Making sense of the Audi A4 in Audi’s broader range has become quite a difficult task now. Just more than a decade or so ago, the Audi A4 was the volume seller for the brand going toe-to-toe with the C-Class and BMW 3-Series at the time all of which in fact, enjoyed massive sales volumes. Turn the clock ahead 10 years and the entire playing field has changed. The ubiquity of SUVs in all forms even in Audi’s own line-up has meant that the sedan as we know it was always going to take a knock. The addition of smaller and cheaper premium sedans to the fold has left the Audi A4 in the wind somewhat.
As far as product updates go, this new car has received a significant upgrade. The sheet metal itself has been revised and if you look closely, it’s almost every panel that’s been reworked. The grille is wider and the entire positioning of the Audi badge, number plate panel and headlights has been lifted higher. This and revised headlight designs (Audi of course) give a more sophisticated stance.
Around the side profile you’ll note a higher shoulder line and more pronounced creases around each of the 4 wheels, and this higher shoulder extends all the way around to the rear where you’ll also find revised tail lamp designs.
Audi has stayed true to its design philosophy of creating an understated yet sophisticated and premium product. This is the brand’s differentiation and it may not be attractive to all and sundry but it is certainly more striking than before.
The other big news on this product update is a massive focus on Audi’s digital strategy. The Audi A4 was the first Audi to be introduced with Audi Connect here in South Africa. Essentially a suite of connected tech and services that we’ll elaborate on further in the review, it is an extension of the other big digital update that the Audi A4 sports on the interior.
Interior architecture for the most part, remains the same as the pre-facelift model. Where the work has been carried out is immediately noticeable upon the push of the start button as the onboard screens come to life and you’re greeted by a dominant digital experience. Audi has updated the displays and infotainment unit to be in line with larger and more expensive sibling models. The digital cockpit shrouds you in smartphone-like interfaces from the 10,1-inch touch panel mounted high on the dash as well as the driver TFT display. It’s a highly customisable interface that has been a leading feature since Audi first launched this digital cockpit. Many have tried to do something similar but Audi’s design and UX remains the best.
The infotainment and driver interface allow access to a connected experience. Pairing with your smartphone through a number of syncing options including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is easy enough. Ditto on setting up your own customised profile that loads your preferred settings as you start up.
Audi Connect is an extension of this digital experience and in essence you need to understand that the Audi A4 is a ‘connected car’. What that means is that a sim card is embedded into the vehicle and that sim remains connected to the internet as long as there is sufficient coverage. So Audi Connect means information can be passed to and from the car from external sources. Car-2-X is the jargon term.
From a safety point of view, the Audi Connect functionality allows access to emergency services when needed. At the push of a button above your head, you can call emergency services should you see a crash. In the event that you yourself are involved in a serious crash, the car itself will send an emergency signal to emergency services to come and assist. The system is connected to a central operating team that then dispatches local services based on where you are.
Added to this is where you yourself are the ‘X’ in the Car-2-X communication. By downloading the myAudi app to your smartphone, you essentially create a little remote interface to engage with your car. It took me about 15-minutes to set up and from there on, I was smiling at the abilities I had at the touch of a few buttons on the app. I could programme my navigation from my phone whilst sipping coffee at the breakfast nook, and then as I entered the car any few minutes later, the sat nav is already primed with the destination. Another fun but useful (I suppose) feature is the ability to set the hazard lights and alarm if you’re looking for your car in one of those monotonous parking lots where direction is all lost. I mostly used it to just scare people. More mature features abound on the app: things like geo-fencing, theft or speed alerts, remote locking/unlocking and just checking the overall status of the car. Are the doors locked? Windows closed etc? You can even book services from the app with your registered dealer.
It’s a classy interior that feels spacious and solid. It’s Audi after all. The virtual cockpit is brilliant but the touchscreen does become harder to operate when moving and you’ll certainly have to clean the surface often as it easily becomes greased up with all of the residue from human hands.
The 35 TFSI is powered by a 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with 12V mild-hybrid tech. Electrification assistance means the start/stop system can kick in earlier and save slightly more fuel on each drive. Its ability to make up for turbo lag is not something you’ll notice, unfortunately. It develops 110kW and 270Nm of torque through a 7-speed automatic transmission and all of this power is sent to the front wheels.
The drivetrain combination is a far cry from some of its competitors but that’s Audi’s difference, a brand that chooses its own way of doing things rather than pander to what everyone else is doing. So the drive isn’t what I’d describe as sporty. The better word is refined.
The entire working relationship of the drivetrain, suspension set up, cabin noise, seat comfort and technology combines to form a feeling of sophisticated and peaceful refinement. It is a silent and cosseting drive and whilst the Audi A4 exhibits nimble handling when called in, its prone to understeer when driving it hard but it’s really not meant for this. It’s meant to serve as a place of tranquillity after a hard day’s work, silent and comfortable and admirably efficient too. I managed an average fuel consumption figure of 6,9l/100km on a combined cycle mostly with urban city driving.
With a base price of R663 000, the Audi A4 has to be packaged into the car you really want. My test vehicle was fitted with R170 000 worth of extras including the fully digital cockpit experience, an upgraded B&O sound system as well as upgraded lighting systems and apative cruise control features among others. It is the Audi way and it is in fact exactly the way the other 2 German competitors work.
Audi’s clientele are said to option cars with 20 – 25% of the base value in extras/options so you should be seeing the A4 as an R750k – R850k vehicle.
It is sold with Audi’s 5yr/100 000km Freeway Plan. Pricing is slightly less than the Audi Q5 and slightly more than the Audi Q3 and this is probably from where most of the Audi A4’s competition will come, never mind the 3-Series or C-Class.
A4 is a facelifted product so a lot of the internal workings and overall aesthetic feels like something we’ve come know. It doesn’t, however, detract from the fact that the Audi A4 is still a strong contender in this segment, winning in the areas of refinement and comfort where others have chosen different USPs.
It’s also a digital powerhouse, offering an interactive tech experience made more noticeable now by the addition of Audi Connect, a feature that while isn’t entirely necessary makes a lot of sense as the next step in how we interact with our cars. And the fact that you can have this tech on something like the Audi A4 is a big win.
Not as sporty, not as aggressive, not as immediately exciting, the Audi A4 may not be to everyone’s tastes. Consider it should you be keen on the sensible and serene rather than the wild and wonderful.