Audi's B8 A4 finally bowed out after eight long and successful years on sale, replaced by the B9. Where the old car kicked off the range with a 1.8-litre TFSI, Audi has down-sized the engine to the familiar 1.4 TFSI. With that drop in capacity has come a handy drop in price and a big boost in standard equipment, both on the safety and technical front.
Entry-level models tend to have a whiff of "why didn't you spend more money" or "why would you buy this when you could have this" about them. Could the A4 1.4 be car you'd actually want to buy?
Our entry level 1.4 TFSI tips the scales at $55,500, $1500 cheaper than the old 1.8 it replaces. That buys you 18-inch alloys, cruise control, aluminium trim, electric drivers seat, power everything, three-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers, leather trim (some real, some not), 8.3-inch touchscreen with satnav, eight speakers, LED headlights and dynamic scrolling indicators, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, two standard (finally!) USB ports, reversing camera, remote central locking and keyless start.
Our test car also had metallic paint ($1420), DAB digital radio ($600) and convenience key ($900, adds keyless entry, foot waving boot opener), bringing the total to $58,420.
As for options not fitted, the Technik Package ($2100) replaces the conventional instruments with Audi's excellent virtual Cockpit and adds heads-up display; the $1900 Assistance Package adds active cruise control, active lane assist, turn assist (stops you turning across oncoming traffic), collision avoidance (helps you steer the car around a possible crash), pre-sense front collision warning and predictive efficiency (tells you to lift off near the crest of a hill, that sort of thing) and high beam assist; and S-Line which adds all sorts of sporty fripperies for $5200. There is a long list of individual options, too, including the excellent (if pricey at $1700) Matrix LED headlights.
At first sight, not much has changed for the B9 A4, but Ingolstadt is at pains to tell us that there isn't a single piece shared with the old B8. As you draw closer, you can see that's true as the details become clear. It's also clear that evolution at Audi is as glacial a process as the real thing.
The bonnet is now a clamshell design, the lights, bumper and grille are all subtly re-shaped and various Audi design features have evolved. Some will find it a bit timid (but will stop short of calling it ugly, because it isn't) but if you stand back and look at the entire segment, even just the Germans, and you'll find nothing adventurous, which might explain the Lexus IS's crazy flourishes, an attempt to stand out.
As is becoming Audi's signature, the headlights now carry a pair of R8-like ice axe-shaped LED daytime running lights and all A4s have LED headlights as standard and dynamic scrolling indicators to go with the LED taillights.
This new A4 is 25mm longer overall than the older car, with another 12mm of (welcome) rear legroom and 24mm more headroom up front.
Inside is a much bigger change. The new dash looks like it could have been lifted from the Q7 for the most part, with similar climate control pod, full-width air conditioning vents (the middle part blows softer, diffuse air than the main vents at the side), with the dash dominated by a big 8.3-inch screen, which is standard across the range. The standard, conventional instrument pack looks lifted straight from the A6, with big clear dials and a 7-inch information screen between the clocks.
The front seats are particularly comfortable and out-punch its rivals on that front, with good support in all directions. The mildly dished three-spoke steering wheel is clad in quite nice leather and the perforated aluminium trim gives the cabin a modern feel.
The A4 has a total of four cupholders, two in the centre console and two that fold out from the top end of the centre rear armrest. That centre armrest also has a shallow storage compartment for phones or an iPad Mini-sized device. There are four bottle holders, one in each door and the boot holds a C-Class and Three Series equalling 480 litres, expanding 965 litres when you drop the split-fold rear seats.
Eight airbags (including side airbags for the rear passengers), front and rear collision mitigation (including pedestrian and cyclist detection), stability and traction controls, brake force distribution, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic detection, ABS, attention assist, active bonnet and tyre pressure loss indicator.
All A4s also come with exit warning system where the door-mounted LED lighting flashes to tell you that a cyclist or another car is approaching. All of this helps contribute to a maximum five star ANCAP safety rating.
The 8.3-inch screen is standard all across the A4 range and brings with it satnav, CarPlay and Android Auto and is run by Audi's MMI rotary dial controller with scratchpad on the top. The A4 picks up shortcut buttons previously the preserve of the A8 limousine.
It's a massive improvement on the older car
The screen is crisp and bright and a joy to use. You can plug in two phones (only one at a time supports the Apple and Google interfaces to avoid confusion), stream your music to the eight speakers or use a memory card. CarPlay and Auto are both controlled with the MMI, Audi taking the decision to go without a touchscreen. It works fine and feels right in the MMI context.
The 1.4-litre turbocharged four from a bunch of other Audis produces 110kW and 250Nm, driving the front wheels through a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.
Audi reckons you'll get the 1450kg A4 to 100km/h in 8.5 seconds while using 5.5L/100km on the combined cycle with the aid of stop-start that kicks in even before you've come to a halt. This is obviously not going to happen, we got 8.2L/100km in mixed driving conditions.
The new A4 is built on Audi's MQB Evo platform, shared with the Q7 SUV and a raft of other very posh machines including the Bentley Bentayga. As with the new Q7, it's a massive improvement on the older car.
The ride in the B9 is far better than the old car. Coupled with improved steering feel and weight, it's a much more convincing car and jumps into the same swimming pool as Mercedes and BMW's lower-powered models – it's that convincing.
The 1.4 makes more power than the same engine in the A1, A3 and Q3 and deals quite well with a ton-and-a-half of A4. The seven-speed DSG has been to a better finishing school than previous versions and makes good use of the 1.4's still-modest numbers. It's a way better deal than the old B8's 1.8-litre offering, which had a CVT. That was an awful transmission to go with an okay engine.
So much of what you get in the A4 is an extra on the competition
Having said all of that, the 1.4 and DSG can still be caught off boost and in the wrong gear if you're in a hurry, so you have to learn to work with them both (the standard paddles are a godsend) to get them to wake up.
If the mood were to strike you, the A4's front-drive chassis is quite impressive. With the 1.4 it's never going to stay with even a warm hatch, but it will take corners at a decent clip without scrabbling or wallowing like the previous car. The body is so well controlled that adaptive damping would be a very suspect choice when there are other cool things to spend your options money on.
The aggressive stop-start can be a bit of a bother in car parks and stop start traffic where there's irritations like speed-humps or driveways. If you need to come to a stop, the engine cuts out or even if you just want to creep along at a snail's pace, it won't let you until you hit the button.