Audi intends its new, bigger A4 to take sales in the hard-fought compact executive market from arch rivals BMW. It aims to offer improved handling boosted by an increasing range of engines, gearboxes, and driver aids. Will Audi’s dreams come true? We sent Russell Bray to check out the new 3-litre diesel
The two cars are virtually the same mechanically, but the saloon has better attention to detail and benefits from subtle nuances that the coupé lacks. Launching the Coupé first, and not badging it the A4 Coupé, presumably lets Audi’smarketing experts charge more for that car’s greater prestige.
Saloon A4s don’t reach UK showrooms until March with Avant estate versions, not yet driven, following later on and expected around July.
The A4’s a car of more surprises than are evident immediately from pictures – including the fact that it has grown in nearly every direction. The distance between the front and rear wheels has also shot up by a significant 168mm. This increase is such that rear seat space is now much roomier, and the car is 118mm longer and 56mm wider, though 4mm lower.
And first on the road impressions were that it felt big, despite the power of the top-of-the-range 240ps 3-litre V6 TDI diesel, and Audi’s latest thinking on its quattro four-wheel drive system. It’s the same 3-litre diesel engine as in the current A4, but tuned to give an extra six bhp (now 238bhp) and more torque, up 37lb ft to 369lb ft. The quattro system splits the power 40:60 front to rear – only 20 years or so after I and others kept moaning how the cars wanted to plough straight on (a condition known as understeer) at corners with the original 50:50 split Audi insisted was best.
By also moving the engine rearwards and the front axle forwards, which is more difficult than it sounds, Audi has reduced the nose-heavy feeling, and the car turns into bends with more enthusiasm.
“Good but no cigar” I was thinking, and then I found The Buttons. I can only explain the delay in finding them being that the dashboard and instrument panel area is now getting so cluttered that I thought they were part of the music system or heating controls. The Buttons were attached to Audi’s optional Driver Select system which lets you change the accelerator pedal response, power steering assistance, shock absorber stiffness, and automatic transmission gear shift points. I stabbed the sportier end of the three presets and mama mia!
The car seemed to shrink around me. I found I could dive into corners as I feathered off the brakes and start squeezing on the power sooner and sooner, confident that weight transfer and the quattro power split would keep everything together. All of which was very satisfying, and pretty high on the entertainment scale as well. And if you balance this against the effortless forward thrust from just 1,500 to 3,500rpm, then you seem to be able to make almost anything quickly turn into a small dot in your rear view mirror. The icing on the cake was that all of this happened to the accompaniment of a deep, satisfying growl – and that was from the engine! The six-speed manual gearbox didn’t have the slickest change, though most high-end buyers will, of course, choose the six-speed automatic or the forthcoming DSG which is expected in 2008. But the biggest shock for me was that I kept having to remind myself the A4 wasn’t a BMW3-Series. Good news for Audi, because it’s obvious to anyone just who Audi is gunning for when you look at various other changes that have been made to the new car. Engineers, who until recently were working atBMW, have even relocated the car’s battery to the boot to achieve the more neutral 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution that rivalBMWis always banging on about. Even with all of these changes, I still think that the steering feedback remains better from a 3-Series, and the vastly improved new Mercedes- Benz C-Class, but that’s often the case when you add 4WD on to a car.
On a specially created slalom at 50mph, an A4 without the faster steering set-up was a handful – especially once you’d breezed through the markers with a dynamic steering set-up. The way this £1,000 option helped keep it straight under very heavy braking on a split grip surface showed its safety benefits, too. The dynamic handling package, which lets you select suspension settings, is another grand, but Audi will do you steering and handling as a job lot for £1,700.
An advantage of the handling pack is that even with the larger wheels on the test car it improved the ride comfort compared to other A4 models, which felt some way adrift of other German rivals.
Apparently 17-inch wheels are standard for SE versions, which take most UK sales but 18-inch and 19-inch wheels are options.
At motorway-style speeds there was more general road and wind noise than I wanted, but this might be due to Sardinian tarmac, and may not be the case on UK road surfaces. But then again, it could be worse… we’ll find out when we get to drive the 2.7-litre version on the UK roads in a while. Boot space is now nearly C-Class size, and unless you are looking for the last subtle nuances of handling on your journey to work or the supermarket, the A4 makes a pretty compelling argument for itself.
BMW’s sales success in the UK has niggled Audi for years, and the recruitment of some previous top BMWengineers seems to be letting Audi’s cars get closer in dynamic terms without losing their Audi character – or the traction benefits, if you need them, of all-wheel drive. It’s the smaller engines that make the most sense, but the bigger ones are more fun to drive than they were.
The 3.0-litrte quattro won’t be where the biggest sales of the A4 are seen. Neither will the 2.7 engine. However, the new A4, equipped with the Audi drive select system, reduces the gap between the handling characteristics of the A4 and the 3-Series. This perennial battle, should see more 3-series drivers ready to try the Audi and the extra room inside and especially in the rear, should see more reason to move to the Audi. As far as all-wheel drive is concerned I found it blistering fun and a vast improvement. There were some, like the editor, who preferred the simpler pleasure of the 2.0 litre however, which we’ll find out about next month!
On sale: from March 2008 // Price from: £30,290 // Main rivals: Alfa Romeo 159 2,4 Q4
- Price: £31,990 for Audi A4 3.0 TDI quattro SE manual
- Engine: 2,967cc, six cylinders, turbocharged
- Max Power: 240ps at 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 369 lbs ft at 2,000rpm
- Towing weight: 2,100kg
- Combined Consumption:40mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 183g/km (E,£165)
- 0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
- Max speed: 155mph
Standard equipment includes: Permanent four-wheel drive, intelligent key system, electromechanical parking brake, 17-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, 180 watt CD audio system with ten speakers, MMI control logic, and 6.5in colour display.
Audi Concert radio-CD player with MP3 capability. Cosinus cloth seats with manual height adjustment, split folding rear seats, on-board trip and fuel consumption computer. Colour driver information system, front centre arm rest with two 12v power sockets, electric front and rear windows, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, electrically-adjustable and heated door mirrors.
Automatic headlight and wiper operation, halogen daytime running lights, rear acoustic parking sensors, automatic opening boot lid, aluminium interior trim, electronic stability system, anti-lock brakes, space-saver spare wheel.
Front and rear fog lights, front driver and passenger airbags and front side airbags, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearknob.
Extras on test car:
Dynamic steering (£1,000), dynamic handling (£1,000). Supplied together £1,700.
Good looking, spacious, well screwed together, this latest A4 moves the game on considerably
Some dynamic/music/SatNav functions difficult to find in computer sub memories, still not quite as rewarding to drive as a 3-Series.
I don’t know who styled Audi’s new eighthgeneration A4 saloon, but it has turned out more handsome than the A5 Coupé and that can’t have been the Germans’ main plan