Motors: Audi’s new A4 model to set the standard

In the context of take-no-risks body styling, this is a car that is little short of brilliant

Audi A4
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Year: 2015
Fuel: Diesel

There's a place just outside the city of Freiburg where ailing Germans come for rehabilitation. There is a resort that specialises in it, filled with physiotherapists and medical specialists of every stripe. It's enough to make you wonder if Audi was being a bit cheeky when it invited us to join the new A4's final validation drive, accompanying its senior development engineers and the ubiquitous Prof Ulrich Hackenberg, the firm's chief technical officer.

After all, the new A4 has been pounded mercilessly after official photographs last month made it clear that the car looked similar to the old one. Audi wanted, quickly, to turn the public focus from the outside to the inside before the too-old internet mantra became a wider perception.

Fortunately, Audi has every right to feel confident about what it has done to the A4 once you get inside the take-no-risks body styling. The car is little short of brilliant, addressing every area where Audi had perceived weaknesses to its German premium foes and building on the parts where it was already in front.

Precision and finesse

It no longer feels like a front- wheel-drive car. It no longer has woolly steering that does its best to mask anything from the road. It no longer falls into understeer and gives up just when you’re getting interested. It no longer translates “sporty” into “bounce vertically on bumps”.

It has a family feel with the new Q7, which is good, the same feeling that it combines a comfortable, finessed ride with precision from the helm, though in a lower-riding, slightly snappier way. With the mirrors moving down to the doors (as with the Passat) it’s also whisper quiet. There are five-link suspension setups at both ends, too, which help.

It has always been a standard-setter in interior design, trim quality and feel, which Audi has built on even more with this car, and it’s safer, both in crash and in crash avoidance. It takes the 27 sensor-based safety features of the more expensive Q7 and has them as at least options.

There is an analogue dashboard for the European entry- level models, but most buyers will plump for the digital “virtual cockpit” cluster, which has pretty much everything we’ve seen in the TT and the R8, as well as a multimedia screen for the centre of the dash.

The saloon is also 110kg lighter than the outgoing model despite being stiffer.

There are two diesels that slide easily beneath emissions of 100g/km, all without the complexity of plug-in hybrid technology (which is also coming, eventually), and a pair of V6 turbodiesels. The thriftiest, the 2.0-litre TDI Ultra, gets 3.7 litres/ 100km (76.3mpg).

First up, though, Hackenberg shows us around his new baby. Admitting that he and Audi's sales and marketing boss, Luca de Meo, and design boss, Marc Lichte, had arrived too late to do much to the exterior, he says that they instead focused on getting the most out of what the A4 could carry beneath its skin.

The grille is wide and low, with the bonnet sitting so low that it needs pyrotechnics to lift it up if the car strikes pedestrians. Right now, though, these are pre-preproduction cars, and they’re focusing on getting all the shut lines right and discovering any wear-and-tear issues.

The car begins to look completely new when you get in. It’s bigger than before, but only marginally. There is plenty of space in the driver’s footwell, but the front passenger gets an odd lump coming out of the transmission tunnel. Hackenberg says the seat in right-hand- drive cars will be 15mm farther back, to keep the footrest away from it.

We’re in a V6 turbodiesel first, although you’d struggle to notice it at idle. The start button has been moved on to the centre console, so you can see it properly. Hackenberg ordered the column-mounted indicator and wiper stalks to be lifted up for the same reason.

Steering accuracy

The car’s newly found steering accuracy is evident as soon as you pull away. There’s a welcome weight to it, even in the comfort and auto settings of Audi’s Drive Select system. On corners it offers just enough feedback, then winds off again with an intuitive progression.

It’s even better in sport mode, when it allows in a little more feel from the road, but Hackenberg insists it doesn’t just get heavier for the sake of reminding you that it’s sporty. He hates that.

The understeer that dogged the current version at the outer edges has gone, too. Instead there’s a settled poise that involves all four tyres. Its body control is class-leading, and this A4 rides beautifully.

This car’s not perfect, though. A small vibration runs through the accelerator at about 1,900rpm. Hackenberg takes the power-train boffin aside to show him.

The interior design is a bit special. Everything fits precisely and looks expensive. You wave your fingers at the ventilation controls and the screen brings up each menu. Same with the interior lights. Wave your hands at them and they come on or switch off. The glovebox is small, though, and the door pockets are smaller than before, although they still take a 1.5-litre bottle.

We will wait until the A4’s Frankfurt Motor Show launch to see if all the quirks have been developed out of it, but if you’re looking to replace a midsized premium car, wait until you get a chance to see this on Irish roads. A new benchmark looks like it’s almost ready, and it’s probably worth waiting for.