I was able to test both the six-speed manual version and the seven-speed automatic (S tronic). Later I'll get my hands on more interesting versions, although less commercial. In fact, the Audi A4 is one of the few sedans in its segment that opt for V6 engines, and always talking about the Premium, because the generalists no longer pass the four-cylinder, except the Insignia OPC.
Reading the A4 press kit is tedious because of the amount of changes that the B9 generation accumulates with respect to the previous one, 37 pages. They're not drowning in unproductive literature, it's just that the car has really changed a lot. On the outside, we may see it too much continuity and "equal" to the A3, A6 or Audi that is. One of the hallmarks of the house is that their designs are easily identifiable, and between range and range, the changes are minimal. If you don't like it, you know, there are more fish in the sea.
This is the third generation of the A4 I've tested, since I knew the B7 generation in depth, and also the B8. And the change is undeniable and indisputable, it's a better car than ever. It's one of those cars that you drive it for a while and think "it's so good, it's disgusting". In fact, I've hardly found any aspects to criticise in about two hours of driving. I even had to stray several miles off the "official" route to spend more time with it. I'm looking forward to a longer test, but I'll give you my first impressions.
I'm a very analytical driver, I love to have a lot of information at sight, with this car I'm not disappointed at all. All press units had the new 100% digital instrumentation (Virtual Cockpit), although it still has the two analog dials in the basic versions and reduced digital display. Friends, this is the future, although it is nothing new. Land Rover or Mercedes-Benz have been offering this for years. In the D-segment it's not such a recent development, mind you.
It's no longer just the information presented in an impeccable and intuitive way - keep in mind that I'm a digital native and I've been using computers since the 8-bit era - but the handling. The screens are not touch screens, they are controlled by the steering wheel controls and the MMI console. By the way, in manuals the console is behind the lever, in automatics in front. With enough time to adapt, the driver can feel technologically fully integrated into the car, almost like Neo when they stuck the plug in the back of his head to get into the Matrix.
The base versions have 7″ screens with lower resolution, but in both cars I tested the "black leg" system, the MMI Navigation Plus with 4G internet connection and 8.3″ screen. If we want to have the new dashboard, the Virtual Cockpit, it's a must-have. With this system, the top of the MMI's circular knob doubles as a laptop touchpad: it recognizes gestures and handwriting. It's like a digital erogenous zone, if you'll pardon the simile.
To give you an idea of how technological the new A4 is, it can have up to 90 control units. As a computer engineer by training, I'm fascinated by how they've had to solve the technical problem of agile communication between so many processors, but the probability of failure also makes my hair stand on end. Don't worry, I'm not going to put in a lot of statistical formulas, which also give me a headache.
So much technology has its useful side. We can consult the navigation maps even via satellite - in the most expensive version - via Google Earth, search the Internet more efficiently than a human co-driver would do for us, or anticipate road conditions before we reach specific areas. The latter is done so that the efficiency assistant can teach us how to reduce consumption, like having an expert in efficient driving acting as a co-driver in a rally.
And if we go into more practical aspects, the car is armed to the teeth with active safety systems, which are at their most effective with radar sensors. Fully equipped, it is capable of driving semi-autonomously in a traffic jam (one of the main frustrations of every driver), avoiding accidents up to 40 km/h or greatly reducing their consequences, correcting the trajectory of the steering wheel before leaving the lane or maintaining a safe distance in traffic. The future is coming at full speed, but don't worry, all of this is still optional.
You're probably wondering how the car is doing, and I'll leave the technology stuff out of it. It's fine. As I said before, I've tested the 2.0 TDI 150bhp engine, manual and automatic, both with front-wheel drive. Right now it's the access engine, waiting for a 2.0 TDI capped at 122 hp. This and all "tankers" of the A4 range work with selective catalytic reduction, store 12 to 24 liters of urea to purify the exhaust and reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides that have given so much fame - negative - the VAG Group.
With manual gearbox it gets 3.8 l/100 km of diesel, a figure practically impossible to achieve in normal driving.
I've driven many A4s with four-cylinder diesel engines, all of them two-litre, and this is by far the best performing, best insulated and most smoothly delivers its power. Obviously the 3.0 V6 TDIs are more rounded for logical reasons, but you can forget that you're driving a diesel. Compared to the first 2.0 TDI with pump injectors (even those with piezo injectors) of the B7 generation, the change is brutal. You can also notice the difference with the B8, already with common-rail injection, and that were very refined engines.
