Ringing the changes. Massimo Pini drives the brand new Audi A4.
The Audi A4 is actually all-new for 2015 but you need to look long and hard to spot what’s changed as, at first glance, it appears almost identical to the outgoing model.
Audi claims improvements in refinement, emissions and driveability, as well as a step up in interior quality and practicality, but the changes will need to be substantive to ensure it doesn’t lose ground in the extremely competitive premium saloon sector, recently joined by Jaguar with its new XE.
The exterior design is very much a case of evolution rather than revolution so if you didn't like the last one, then this new A4 is unlikely to convert you into an Audi fan. Nonetheless, the saloon aesthetic is clean, elegant and aerodynamically, very smooth indeed. The design team has resisted the temptation to drop the roofline to create a sportier, coupe-like silhouette, as is the case with a number of rivals. The A4 doesn’t suffer as a result and the added benefit is more headroom for rear seat passengers.
There are three petrol and four diesel engines to choose from, but we tested the range-topping 3.0-litre TDI diesel (in S Line trim) mated to a tiptronic gearbox and Quattro all-wheel drive.
Dynamically speaking, the BMW 3 Series is widely acknowledged as the car to beat in this sector, and while the new A4 doesn't quite manage that, it does get very close indeed. But when it comes to refinement this Audi is just about the best there is. With 272hp on tap, It gobbles up motorway miles with consummate ease, leaving you calm and unruffled at the wheel thanks to superb cabin insulation, boosted no doubt, by our test car’s optional acoustic glazing on the side and rear windows.
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Watch the accompanying Audi A4 video review
The cabin truly raises the standard of automotive interior design to another level. The attention to detail is quite extraordinary; everything from the choice of trim and materials to the resistance of each switch and wheel is just so well judged. And then there is the visual drama of the (optional) digital virtual cockpit as first seen on the latest TT. For me, the delicate graphics and the subtle illumination are just the icing on the cake.
There’s plenty of room for passengers and their luggage aboard the A4. It offers more than most in its class, with ample room for full-sized adults in the back and a 480-litre boot, which expands to 965 litres with the rear seats folded. That’s more than the Jaguar XE and a match for the benchmark BMW 3 Series.
On the safety front, the A4 is up there with the best, scoring the maximum five stars in the newer and more stringent Euro NCAP crash tests. This achievement is down to an array of safety kit that includes six airbags, pre-sense city and multi-collision assist systems, a pop-up bonnet for pedestrian protection and a total of three Isofix mounting points for child seats – including one on the front passenger seat.
I’ve already touched upon the optional extras fitted to our S Line test car and, in total, they add around £12k to its basic £38,000 on the road price. That’s not to say that the A4’s standard equipment levels are poor; more so that if you start raiding the options list – the sky’s the limit.
The entry-level level SE trim comes with a DAB radio, 17-inch alloys, keyless go, rear parking sensors, cruise control, three-zone climate control, Bluetooth and two USB points.
The S Line trim gets 18-inch alloys (although our test car was fitted with Winter tyres), LED headlights, lowered sports suspension, S Line bumpers and styling adenda, matt brushed aluminium inlays, stainless steel pedals and four-way electric lumbar support on driver’s seat.
If running costs are a priority, then you’ll be pleased to note that efficiency improvements with the 150hp 2-litre diesel Ultra model see the A4 drop below the 100g/km barrier for the first time and hit the 17% benefit in kind tax band. And it’s good news across the board as even our high-powered all-wheel drive test car emits a very modest 134g/km.
The more you get to know the new A4, the more you appreciate how much of an improvement it is over the outgoing model. It's larger yet lighter, more efficient, yet better to drive - but outwardly, it still looks a lot like the old one, so Audi may struggle to secure many conquest sales.
But for those of you who do step inside and experience the new A4 from behind the wheel - prepare to be seduced.
(Model tested: A4 Saloon 3.0 TDI quattro S Line 272 PS tiptronic in Tango Red: KN65XAH)