, but the end result is a car that sits a little squarer on its wheels and gains all kinds of nods thanks to subtle yet powerful lines that are truly Audi. You can’t really tell, but 90% of the car is new.
The most striking fact about the car is not its new beefy door handles or the insanely cool trendsetting sick LED headlamp designs, no; what’s most impressive is that the new A4 is the most aerodynamic saloon in the world with a 0.23cd or the second lowest of all mass-production cars in the world. This does many good things. One is that it makes the A4 extremely quiet -- comparable to an Audi A8 -- even at speeds above the Italian posted speed limit of 130 km/h.
Taking to the open road with the A4 is a simple joy. A number of would-be sporty luxury cars carry with them a compromise be it in handling, driving dynamics or levels of comfort. The A4 newly imposed weight loss of up to 110 kg (242 lbs) plays an important roll in making the sedan less of a chore to pilot and making it nearly as nimble as the A3.
The available “Drive Select” is the key to transforming the A4 from a mild mannered luxo-cruising sedan to a sharp-handling virtually agitated sports car. Most European roads are lovely so settings can be left in Dynamic, however, in Canada, thanks to “Individual,” the suspension can be left in Comfort, while the remainder (engine, transmission, steering) are in max-fun Dynamic.
A new sport suspension with adaptive dampers is available. They make all the difference in the A4’s potential. A “regular” suspension will still deliver most of the goods thanks to a new 5-link setup that uses lightweight materials.
On the topic of most, to get the most of the drive (dare I say it?) selecting the 7-speed S tronic transmission is the way to go. This ‘box is a no-brainer as it combines efficient driving with the rapid-acting wheel-mounted paddle shifters for some do-it-yourself shifting action. I must note that my tester displayed the unusual trait of bumping into gear when the throttle was released then reapplied, likely caused by a coasting mode as the clutch reengaged.
Gotta love TFSI
The true kicker is the revised 2.0L TFSI engine. For 2017, power outputs rise to 252 horsepower (@5,000-6,000 rpm) and 273 lb-ft of torque. The latter is on tap as early as 1,600 rpm and holds on until 4,500 rpm. There is no hole in the 2.0L’s energy delivery and the newfound boost is good enough to send a Quattro 2.0L TFSI with S tronic to 100 km/h in 5.8 seconds.
The new Audi A4 feels that much faster than the outgoing 220 hp TFSI, besting the 0-100 km/h sprint by over a half second. The 2.0’s new state of tune not only makes the car quicker, but the sound from the dual exhaust pipes is that much sweeter, too. Once the go-pedal goes down, the A4 shoots forward without hesitation. With the S tronic set in Dynamic, passing on the highway at over 130 km/h was good fun; the ‘box instantly drops a few cogs and the revs land in the wide, juicy powerband, and speeds rise accordingly.
In other markets, the A4 will be offered with a choice of up to seven powertrains including four TDIs and three TSIs. Overall, improvements to all of these represent increases in power of up to 25% and fuel economy improvements of up to 21%. They range from a 1.4L TFSI with a 6-speed manual to a 272-horsepower 3.0L TDI V6 with an 8-speed autobox. At the moment, the 2.0L TFSI is the sure bet. A 354-hp S4 is also returning having been launched at the recent Frankfurt Auto Show.
Matching the extra power are potent brakes and sharp steering. The left pedal is easy to modulate and the clampers chomp progressively and strongly on the discs. The glorious concave steering wheel is directly linked to the front wheels, but suffers from well-known numbness where feel is concerned.
Larger and classier
From said wheel, the occupants are now treated to not only a roomier cabin, but also one that is evermore luxurious. Audi is renown for its tasteful interiors and class-leading fit and finish. The new B9 A4 takes it one step further with various gorgeous wood inserts, alcantara/suede accents and leather as far as the eye can see. The extra room is notable for heads and legs in the rear -- a 6-foot tall human will now be comfortable on the rear bench. The trunk has also grown to 480 litres: in others words, it’s big.
Speaking of comfort, the seats cajole sweetly and it gets better when the Sport seats are selected as they bring extra support to the occupant. The dashboard’s layout is simple with two horizontal lines of controls, a screen niched on the top of the centre-stack and no gimmicks. The centre console features a revised shifter and necessary switchgear for the HMI.
Loads of technology
There’s literally a ton of technology in this car, be it in infotainment or driver assistance systems. To name a few, the A4 can be equipped with Adaptive Cruise Control (steering, braking and acceleration are controlled by the car), attention assist, 360-degree cameras, and much more. On the inside, you’ll find one of my favourite Audi things: the 12.3” Audi virtual cockpit (I first made its acquaintance in the new TT), the Audi phone box with inductive charging -- which does not work with iPhone, sadly -- and new Audi tablets for rear occupants. These removable Android operating system tablets feature crash-proof glass and function like any other household tablets.
The new A4 is all that
Audi’s done a brilliant thing: they’ve not reinvented the A4; they made it better in almost every conceivable way. It’s better on gas, more powerful, roomier, quieter, with more elegance and a flair that covers every desire of the discerning buyer in this hotly contested segment. Bravo.
The 2017 Audi A4 will arrive next spring and will be available in trims similar to those of the current A4, in Line concepts with the all-important S-Line exterior design package as an option. European markets will get an Avant and a sedan at the same time (a first), while we’ll be happy with only a 4-door.