For a nation responsible for two world wars,the Germans have tamed down a lot. But a fierce battle that has been waging between BMW and Audi since the first Audi 80 TDI diesel has finally drawn its first blood. Is Audi’s new A4 2.0 as big a BMW-buster as the 3-litre?
You see, Audi make good cars these days, but of course BMW drivers always say that the difference is in the driving – the BMW’s a driver’s car, and the difference is in the looks – the BMW looks racier. Well in terms of looks, the new A4’s chief designers have done an excellent job. Wolfgang Egger and Stefan Sielaff have done something understated, yet radical. Outwardly, the new car is still very much an A4, but it seems to have a bit of an edge to it. It’s like your favourite dependable and understated uncle has quietly developed a street fighter’s stance… a little taller, a little wider and all topped off with a hungrier look in his eyes. All in all, women now want him, and blokes want to be him… Willkommen to the New Audi A4. It’s really difficult to put your finger on it, but the exterior styling has just become a little hungrier too, which is strange when you consider that the car has just got a bit fatter. The car is 56mm wider, has lengthened by 118mm and, more importantly for passengers (and for BMW designer, Mr Bangle), the front and rear wheels are now 168mm further apart. This improves the ride and further widens the winning gulf of rear leg room that the A4 still enjoys over the rear passengers in a BMW 3 Series. Yet the A4 still looks sporty, which may be due to the whole car being 4mm lower. All of this is not immediately apparent when you first see the new car in the flesh, and yet you’re suddenly more interested. It’s still an A4 and just as dependable, but its as though it’s had veneers put on its teeth and been to the cosmetic car surgeon who’s just tightened everything up and pushed it up a cup size…
Inside the test car, which came in non-standard trim, subtle changes have been made. It’s instantly recognisable as an Audi, but once you sit in the driver’s seat and look around, you get the feeling that nothing about the cockpit is accidental. Controls fall to hand and the system’s MMI (Multi Media Interface) which consists of two rotary dials and a lot of buttons (passed down from the flagship A8.). The MMI is not simple in operation, but then there is a lot to control. Is it better to use than BMW’s i-Drive? I have used both and couldn’t pick either out as being easier to use. On the road, the car does feel a little bulkier but it also takes on the tarmac better. The 2.0-litre engine is all new with a common rail system and Piezo injectors, (like BMW, and many others) which will replace the current Pumpe Duse system found on the old A4 with 138bhp. The new 2.0 TDI engine develops an extra 5bhp and develops the same 236lb ft of torque as the last A4, but the whole set up is far sharper in terms of steering and handling. It’s no secret that Audi has a few of BMW’s former engineers working on the project and some moves in chassis and pushing the battery to the rear of the car now mean that the A4 has a 50/50 weight distribution, which is something that BMW has been banging on about for some time now. With a lighter nose and a bit of electronic gadgetry between the driver and the wheels, the whole caboodle now turns in smartly and has a cleaner edge to it, once you start to realise that you can push the envelope. So it’s better than it was, and many will find that a standard A4’s handling is now beginning to edge closer to the BMW. But Audi haven’t left it there. Oh no…
Audi has developed what it calls its ‘Driver Select System’ which lets you change the accelerator-pedal response, power-steering assistance, shock-absorber stiffness and automatic-transmission gear-shift points. This lets you decide how you want the car to perform, but without doubt the best use of it is with the ride, steering and handling. It’s been a while since I spent any time in a 3 Series, but its much closer. I’d have to drive them back to back, but there’s now precious little to separate the 3 series 3.0 litres car and its Audi A4 counterpart, in terms of handling.
And there’s so much to commend the Audi A4 for… I’ve always been secretly rooting for Audi to get its act together. To tighten up the A4’s handling and give its looks a bit of an edge. And bugger me, if that’s not exactly what’s happened here. The A4 2.0 TDI will be the car that the whole range is judged by, and I must say that it’s a very good proposition. Many will still buy the BMW because of the name but, unless you’re a semi-professional racer, I think anyone will be hard pushed to choose one of the two over the other, in terms of handling. And quite frankly, the A4 is a much better place for your passengers to be, and so for me it’s bye bye Beemer, hello Audi. Who would have ever thought it?
The only other shocker left to me now, is England winning the World Cup. And as the Germans have shown me, even the impossible is just around the corner.
The dynamic steering system activates automatically depending on the gear and speed, together with the degree of steering-wheel movement. Basically, it triggers an electromagnetic motor which effectively measures the degree of turn on the steering wheel and amplifies it at the wheel. This is via a rack of technology which effectively doesn’t rely on any extra gears, so there is no ‘slack’ in the system when it is employed. It can vary the ratio in that it can increase (or decrease) movement at the steering wheel by almost 100 per cent, dependent upon road speed. For example, the system can detect parking manoeuvres and facilitate lock to lock in only two turns of the wheel. During high speeds, an undetectable change will make steering less direct allowing smooth straight-line driving.
AUDI DRIVE SELECT
The Audi Drive Select system which, when fitted, allows the driver to adjust the dynamic handling characteristics of the car, is a step forward for Audi. The two main components of the system are the Dynamic Steering system and the variable rate electronic damping control. These act in conjunction with the existing car systems for transmission, engine management and throttle controls.
In the UK, you can buy it as a £1,700 extra, or just take Dynamic Steering or Active Damping singularly for £1,000 each.
Adam Biealski, Audi Drive Select Project Manager, explained to me exactly why he was so pleased with the system. “Unlike some of our competitors who also have a ‘dynamic steering’ option which relies on gearing and puts ‘slack in the system’ our high speed electric motor system has no slack and is more variable in its use.”
On sale: March 2008 // Prices from £23,940 // Rivals: Alfa Romeo 159 1.9 JTDM Lusso,
- Price: £23,940
- Engine: 1,968c, 4-cyl, turbocharged
- Max Power: 143bhp at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 236lb ft at 1,750-2,500rpm
- Towing weight: 1,900kg
- Combined Consumption:51.4mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 144 g/km (C – £115
- 0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
- Max speed: 134mph
Standard items for UK SE trim
Mulit-finction steering wheel
Interior light pack
Audio Concert Raido/CD/MP3, 10 speakers
Auto-diming rear mirror
6 spoke 17” alloys, space saver spare
Auto windscreen washers
Rear acoustic parking system
Hill hold assist
Multifunction steering wheel
Heated front seats
Front centre armrest
Auto dimming rear view mirror
Audi Music Interface
Tyre pressure monitor
Electric front seats
Audi Parking System Plus
Audi Side Assist
Bang & Olufsen audio system £525
Bluetooth phone preparation
LED daytime running lights plus bi-xenon, £775
505 watt Bang & Olufsen audio system
DVD satellite navigation system with TMC traffic
congestion avoidance technology £1,975
Blind spot warning system
Lane change warning system
Striking looks, more spacious than the BMW 3 Series
in the back. Build quality is impeccable. UK SE trim is
Not as common as a BMW. Optional extras can be very expensive
In an unsure world, where disasters await us around every corner, we all take solace in the fact that some things never change. We need these anchors of faith to allow us to cope with the strange things that life can throw at us from time to time. You know the sort of thing. The fact that having children is the hardest job that you’ll ever have, that England will never again lift the Jules Verne Trophy and the fact that BMWs drive better than Audis. Well guess what? It’s all about to change….