Audi’s facelifted A4 is ready to step in to the ever-intensifying entry level luxury market.
Audi’s smooth new look was first embodied in the steel and aluminium of the B8 A4 that made its debut here in 2008. It was bigger and better in every way than the old A4 and, helped by strong engines and classy interiors, steadily gained ground in the entry level luxury car market. However, with Mercedes’ facelifted c-class and an all-new BMW 3-series on the way, Audi needed to re-arm the A4. Enter the refreshed 2012 Audi A4.
You can tell the designers have taken absolutely no risks with the facelift. Except for the new LED array in the headlights, you’ll need to take a long, hard look to spot the differences. The LED units are no longer in staggered blocks – instead their design is sharper, flowing down the headlight before doubling back.
For reasons known only to Audi, it has aimed to make the A4’s face look ‘flat’. The tweaked fender and air dam design manage to convey that impression. The ‘Bavarian beard’ grille has also been trimmed. Angled top edges give it a hexagonal shape, bringing it in line with newer Audis. However, the sheet metal remains unchanged all round. The rear gets a mild tweak with the tail-lights getting a revised LED layout.
Audi has been setting the benchmark for interiors lately and the outgoing A4 is no different. Little wonder then that the cabin is largely unchanged in the facelift. Audi has tossed in a few updates for the buyers to look forward to, though. The new steering wheel gets a sporty round boss and the materials feel richer too. The dashboard, door handles and the surround for the gear lever get a smart wood trim as an option, which reminds you straightway of the A6 and A8. Audi has also used glossy ‘piano black’ plastic for a sleeker look.
On the equipment front, Audi is now offering MMI Navigation Plus with an advanced graphics chip that can display maps in 3D. Further simplifying all the electronic menus is the new MMI control with four keys. Another technological statement is the ability to set up a WiFi hotspot in the car that can handle up to eight devices.
POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY
While hybrids are the obvious solutions to cleaner tailpipes, Audi is deploying a range of technologies and design improvements to cut out the pollutants. Stop-start is now standard on all A4s. Improving fuel consumption further is the new electro-mechanical steering assist that doesn’t consume power when the vehicle is going straight. The optional Audi Drive Select now features an Efficiency mode. It controls cruise control and air-conditioning to optimise fuel consumption. While the full output can be had at a prod of the accelerator, as our drive revealed, the pedal response feels a bit dulled under normal driving conditions in this mode.
We got a chance to briefly sample the new A4 on serene coastal Portuguese roads. A quick drive in the 2.0 TFSI proved quite pleasant, the engine feeling quite smooth and very tractable with the manual gearbox. But, interestingly, the highlight of the drive was the steering feel. The new electromechnical unit is a step in the right direction. The steering felt well weighted and, more importantly, didn’t feel vague or uncommunicative. Instead there was a crisp and direct feel that made pointing the A4 around the winding roads distinctly enjoyable.
While there weren’t any poor surfaces to really test out the revised suspension, the A4 seemed to ride better over the odd manhole or bump. The suspension provided better bump absorption and felt more composed too.
As before, the 1.8 TFSI will be the base petrol motor, albeit in a reworked avatar. Leading the list of changes here is the inclusion of two sets of injector per cylinder, one for direct and the other for indirect injections. The direct injectors work at start up and at higher loads, while the port injectors take up the lower loads, and this helps improve efficiency and reduce particulate emissions. Driveability is also improved thanks to an electronic waste-gate on the turbo that fattens up the torque curve. The result is a jump in torque from 25.5kgm to 32.6kgm that can be tapped from 1400rpm right up to 3700rpm. Power is also upped by 10bhp to 170bhp.
The top-of-the-line 3.2 FSI V6 is likely to be replaced by a 290bhp version of the 3.0-litre supercharged motor from the A6. The full-blown 333bhp S4 will also make its debut in India this year.
With the facelift, Audi is likely to bring the 2.0-litre diesel in two states of tune. One will be the ultra-efficient 160bhp front-driver and a 174bhp version with Quattro. The top-end diesel remains the 3.0-litre TDI with Quattor and the S-tronic gearbox.
A drive in the 2.0-litre TDI showed the merits of the dual-mass flywheel amply. The engine felt much smoother at lower revs. Dropping dangerously low in the rev range didn’t elicit a harsh reaction from the engine either. Engine refinement clearly felt a few notches above normal. As a result, at times it was possible to stick to a gear higher than you normally would, the motor’s strong torque pulling you back up to speed quickly. We can’t wait to sample the India-spec A4 on Indian roads now.
HERE AND NOW
Although it isn’t radically different, the A4 has changes that matter. Minimal changes to the already sharp exterior and interior design are tasteful. But it’s under the skin that the new A4 seems a more exciting, cleaner and better luxury car. Any comment on the changes translating into an improved on-road experience will have to be reserved for our India drive which should happen mid-2012. We’re waiting with bated breath.
Source: Autocar March 2012