It goes without saying that the Audi A4 is an important car for Audi. Globally, it’s in its 8th generation and has been Audi’s bestseller for almost 40 years. In India, it was first showcased in its previous generation at the 2008 Auto Expo, and I still remember seeing the distinctive shape of the (then) revolutionary LED daytime running lights while the car was still under the covers before its reveal. It was an aggressive looking, modern, sporty luxury car that attracted a new breed of young buyers to the Audi brand. And Audi hopes that this new model will do the same. So much so that they’ve been sure to launch it in India before the new BMW 3 series makes it to our shores – which is hot on its heels, as it’s headed here pretty soon.
And while the new Audi A4 may not be quite as revolutionary as its predecessor, it still moves the game up a notch. The front end is now distinctly like the new A6 – with sharper creases in the grille and headlights. The now angular, seamless ribbon of lights take the LEDs to the next level as the competition is still playing catch up on headlight design.
Audi gave us the chance to sample the new Audi A4 at the Buddh International Circuit recently, and all the cars were fitted with the optional S-line trim that makes the Audi A4 look quite aggressive and cutting edge – especially when wearing 17-inch 5-spoke alloys. Like all Audi’s, on the whole, it’s a contemporary, clean design. I just wish they would make the rear end a little more distinctive. The only way to tell the difference between an A8 and an A4 from the back is by looking at the badge. It seems that Audi designers have a set design template for the rear, which they simply scale up or down according to the size of the car.
On the inside, it looks much the same as the previous generation Audi A4 – but that’s not a bad thing, because, like all Audi’s, its class leading. The cabin does, however, seem to be a little more driver focussed than before. It also seems to be even better quality – if that’s possible – and they’ve been able to carve out a little more space at the rear as well. Lastly, it features Audi’s latest generation MMI (Multi Media Interface), which is far easier to operate.
The new model comes with 3 engine options – the 1.8 TFSI with 170bhp, which starts at just under 28 lakhs (ex-showroom), the 2.0 TDI with 143bhp, which starts at just under 30 lakhs, and the (current) top-of-the-line 3.0 TDI Quattro that produces 245bhp, but costs almost 40 lakhs. Both the 1.8 petrol and 2.0 litre diesel come with front-wheel drive and CVT gearboxes to maximise efficiency (and reduce cost), while the 3.0 TDI has Audi’s S-tronic dual-clutch transmission. Now, after having fallen in love with the 177bhp 2.0 TDI Quattro, mated to a 7-speed S-tronic, in the Q3, I can’t quite figure out why Audi doesn’t provide the option of this configuration in the Audi A4 – as opposed to the much more expensive, and therefore very low volume, 3.0 TDI.
Right, that’s enough numbers – so, how does the car feel? We started out on a small autocross track set up in the parking lot of the BIC to get a feel for the 1.8TFSI. The first thing you notice is that the new electro-mechanical steering provides a little more feedback than it does in the A6. It weighs up nicely at speed, and the Audi A4 certainly goes where you point it. The course was set up in such a manner so as to experience quick direction changes, as well as grip levels through a winding hairpin bend. And, with the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) on, the electronics control the chassis with such precision that you can virtually drive the entire course with your foot flat to the floor – in the knowledge that the ESP will sort out the chassis dynamics for you. The only time I had to take my foot of the gas was to brake for the hairpin – with the exception of that, I was on full throttle right from the start, aggressively through the first set of cones (set up like an obstacle) and through the entire slalom. As always, the Audi A4 veers towards understeer when pushed too hard. But, if you control your speed into a corner, the combination of a stiff chassis and excellent electronics mean that the Audi A4 can be driven very aggressively indeed with no fear whatsoever.
For the actual track, we were put into the 2.0 TDI, and while it’s not as powerful as its petrol powered sibling, it actually felt like it had more grunt despite the fact that they both have identical torque figures – 320Nm. Unfortunately, on the track, we were confined to a lead-and-follow exercise – wherein a group of cars were made to follow an instructor, so we weren’t able to truly push the cars to their limit. Suffice to say, we were able to lap at a reasonable enough pace to gauge the fact that the new Audi A4 has been set up to feel more like its bigger brothers – the A6 and A8 – which is to say that it’s more comfortable and more refined than before, yet looks more aggressive and is more than willing to humour you if you’re in the mood for some fun. But, if you really want an adrenalin rush, you’re going to need an S4 – with its 3.0 supercharged V6 producing 330 horsepower, enabling it to accelerate to 100km/h in just 5.0 seconds. But, if you’d like to buy one, you’re going to have to harass your local Audi dealer until the company decides to officially bring it to India.
To get a true sense of just what the S4 is capable of, Karun Chandhok – who owns one of the UK incidentally – was on hand to scare the living daylights out of any passengers brave enough to venture out on track with him. In the pits, you could hear the tires screeching for respite all through the lap while Karun was on track.
But, back to the cars that are available in the market for the moment. Well, I can’t help but recommend the new Audi A4 because it’s better than its predecessor in every way – it’s faster, yet more efficient, it looks more aggressive, and yet it’s more refined. But the compact luxury car market in India is now a very competitive space, and the only potential fly in the ointment could be the new 3 series. Let’s just say that it’s shaping up to be a great battle!