The fact that the new Audi A4 doesn’t look too far removed from the old model should come as no surprise.
For Audi, the A4 is its bread and butter (sales in the UK are more than 76,000 since 1995) – and huge sales have given it the financial position to develop less high volume models such as the TT, R8 and performance S and RS ranges.
Such has been the level of success with the A4 that Audi has been cautious with the meta-morphosis into the new versions. There was never going to be a “BMW Bangle” moment at Ingolstadt.
Instead, we have a gentle evolution, which is a good thing. Audis are famed for their elegant, restrained styling and the new A4 is no different.
It has adopted the new family face first seen on the A5 coupe, as well as its rear-end treatment. In fact, viewed from head on at both ends they appear to be one and the same car.
Where the real difference lies is in the middle, where Audi has stretched the A4 to offer far more room inside.
It is now longer, wider and with a longer wheelbase than before, although the old model is slightly taller. In length, width and wheelbase it is bigger than its arch rivals – BMW’s 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
The previous A4 was a little tight in the back for passengers and luggage space wasn’t huge, so this much larger car is a welcome move.
Incidentally, despite being larger weight is only up very slightly which is good news for fuel economy and emissions.
Not that interior space hindered the old A4 and fleet buyers in particular have been a key factor in Audi’s rise up the sales charts.
The reason is simple. With ever expanding choice lists user- choosers will inevitably gravitate to a premium marque.
The fact that A4s, albeit entry-level versions, are priced similarly to high-spec volume models means plenty of crossover.
The result has been that volume models like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra have been hit, with Audi and the rest muscling in on their territory.
And with their much higher residual values, Audis make financial sense to a fleet manager, too.
All of this looks set to continue because the new A4 is a better car in every aspect than the old model – better to look at, much better to drive, more generously equipped, more spacious and with a raft of high-tech options including a lane-keep assist and Audi Drive Select which allows the driver to personalise the steering and throttle responses as well as adjusting the suspension.
The A4 order book opened last month, with first deliveries in next February. The initial launch cars will all be SE specification and in saloon guise only (the Avant estate will be launched next summer).
Engines at launch are the 160bhp 1.8 TFSI and 3.2 FSI quattro petrols, plus 2.0, 2.7 and 3.0 TDI diesels, all of which are Euro V compliant.
Buyers have the option of six-speed manual or Tiptronic gearboxes, with the eight-speed Multitronic CVT box offered with the 2.7 TDI only.
Quattro four-wheel drive is currently only offered on the top-end petrol and diesel models.
Behind the wheel
It’s not only in the looks department that the A4 borrows from the A5. To drive both feel very similar, which is no surprise as they share the same architecture.
Audi has responded to criticism of its cars as not being very exciting to drive, firstly with the TT and latterly with the A5.
The A4 continues this tradition. The ride is firm but not uncomfortably so, the handling is planted at all times with little body roll even during hard cornering, the steering now has much more weight and feel engineered into it and the manual gearboxes shift better than before.
The engines are familiar from the old A4, with the only noticeable change being the 2.0 TDI adopting a common rail injection system.
This makes the model, set to account for the majority of sales, more refined yet more powerful, too.
On the road it has plenty of torque from low revs yet never becomes coarse or loud under hard acceleration.
The 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol unit offers 160bhp and feels lively enough, and is also very quiet.
However, on our winding uphill test route it struggled to accelerate out of slow, tight corners because it hasn’t got the TDI’s level of torque.
Higher up the range, the 3.2 FSI petrol sounds glorious and is a very fast car, while for swallowing miles in consummate ease the 3.0 TDI quattro will take some beating.
The interior lives up to Audi’s high standards, with quality resonating all round.
The extra room inside is welcome too – I sat behind a six-foot-plus driver and had plenty of kneeroom.
The boot also appears usefully larger than before.
The new A4 is a big improvement all round and looks set to continue to appeal to user-choosers.
For fleets the 2.0 TDI offers a strong combination – style, quality, performance and high fuel economy.
|Model:||1.8 TFSI||3.2 FSI quattro||2.0 TDI||2.7 TDI||3.0 TDI quattro|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||160/4,500||265/6,500||143/4,200||190/3,500||240/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||184/1,500||243/3,000||236/1,750||294/1,400||369/1,500|
|Max speed (mph):||140||155||134||140||155|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||39.8||30.7||51.4||42.8||40.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||169||219||144||176||183|
Order book now open, deliveries spring 2008