If they are honest, automotive scribes will concede that filling a page with original thought can be a challenge. That is because modern cars are much of a muchness, thanks to scalable platforms and shared powertrains. Not to toot our own trumpets, but the team involved with this title truly strive to offer something different in these reports on the shiniest new cars in South Africa — a unique perspective, a more carefully considered assessment. So before we apply the same practice to the latest-generation Audi A4, let us weigh in on some of the viewpoints you may see elsewhere. Scribes will opine that the newcomer does not look different enough. Fans of BMW will say that the A4 is no 3 Series. They will say that it is no Mercedes-Benz C-Class either. And on the latter accounts, they are right. Because, honestly, the Audi feels substantially better than its compatriots from Bavaria and Stuttgart.
In these times of downscaling, it is reassuring to see good old-fashioned over-engineering. You will not find shock elements in the A4. There are no chintzy bits to inveigle buyers. Instead, you get virtues that remind you of the stuff Mercedes-Benz used to make before bean counters had the final say. The interior is a good place to start, as this has always been an Audi strong suit. No corners were cut, with high-grade materials throughout. Even panels you will rarely make contact with are of impressive quality. Every item of switchgear operates with a satisfying metallic click. Everything fits perfectly flush, with incredibly precise, uniform gaps between buttons on the fascia. Oh yes, this was a car built to last much longer than the average lease term.
How about those looks? It adheres to the typical Audi template, with conservative aesthetics incorporating sharper pleats than a Sunday-best shirt. As you know, there are benefits to this orthodox approach. When the tweaked model is launched in a few years, residual values of the current car will not be hit too badly. And it will still look germane in a decade. A good piece of design is one that stands strong against the vagaries of time. And you can say the same for the oily stuff beneath the skin. Underpinning the A4 is Volkswagen group’s MLB platform. This is the same foundation for the Q7 — and even the Bentley Bentayga. With this in mind, you are expecting it to be nothing short of exceptional. And you would be right. Here is the simple conclusion I came away with: this car was engineered for South African roads. While some peers might feel only at home on the smooth road surfaces of Europe, the Audi excels in every condition — be it on the uneven sections of provincial back- waters or the pristine freeways of the Western Cape.
The A4 does not claim to be the dynamic leader of the pack. So it is simply not as engaging as something like a Lexus IS or Jaguar XE. But in the refinement column, the tally is higher. This is not to say that it falls terribly short in athleticism. It just goes about the task of covering zig-zagging layouts in a different manner. Whereas the Jaguar is plugged-in, communicative and eager to tickle your senses, the Audi is markedly detached. It dispatched a dash through the mountainous bits in George at a fair lick. Yet it felt no more frantic than sitting in your kitchen, drinking tea and watching the Isidingo omnibus. For now, there are two engine choices for the A4. The biggest surprise came in the form of the 1.4 T FSI, with a purported output of 110kW and 250Nm. Take these numbers with a pinch of Aromat, because, as you know, the Audi folks are a tad modest when it comes to their figures. Anyway, it feels much quicker than you would think. And the power of this unit is spread evenly throughout — it is incredibly lively and would knock the breeches off an equivalent 318i or C180.
If you forwent the 2.0 T FSI (140kW and 320Nm), we doubt you would even miss the extra grunt. A meaner, all-wheel drive 2.0 T FSI is coming next month, while the TDI will join it towards the end of the year. Expect the S4 in 2017 and the RS4 in 2018. Buyers can still have a six-speed manual transmission, but only with the entry-level 1.4 T FSI. Everything else is equipped with the velvety S-tronic transmission, which has no flaws to speak of. Standard equipment is reasonable too. Grab a base model and you get xenon headlamps, keyless go, a multifunction steering wheel, the MMI system with Bluetooth, leather upholstery, cruise control and rain-sensing wipers. And it has two USB ports — remarkable, considering that Audi used to charge extra for this. But the carmaker still has not lost the art of extorting money. For example, you’ll fork out more for the virtual cockpit digital instrument panel, which is tied in with another pricey option — navigation.
In a similar vein to its competitors, Audi offers three model grades with the A4: Standard, Sport and Design. Standard is exactly what it says, while Sport and Design are differentiated by a host of smarter aesthetic bits. Prices start at R441 000 for the 1.4 T FSI Standard. Chip in another R18000 if you want the S-tronic gearbox. This transmission is included on all models after this. The same model in Design guise goes for R488 000, while the Sport costs R492 000. The 2.0 T FSI begins at R496 000 — add R17 000 for the Design kit or R21 000 for the Sport trimmings. For a limited time, certain Audi dealerships will offer two direct German rivals alongside the A4 for prospective buyers to sample. This is a bold move, but one that could help seal many deals because this is undoubtedly the new segment leader in terms of refinement and quality.