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living: autocade

Audi A4óeight speeds to efficiencyAudi A4óeight speeds to efficiency

Audi A4, photographed by Jack Yan

Jack Yan tests the Audi A4 1·8 TFSI, and says one’s choice of junior executive saloon comes down to which part of Germany you feel a greater affinity with
photographed by the author

 

THE NEW AUDI A4 has a hard act to follow. Since the A4 moniker appeared on Audi models, theyíve become the mainstream line in the range, and considered one of the prettiest ďjunior executiveĒ cars around.
   When we drove the S5 a few years ago, we knew that the future A4 would be on the same platform. Audi claimed it was better balanced, for reasons we wonít go in to here (Audiís Carolyn Cox posted down two huge volumes on the technical stuff, emphasizing Vorsprung durch Technik), allowing for proportions that were more closer to the rear-wheel-drive BMWs and Mercedes. Gone are the days of the nose-heavy (in appearance) Audi 80.
   The S5 and the A5 coupés were so smooth and the chassis so capable, we expected great things of the A4, as we sampled the entry-level 1∑8T.
   This is a front-wheel-drive model, and we had a particularly lovely one, in bright red. But since we have been accustomed to Audis with bigger noses, the new A4 seems less Bauhaus in its execution. Since the advent of the single-frame grille fronts on the Audis, thereís been a greater feeling of ostentation, though on the A4 the execution is very tidy. Relative to the A6 and A8, the front is relatively restrained. The overall proportions grow on you, even if you canít help but think that Audis of old appeared more efficient and more subtle.
   But never mind that: the late 2000s are not a time to be subtle as cars have become more decorative. If youíre spending on a German luxury brand, these days you want people to know it. At least the A4 is actually efficient, with a drag coefficient of 0,27, which makes it go through the wind a little better. (Note to design geeks: I know, I havenít factored in the frontal area. But this is still respectable.)
   Audis have always been lovely on the inside and the A4 is no exception: the interior is a nicer place to be than in its recently updated rival, the Mercedes C-Klasse.
   Earlier Cs and BMW 3er-Reihe models had been so spartan on occasion that I called them ĎGerman Cortinasí. Itís partly thanks to Audi that its main German rivals have upped their game.
   Apart from the sat-nav not recognizing the Wellington motorway bypass, I couldnít fault the interior. I even tried tricking it to see if it would tell me to drive across the Cook Strait by plotting an inter-island trip, and it directed me to the Wellington ferry.
   Thereís a sense of Teutonic elegance to the inside and the controls are where you expect them to be.
   The eight-speed gearbox (yes, eight) was geared toward economy, so if you drove the car right, it would look after your wallet. Audi claims 39∑7 mpg combined, which is not far from the truth in our test.
   The 1∑8Tís turbocharged powerplant is smooth, but thereís one thing about the driving experience that I couldnít forgive.
   For a modern car, the base A4 did not have the level of grip that I expected, as it struggled (admittedly in wet weather) to get traction in its front wheels. Misbehave a little with the accelerator and the A4 didnít like leaving our street.
   While there is a bit of a dip at the street entrance, lesser Fords and Renaults have been able to conquer it without fuss.
   There were similar experiences whenever I was slightly heavier with my right foot.
   Iíve since spoken to A4 owners who opted for the Quattro models, and they have not encountered the same problem. What they do share with me are stories on how miserly the fuel consumption is, and this seems to be the A4ís real party trick.
   Drive the A4 gently and itís a perfectly decent sedan with near-40 mpg economy. Itís not as balanced as the Mercedes-Benz but itís nicer to be in. Itís probably not as sporty as the BMW. Itís what itís designed to be: ruthlessly efficient without looking it. Itís the school swot who is still popular, even though itís not that good at PE. While it would never be the German Cortina, because itís really much too nice inside for that label, itís a reminder that Deutschland does small executive saloons better than most people.
   Weíve yet to drive the new BMW 3s, but early indications from our foreign colleagues are positive. It depends, at the end of the day, what one has: a dislike of filling up, versus a heavy right foot; whether one is northern German in mentality or southern. Because this is a very northern car indeed. ē

 

Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.

 

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From top:
The Audi A5 was a preview to what the A4 could be like. But the sporting models are superior dynamically. The 1·8 T engine, which has a smooth power delivery (photograph courtesy Audi). The interior is still the best in its class: logically laid out and well put together (photograph courtesy Audi).

 

 

Apart from the sat-nav not recognizing the Wellington motorway bypass, I couldnít fault the interior. I even tried tricking it to see if it would tell me to drive across the Cook Strait by plotting an inter-island trip, and it directed me to the Wellington ferry

 

 

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