When car manufacturers spend big on a mid-life facelift, you know the original model was a disappointment. The current-generation Audi A4, launched in 2016, was an able but forgettable car. Its styling predated the arrival of new design boss Marc Lichte, and proved why his new ideas were so necessary.
Four years on, hundreds of millions of pounds has been invested in rejuvenating the A4. Every body panels apart from the roof, bonnet and bootlid is new, the already-lovely interior has been further improved, and a revised engine line-up is greener yet faster.
You won’t miss it. The front end is more aggressive and the body sides now have distinct wheelarch creases front and rear – modelled on the original Audi Quattro, says Lichte. Inside, a massive 10.1-inch touchscreen dominates the centre, and every variant gets a new, improved Audi Virtual Cockpit digital cluster.
Equipment levels are standout, actually. The latest MMI Touch infotainment system (which gives a loud haptic ‘click’ as you touch it) has standard sat nav and reversing camera. Front seats are heated. There are full LED headlights and tail lights, auto-dim folding door mirrors and three-zone climate control. For fleet drivers not allowed to choose options other than metallic paint, the new Technik entry grade will be a dream.
There are seven different turbocharged engines, three petrol and four diesel (the top-spec S4 is now a TDI diesel). Most buyers now choose petrol, with the 35 TFSI being the best-seller. Nearly every A4 comes with an S tronic automatic – sensible, as it has a clever free-wheeling facility that saves fuel when cruising (thanks to standard mild hybrid tech, the engine can even shut down entirely when on the move).
Audi engine designation badges now refer to power ranges. There is method in the apparent madness, but that’s too involved to go into here. What you need to know is that the 35 TFSI is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 150 hp. And it’s basically a detuned VW Golf GTI engine, one down on horsepower, but not pulling power: 199 lb ft of torque means it’s not short on muscle.
Keep away from the 19-inch wheels of S line variants and above, and it emits less than 130 g/km CO2, and averages over 42 mpg. It performs impeccably, too. Volkswagen Group is making some fine petrol engines right now, and this is one of them. Refined, linear, responsive and effortless, it also makes a nice cammy grown when revved without ever becoming loud or intrusive.
The 7-speed automatic is also smooth, which gives even this entry-level A4 a cut-above feel on the road. Only if you stare at the rev counter will you notice the engine speed dropping to idle, then the green stop-start symbol indicating it’s shut down; that’s a measure of how quietly it cruises, and how smooth the engine cuts back in again.
My test car had a nice, cushioned ride quality. It wafted across B-roads but never became unruly in corners. Checking the spec sheet later revealed why: it had optional adaptive suspension, which only buyers of the Vorsprung variant will be able to option on UK cars. I’m sure the regular car has a fine ride, but it won’t be as good as this (and even here, the tyres at times picked up a bit of surface harshness).
The A4 corners safely and accurately. True to form, it’s a bit forgettable. If you want driving engagement, go for a BMW 3 Series. What the A4 does really well is feel secure and stable, with precise, planted steering and a quality feel of impenetrability. Firm, supportive seats, good visibility and exceptional noise isolation reinforce this. It’s a high-mileage driver’s dream.
Verdict: Audi A4 35 TFSI Sport S Tronic
The new BMW 3 Series is a formidable rival. It looks distinctive and it’s superb to drive. But the latest Audi A4 is a much-improved alternative with punchier looks, some impressive engines and class-leading levels of standard equipment. It may not excite, but it will satisfy you better than ever. And certainly no longer disappoint.
Facts: Audi A4 35 TFSI Sport S Tronic
Price: £33,975 (August 2019)
Engine: 2.0-litre TFSI
Power: 150 hp
Torque: 199 lb ft
0-62 mph: 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 140 mph
Average economy: 42.2 mpg
CO2: 127 g/km
Length / width / height: 4762 / 1847 / 1431 mm
Boot capacity: 460 litres