Ryan Bubear reports back from the national launch of the new Audi A4, where he samples the 1.4T FSI Sport and 2.0T FSI Design...
Here's a question for you: what sort of roads does your daily commute comprise?
Snaking sections of billiard-table-smooth, desolate tarmac? Or bolt-straight, pockmarked highways routinely crammed full of motorists as frustrated as you?
We're guessing your answer falls closer to the latter than the former. If we're wrong, consider yourself one of the lucky few. And enjoy the drive.
What does all of this have to do with the new Audi A4? Well, the latest version of Ingolstadt's compact executive sedan feels as though it was developed to deal with real-world commutes first and slice open challenging mountain passes later.
That's not to say the latest A4 can't go around corners. Indeed, the national launch took place on the stunning roads around George in the Western Cape, where the all-new B9-generation A4 felt utterly composed.
It's just that this new saloon — with its front-wheel drive platform — will never be quite as exciting to pilot in anger as, say, the rear-wheel drive BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE, even with the brand's all-wheel drive system no doubt lending the 2.0T FSI quattro range-topper (due to arrive in SA later this year) oodles of grip.
Instead, its focus falls squarely on comfort, ease-of-use, and refinement — three things that render face-numbingly boring commutes far easier to swallow.
As has become the Audi way, the new A4 looks rather like the old one. Yes, the styling changes to an already conservative design are subtle, with the majority of the development cheques having been cashed in places you can't see. Indeed, Audi says that some 90 percent of the A4's parts are new.
The fifth-generation Audi A4 runs on the Volkswagen Group's versatile MLB Evo platform, which also underpins the latest Q7 (and a host of upcoming products). This has allowed the German brand to make its best-seller both longer and wider, while also slightly lengthening the wheelbase. But, despite this increase in overall size, the new model is substantially lighter (up to 120kg, in fact).
Of course, these new dimensions translate into a more spacious cabin, with the rear bench proving particularly roomy (perhaps marginally more so than its key competitors, in fact). The luggage compartment, meanwhile, measures in at 480 litres, which puts the Audi on par with the two other members of the segment's Teutonic Trio.
At launch, there are two front-wheel drive turbo-petrol powertrains on offer: a 1.4-litre and a 2.0-litre. The aforementioned 185kW/370Nm 2.0T FSI quattro and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel option are scheduled to arrive later in 2016, with the S4 expected to follow in 2017 and the RS 4 eventually in 2018 (as it stands, the Avant body-style won't be available locally).
We first spent some time with the rather refined 1984cc petrol variant, which is worth some 140kW and 320Nm, the latter on tap from just 1450rpm all the way through to 4200rpm. This thick slice of meaty torque lends the forced induction mill tasty levels of responsiveness, something further enhanced by the slick seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (the multitronic CVT has thankfully been kicked to the kerb).
Toggle to "Dynamic" mode using the Audi drive select (standard on 2.0T FSI models), and the A4 will sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds. Claimed combined fuel economy, meanwhile, comes in at 5.4 litres per 100km for this model.
We then moved on to the 1395cc turbocharged engine, mated to the same seven-speed S tronic transmission (a manual gearbox is also available on this variant, but most buyers will go for the self-shifter — and rightly so). This four-cylinder powerplant effectively replaces the outgoing range's 1.8-litre as the base mill, and does a fine job of it, too.
In fact, with peak outputs of 110kW and 250Nm (from 1500rpm to 3500rpm), the 1.4T FSI feels positively sprightly, dashing to three figures in 8.5 seconds and sipping at a claimed 4.9 litres per 100km. Despite lagging behind its stablemate in terms of displacement, this whisper-quiet yet punchy engine — which is shared with the 1.4TSI Highline versions of the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf, as well as the entry-level Passat — may just be the one to have.
The new Audi A4 runs on "redeveloped" five-link axle suspension, and the result is a ride comfort that's tough to beat in the segment — provided you select the right setup, that is. The 1.4T FSI we drove was fitted with the Sport package, which includes sports suspension among other things. While this ride was a little firm (even more so thanks to the optional 18-inch alloys), it was nonetheless fairly comfortable.
But the 2.0T FSI we tested (with the Design pack fitted) employed the standard suspension and the same optional 18s, and the difference was palpable. This setup soaked up everything the launch route's varied road surfaces could throw at it, proving both plush and hushed. It certainly suits the A4's new character the better of the two, and would perhaps even convince us to steer clear of the Sport package.
Of course, a forgiving ride often goes hand-in-hand with high levels of refinement, and the A4 certainly doesn't disappoint here. Very little noise from the already unobtrusive engine line-up finds its way into the well-insulated cabin, and there's barely any wind-noise to speak of either (the fact that Audi has cleverly repositioned the side-mirrors and slashed the vehicle's drag coefficient to 0.23 certainly helps).
Unfortunately, however, the vehicles used on the launch exhibited considerable tyre roar, something perhaps underscored by the otherwise super-quiet driving experience.
We've come to expect masterfully laid-out cabins from Audi, and the new A4 interior is no different. It may not feel quite as special inside as, say, a Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but it's so slick, so cleverly arranged that it could just be best in class.
Of course, fit-and-finish is impeccable and the quality of materials used pleasingly high (although the passenger-side front electric window on one of our test models was frustratingly temperamental). Interestingly, the 8.3-inch centre screen is fixed in place (most new Audis swallow their monitors into the dash when the ignition is switched off), and the MMI controller is positioned ahead of the chunky new gear-lever (which doubles as a hand-rest).
There are also all manner of tempting toys available, the best of which are naturally optional (the list of pay-for extras is frankly frightening in length). The brand's fantastic virtual cockpit, for instance, can be had for around R7000, although sadly this can only be specified in conjunction with the R25k MMI Navigation Plus.
Other tasty but expensive extras we experienced include the head-up display (R13 650), the Bang and Olufsen sound system (R12 000), and Matrix LED headlights (R27 850).
The initial seven-model local range is priced from R441 000 to R517 000 — before any of these or countless other options boxes have been ticked — putting it firmly in line with its rivals. Each of the engines can be mated to either standard, Design, or Sport trim.
The upcoming A4 2.0T FSI quattro, meanwhile, will come in at R616 000, with the diesel models expected to start at around R517 000.
So, the fifth Audi to wear the A4 badge is defined by a new level of refinement and comfort, with its exceptionally quiet and downright classy cabin proving the standout feature. Where the latest rear-wheel drive compact executives sometimes feel dynamically focused above all, the new A4 — with its understated styling — is softer and more comfortable, yet still perfectly happy to hit the bends should you require.
It may not be quite as thrilling to hustle along as some of its rear-drive competitors — capable and composed as it may be — but the new Audi A4 excels in other areas that are arguably far more important to the typical buyer.
And that means the A4 will simply gobble up your torturous commute. Whether it has corners or not.
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See page two for specs and pricing.