Ryan Bubear drives the Audi A4 3.0T FSI S tronic quattro...
Use the scroll arrows to view the images
Some vehicle manufacturers choose to stun the public with daring new designs, risking the possibility of soggy egg ending up all over their automotive faces in the quest to be different. Others opt instead to perform almost imperceptible visual tweaks to current models, taking something that works well and making it work even better.
Audi falls into the latter category. In fact, Audi is the supreme leader of this group of carmakers. And the new A4 is yet more proof of this fact.
Your typical man in the street would struggle to point out the visual distinctions between this new model and its admittedly similar predecessor. Yet, drive the latest A4 down the road and it will turn heads in a way the older model just doesn't. Yes, Audi has again done just enough cosmetically to breathe new life into its best-seller.
Still a looker
So, while it may not look all that different from its forerunner (indeed, the dimensions change by mere millimetres), it still comes across as bang-up-to-date, and is in fact a strikingly handsome vehicle in an uncluttered sort of way. In case you have yet to spot them, here are some of the minor visual updates...
The bonnet benefits from a more prominent "arch", the headlight design has been altered somewhat, and the grille has changed ever-so-slightly too. This brings the A4's face in line with the rest of the Audi family. Round the back, new tail-lights do duty, and the bumper/diffuser combination has been redesigned too. And all models now feature sporty twin-exit exhaust pipes.
Of course, the adjustments to the new A4 are not merely cosmetic. There is a whole new series of engines on offer too, ranging from the entry-level 1.8 T FSI (88kW and 230Nm) to the seriously quick three-litre S4. A 125kW 1.8-litre, 155kW 2.0-litre, and 3.0-litre V6 petrol are also available. And diesel devotees will be salivating at the thought of the 2.0 TDI and the particularly brilliant six-cylinder 3.0 TDI.
Plenty of power
We had the 3.0T FSI quattro S tronic on test. This petrol powerplant churns out a reassuringly round 200kW and 400Nm in as serene a way as can be expected from a supercharged V6, hitting three figures in a mere 5.4 seconds before topping out at a limited 250km/h. For the record, that's just 0.4 seconds slower than the hot S4, which makes 45kW and 40Nm more.
Plonk your right foot down, and the forward thrust is relentless, but not in a frightening way. The seven-speed direct-shift S tronic transmission does a great job of holding onto the revs when you're driving with spirit, or quietly flicking up through the gears when you're merely gliding along. There's very little fuss no matter how you choose to drive, and the V6 soundtrack is rather muted. Sophisticated, undemanding speed... this engine has it in spades.
Audi claims a combined fuel economy figure of 8.1 litres per 100km, but we didn't manage to come even vaguely close. In all fairness, the A4's trips were all pretty much in either bumper-to-bumper traffic or on impossible-to-resist open roads... so we ended up on 12.7. Gulp. Stop-start comes standard on all models, which helps a bit around town, but let's face it — you don't buy a supercharged V6 for its frugality with fuel...
The electromechanical power steering is perfect at normal pace, and Audi has obviously put a lot of work into getting it to stiffen up at higher speeds. And stiffen up it most certainly does. It becomes quite heavy as the speedometer needle whirls into licence-losing territory, but in the process feels ever-so-slightly artificially weighty in the bends. The ride is taunt yet compliant enough for comfortable everyday use, and thanks to the quattro system and sports suspension, heart-in-mouth moments are few and far between, even in the wet.
Our test vehicle sported a few notable extras. Tasty 19-inch five-spoke alloys (R10 200), Xenon Plus headlights (R10 860), MMI 3G sat-nav (R22 200), Bluetooth online carphone (R6100), and the S-line sports package (R4900) bumped up the price by a smidgen over R54k. Not an insignificant amount of money.
The A4's interior is everything you'd expect from an Audi. The materials used whisper "refinement" and "elegance", and all controls fall easily to hand. The MMI Navigation Plus (hard-drive, colour monitor, 3D graphics and DVD player) now features four instead of eight buttons, making an already intuitive system even simpler to use. The optional Bluetooth online carphone combines with the MMI to facilitate special services in the car, such as voice-controlled Google searches for points of interest and navigation with Google Earth images, as well as Google Street View. Rather niftily, a WLAN hotspot allows mobile devices to connect and surf too.
The Alcantara/leather front sports seats are fantastically supportive and really hug the figure. The electric adjustment function (including lumbar support) provides for a seemingly infinite number of combinations, and ironically this makes it tough to find the perfect position. The luggage compartment remains capable of swallowing 480 litres, or 962 with the back seats folded down.
Unfortunately, the A4 comes standard with precisely zero parking aids (unless you count the mirrors, that is). Of course, there are a few boxes you could tick on the optional extras list to solve this problem, but the full park distance control (sensors front and rear, and reversing camera) will set you back a further R11 900. Ouch. Spend too much time with this enticing list, and you will end up forking over a considerable amount for a sorted A4 (think R10 000 sunroof, R14 090 adaptive damping, R4100 heated seats, etc.)
The A4 is still Audi's best seller, but it faces stiff competition in the form of the acclaimed new BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and even the value-for-money, never-mind-the-extras-they're-all-included Lexus IS.
Audi's cautious design policy, legendary build-quality, and strong range of engines mean the A4 is unlikely to lose any fans.
But the question remains: will it make any new ones? Drive one to find out...
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter to see what he's currently driving.
See page 2 for specs and pricing.