First Drive: 2016 Audi A4

First Drive: 2016 Audi A4
 

No, your eyes are certainly not deceiving you. What you are looking at here is the ninth generation Audi A4 that was launched recently in Venice, Italy and which will find its way to our shores in January 2016.

To be frank, the Motor News team was a little underwhelmed when the first pictures of the model were revealed, as it seemed the designers played it rather too safe with the new car, as it has an uncanny resemblance to the current model. However, having seen it in the metal and driven it, it has definitely moved the game on compared to the current generation which, to be honest, was a fairly accomplished vehicle if a tad demure in its overall design. Much like the 3 Series is to BMW and the C-Class to Mercedes-Benz, the A4 remains an important cog in Audi’s sales machine and accounts for about33% of overall sales volume for the company locally.

Although familiar in design, according to Josef Schlossmacher, spokesperson for the A3, A4 and A5 models, the brief was that the vehicle need not stray away from the outgoing model as it should continue to appeal to a variety of markets, while aiding towards protecting residual values of the outgoing version. So I will try to steer clear of the design and rather concentrate on the strides taken to make the model that much better a proposition than its predecessor. It is under the skin where the new A4’s mettle shines. It has shed 110kg over its predecessor, which is a significant figure and translates into a vehicle that is more agile and fuel efficient, the latter said to be up to 21% better.

In addition, the model is said to be one of the most aerodynamic in the segment with a drag coefficient of only 0, 23. The interior elevates the vehicle to new heights thanks to a new layout similar to that of the second generation Q7 that will launch in SA later this month. This sees the digital instrument cluster, dubbed the Virtual Cockpit, being available as an option, while the infotainment screen is a fixed unit atop the dashboard and comes with many functions, including a Google map enabled navigation system.

This is controlled via a rotary switch with predictive finger gesture technology, while the climate control switches are legible, uncluttered and easy to use. In fact just about the entire layout has been designed for clean, easy functionality while remaining elegant and premium in its architecture. Space is relatively good both front and rear, with the former having 24mm more headroom while the latter has swelled by 25mm in legroom compared to its predecessor.

Boot space is a generous 480l, while storage facilities are peppered about the cabin, including the centre binnacle that is home to something called the Audi phone box, which features an inductive charging station — compatible with the latest Samsung S6 smartphone currently. While there are more powerful six-cylinder engines available for other markets, SA will receive four four-cylinder engines including the 1.4l turbo petrol unit already doing duty in the Q3 and good for 110kW and 250Nm and available in either manual or dual clutch automatic transmission.

A rung higher up the ladder is a 2.0l turbocharged petrol engine pushing out 140kW and 320Nm and allied to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. Diesel variants will come in the form of a 2.0l TDI available in two states of tune: a 110kW and 320Nm and a 140kW and 400Nm, both mated to a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Driving the vehicle on both highway and winding Italian roads, I was particularly impressed with the levels of refinement, which seem that much higher than in its German compatriots of the C-Class and 3 Series.

Handling is neutral for the most part, which I guess is what most A4 owners will enjoy. Personally, it was the TDI model I drove on the launch that impressed with its fuel economy — we averaged 5.9l/100km (4.8l/100km claimed) during the launch drive — and punchy, power delivery. While the engine sounds distinctly diesel, the clatter was kept in check, particularly in the cabin. Comfort levels are more A6 than A4, largely due to the adaptive springs fitted to our launch cars, but the overall impression is that the engineers wanted the vehicle to feel that much more substantial than its competitors and they have nailed the brief here.

While trim levels and pricing for our market are yet to be confirmed, we can expect the model to be offered with both design and sport lines similar to that adopted in the Q3. Sadly, the Avant variant, which will launch internationally next month, is not confirmed, although an Audi SA spokesperson did allude to the possibility of the all-road model finding its way here. Those looking for a more powerful six-cylinder version of the A4 sedan will have to wait for the S4, which will come later. Subtle styling aside, the new Audi A4 brings exemplary levels of refinement to the segment.

*This article first appeared on Business Day Motor News

-Lerato Matebese