With the manual gearbox, it's a real pleasure to drive. For a mechanical and obsolete system - the way things are - the driving pleasure is there, even in sporty driving. The S tronic automatic transmission has seven speeds, it's a robotised dual clutch system. It still lacks the smoothness of the torque converter in specific situations at low speed or maneuvering, but on the road it is one of the best systems on the market. For the more powerful 3.0 V6 TDI we still rely on a torque converter (Multitronic), because the engine has too much maximum torque for the S tronic gearbox.
With the S tronic gearbox it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.7 seconds and has a top speed of 219 km/h (219 mph).
The manual version was 5.4 l/100 km, including a very "fun" climb up a well-known mountain pass, and the automatic was 5.5 l/100 km. For the more efficiency-conscious driver, the automatic will spend a little less, especially in the most efficient program: between 60 and 160 km/h it will automatically shift into neutral if it saves fuel, but without losing any safety.
The suspension of the new A4 has been profoundly changed, now using a more Mercedes configuration, with aluminum multiple arms, but with greater rigidity and control. The A4 has a reputation for understeer, but this generation will surely lose that reputation. Right now I can't think of any car in its class with front-wheel drive that can go so fast and so confidently, even looking for the limits of tyre grip. The damn car rides on rails, and that's considering the 3 Series, IS, Q50, C-Class or XE are "better made" (rear-wheel drive).
Of the four possible suspension types, I've driven with the adaptive one, where you can clearly tell when you're driving in the most comfortable mode and when you're in the sportiest. The feeling is neutral, it never feels uncomfortable, and it never feels too soft, it's somewhere in between. At cruising speed on the highway it isolates a lot, and in sporty driving it transmits what it has to transmit, although there are competitors that tell the driver more about what is happening.
There is one thing the A4 is particularly good at, and that is the quality of the soundproofing. You can optionally get double-layer side windows, and I'm afraid the test units had them. The engine can become imperceptible, in fact, in seventh automatic, at about 120 km/h the engine goes below 2,000 RPM, like the huge American V8s. And the quality of insulation is well above what you'd expect in the D-segment, more like the E or even F-segment. Few cars are quieter than the Lexus IS 300h, for example.
The car is not only well insulated, but aerodynamically speaking it is masterfully resolved, and that also has an influence. One step further are the Ultra versions, which are optimized in fairings, gear ratios, lowered suspension and low rolling resistance tires. Officially it promises less than 4 l/100 km, although it is still very optimistic, the difference is noticeable for the biggest mileage joggers, and in this segment there are many people who meet that premise.
There are many things about the car that I have not been able to evaluate, such as the efficiency of the headlights. They are xenon as standard, with optional LED or LED matrix headlights. I returned the second test unit at the stroke of dusk, before anyone in the communications department got nervous. I'll check it out in a more thorough test, when possible. I was also unable to test all the new safety systems as the test units lacked radar.
Before concluding this review, I would like to say that I loved the driving position, the seat is very low, almost like a coupe. If you want to go higher, go for the Audi Q5. This is, in my opinion, how a sedan should be, a delight to drive and with an efficient profile. In fact, sedans have better aerodynamic penetration than compacts, even if it seems counterintuitive. This car has grown, but it weighs no more than its predecessor, with each generation Audi sharpens the shot with the most advanced construction techniques and the use of materials such as aluminum and magnesium in strategic parts.
It is a small luxury car. Having longitudinal engines does not have the best trunk of the segment, but it ties in capacity with its premium rivals, also with longitudinal engines. It's built like a big car. The rear seats are very comfortable for two adults up to 1.85 meters tall, for a third passenger not so much. This is the norm for this segment. In the rear seats you can have a third zone of air conditioning and two tablets signed by Audi, at a rate of 1,000 euros each. After seeing them work, I think they're worth the money.
The integration with the latest generation of mobile phones I could not check either, because my device is very simple and is not compatible with the functions of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. But if you can afford a car costing more than 30,000 euros, you might as well have a phone that goes perfectly with your car. And I'm talking about a very useful pairing, one that simplifies life and increases driving safety. Knowing this car from A to Z has more content than several university courses, I can attest.
In short, I could hardly find fault with the car, I was spellbound. I can't even reproach the lack of spare wheel because it's standard equipment, although the tested units had the optional puncture repair kit. Doesn't it spend so little? 5.5 l/100 km for a saloon of this size is very good. Too much information? It's optional. Too difficult to use? Easy, equip it less and everyone's happy.
If we're sticking to a more passionate choice, the Giulia, 3 Series or XE might be more appealing. But if we are looking for an intermediate approach between passion and reason, as is often the case in Audi, probably right with the A4. Prices start at 33,000 euros and there are different "equipment lines" to please everyone. It's the same as they do the generalists, but with more disguise. The list of options, to meditate quietly with a good coffee. That's the thing about the top of the range.
And that's all for now... if I go on talking about the car, it'll be night time.