Audi’s latest version of its medium-sized saloon, the A4, looks very much like the one it replaces.
It’s marginally bigger – 25mm longer, 16mm wider and with an extra 12mm between the axles – but while the changes to what you can see might be subdued, it’s under the skin where the real progress is being made.
Still, let’s take a brief stroll around and examine some of the detailing. At the front those strong horizontal lines and wraparound hood emphasis the car’s width. The Singleframe grille is both lower and broader and sports a prominently contoured lattice structure while the headlights have distinctive serrated lower edges.
The profile is bisected by a prominent shoulder line that runs from the corner of the headlights and wraps around the rear. There’s a bold crease that sweeps gently upwards from above the door sills, adding just a touch of fluidity, while the wheel arches are subtly flared.
The roofline – the lowest in the premium segment – flows swiftly down to the boot, which ends with a clearly defined edge. The rear lights, like the front, also feature multi-faceted 3D elements, complement the overall design of the car.
Despite the incremental increase in dimensions, some versions of the A4 can weigh as much as 120kg less than their predecessors. The new model sits on the group’s MLB Evo platform having switched to hybrid aluminium and steel construction and, of course, downsized some engines.
It rides on multi-link arrangements at the front and back. The mounts and are designed to be firm, and therefore sporty, in the lateral direction but smooth and compliant longitudinally. All the axle links, pivot bearing and damper stilts are made of forged aluminium. Audi has, for the first time, used monotube shock absorbers in order to reduce mass even further.
My review car was fitted with the firm’s 187bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel sending power to the front wheels through a seven-speed S-tronic transmission.
Climb inside and, while the cabin quality is as impressive as ever, though it isn’t the standout feature that it once was. Even so, the passenger space remains a place of undeniable craft, care and precision.
It seems a disservice to describe it as neat, tidy and thoughtful, but it is all three, and impressively so. Everything you would normally interact with, every surface, every control, every switch, and the way that you interact, had clearly been considered from the outset. That Audi have paid attention to every detail is beyond question but, while the quality is outstanding, if you want something with a little of that elusive je ne sais quoi, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
There’s ample space up front and the driving position is excellent. There’s plenty of adjustment both in the seats and steering wheel. Drivers of all shapes and sizes should have very little trouble getting comfortable behind the wheel.
The increase in size, marginal though it is, has liberated a little extra room for rear-seat occupants too, though without a tape measure it’s not something that you’ll immediately notice the moment you open the door. Still, legroom in the back is competitive but a little more headroom would probably be appreciated by the taller humans among us.
The car is equipped with analogue instruments and a small LCD multi-function display as standard but you can opt for the firm’s magnificent Virtual Cockpit which replaces them with a 12.3in high-resolution TFT display that you can pair up with a head-up display and a seven-inch infotainment screen on the centre console.
Looking at the A4 from the outside, even in S Line trim, it’s hard not to form the impression that this is a car for a very particular type of buyer and driving it simply reinforces that perception. In fact, if Audi had anyone other than high-mileage business users I’ll eat my particularly fashionable sun hat.
Refinement is excellent. All A4s are fitted with intelligent switchable engine mounts and an acoustic noise-filtering windscreen to aid noise reduction in the cabin and overall, passengers will be treated to an aura of reasonable calm and tranquillity.
Noise suppression is made easier by the excellent 2.0-litre diesel engine, which is responsive and relatively quiet, even under heavy acceleration. It’s flexible too, and the dual-clutch S tronic gearbox is the perfect companion for the more frugal among us, particularly in Normal mode.
Switch to Sport and it is perceptively more decisive and intuitive, something that can’t always be claimed for selectable driving modes offered in some vehicles. Certainly it delivers something more of a welcome dynamic edge to the driving experience.
And that’s something that is, for the most part, lacking because Audi have clearly adopted a bias towards comfort with the A4. Consequently it will tackle high-speed motorway journeys effortlessly. If you’re someone whose daily commute is largely on relatively smooth fast roads then the A4 would be a wise choice but if you’re likely to tackle slightly more complex conditions the argument for the Audi starts to weaken a little.
Across more challenging routes the A4 rarely encourages you to drive with any real investment. There’s a decent amount of grip to exploit, and stability through a corner is good, but the experience is let down by the vague steering, which leaves you feeling disconnected from the events unfolding beneath the wheels.
The A4 has a very particular remit and based on that knowledge, it does what it’s supposed to with great aplomb. It’s laden with technology and the perceived quality is of the highest standard. Refinement is also excellent and, particularly on high-speed routes, passengers will enjoy a comfortable and cosseted ride.
If you want a car that’s rewarding to drive then your eyes might be drawn elsewhere because that is clearly not where this particular car’s talents lie. By choosing to focus on making the A4 as comfortable and as effortless as possible Audi have, perhaps, risked alienating potential buyers looking for a more rewarding driving experience but, it has to be said, there’s some virtue in sticking to their guns.
After all, the current A4, dynamically, aesthetically and technologically, doesn’t stray too far from the blueprint established by the previous generation, and the generation before that, so it’s hardly surprising that Audi continue to offer their customers more of the same, albeit with ever-increasing polish and refinement.
Audi A4 TDI 190PS S line S Tronic
As tested: £42,105
Transmission: 7-speed S tronic automatic
Max power: 190PS
Max torque: 400Nm @ 1,750 – 3,000rpm
Max speed: 150mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 7.7sec
Combined: 50. – 47.9mpg
Tax band: G
For more information visit www.audi.co.uk