2012 Audi A4: First Drive
With its siblings all grown up recently, the A4 has finally decided to step into their shoes and do some growing up of its own. The result is the same A4 that we've come to love so much, but in a much more mature and an absolutely brilliant guise
A new Audi is always an interesting prospect. The Ingolstadt based auto maker is known for making cars which are not just extremely practical, but also great to drive, and this is something that the new A8, A6 and A7 have demonstrated rather well. So the chance to drive a new Audi saloon on the coastal roads around the town of Cascais in Portugal is something any automobile enthusiast would kill for. This is exactly what I had in my head as I was alighting from my flight at Lisbon airport. So when the gaggle of auto media was told that the A4 we’d be driving wasn’t really a new car, but more of an upgrade, slight looks of disappointment could be seen all around the room.
But still, with the amount of changes the presenters from Audi listed out, some amount of hope was beginning to return. A mad rush to get our hands on the cars in the parking lot at Lisbon airport left me with the 1.8 TFSI model, that too with the 6-speed manual gearbox. Great! But that rush also ensured that no one really got the opportunity to examine all the exterior changes that Audi has incorporated in this upgraded A4. So first impressions were left to the interiors, and the first reaction was, “Wait a second, isn’t this the A6?”
Audi has gone to great lengths to get their current design language, which also includes all the interior trim, common between all their platforms. And this is not a bad thing at all, because what they’ve done with these interiors is simply fabulous. Rich black plastics, wood trim and dark tan leather upholstery adorn the insides, forming a wonderful cocoon around you and making you feel instantly at ease with the car. The changes over the interiors of the current A4 aren’t drastic, but all the subtle ones amount to a feel that is much more opulent. A case in point being the three-spoke steering wheel which not only looks good, but is an absolute delight to grip in your hands.
Setting off from the airport, a short highway stretch towards Cascais proved to be the perfect place to feel the straight line performance of the 1.8-litre TFSI mill. With 170PS of power and 320Nm of torque on tap, that’s 10PS and a whopping 70Nm more than the previous engine, the acceleration was, needless to say, quite brisk. Audi insists that this engine is also more efficient than before, but that is something that will have to wait till the full road test which will follow.
On arriving at the resort, we finally were able to get a good look at our cars in broad Portuguese winter daylight. The current eighth-gen A4 is already quite a looker, but Audi has really reworked the nose of the car to make it look more mature, and definitely what one can call more handsome. The new headlight design is in line with the familial features of Audi’s new range of sedans such as the A6 and A8. The slightly changed front grille design as well as the new fog lights, along with larger air intakes down below give the car a much wider stance, though it still retains the same track as the earlier car. The more pronounced curvature to the hood also makes the car seem larger than it actually is. At the back too, the boot lid has a more pronounced lip and the integrated LEDs in the tail light cluster are a welcome touch.
The real fun though started when we were finally given the go-ahead to push off from the hotel and explore the roads in the vicinity of the town. The longest route pre-fed into the car’s navigation system offered some 60km of narrow town roads, twisting and turning mountain roads and a short highway blast before returning back to our starting point, and this route proved to be the most comprehensive real world test of this improved A4's abilities.
The new electro mechanical steering meant that driving through the narrow roads lined with stone walls and old houses was an absolute breeze, and when the road started to weave through the hills, the A4’s new ‘Audi Drive Select’ system really proved to be a boon. Setting the driving mode to ‘Sport’ stiffened up the suspension all around, put the electronic stability programmes into full alert and even made the steering feel heavier – perfect for throwing the car about through the winding roads. The 1.8 TFSI engine was also put into full response mode, which meant the car was simply leaping with joy at the merest touch of the throttle pedal.
Overall, the A4 now feels a more mature product than it has ever been, and it is definitely something that will work well until Audi bring out an all-new car in the next couple of years. But it’s not like the competition is sleeping either. BMW’s all-new 3 Series has definitely set the bar quite high in this entry level luxury sedan segment, and Merc’s refreshed C-Class is doing better than ever. And let’s not forget the fact that a new car from Stuttgart is due soon. With that in mind, this A4 is certainly capable of holding its own, for a while at least. What remains to be seen is how it handles the competition, and that’s something we’re all anxiously waiting to find out once we get our hands on this A4 in India in the immediate future.