Audi A4 prototype review: 2015 first drive

Audi A4 prototype review: 2015 first drive

Audi A4 prototype review: 2015 first drive

Yes, this really is the new Audi A4. It’s certainly an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to the styling, but under it lies a much improved car.

Besides, Audi isn’t stupid. There’s logic behind the looks, as boss man Dr Hackenberg tells us: “It’s a mistake if [a new model] makes it predecessor look old. The design is OK. It does not scream ‘it’s a new model’, as that would harm values of the old one.”

This approach has worked well for Audi in the past, but other cars in this sector are exactly the same. The BMW 3 Series hasn’t changed dramatically over its lifespan, and neither has the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The main criticism we have of the Jaguar XE is it looks a little predictable… just like a smaller XF.

But enough about the design. We’ll let you decide whether you like it. More importantly, how did we end up in a car with Dr Hackenberg and what exactly is different about this ‘all-new’ model?

Revealed last month and set to be launched to the media in September before going on sale in the UK in November, the 2016 Audi A4 is currently going through final testing in Germany. We joined engineers (as well as Dr Hackenberg) in a drive of pre-production models ahead of its final sign-off within the next couple of weeks.

2016 Audi A4: on the road

2016 Audi A4: on the road

The Audi A4 has traditionally never been a driver’s car. It’s left that to the BMW 3 Series, while recently the Jaguar XE has thrown its hat into the ring as the enthusiastic driver’s company car of choice.

But, under the watchful eye of suspension and driving dynamics expert Dr Hackenberg, the Audi A4 can finally be considered to be one of the best dynamically.

Although UK specifications are to be confirmed, higher-end models will come with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. Broadly the same as the system it replaces, under normal driving conditions it’ll transfer 60% of torque to the rear axle and 40% to the front.

But, when required, the central differential can also transfer up to 70% of torque to the front and 85% of torque to the rear. It’s a system that Audi’s spent years perfecting and it does help provide more confidence on greasy or wet roads.

The A4’s wheel-selective torque control goes a step further and can split torque between the front or rear wheels in a bid to prevent those on the inside from spinning up. This results in more agile handling on twisty roads.

The suspension has been heavily revamped for the new Audi A4, with lightness a key consideration. There’s a multitude of suspension options for buyers – from the standard suspension with sensitive monotube shock absorbers, to adjustable sport or comfort dampers.

The ride does appear to be comfortable with even the sportier suspension setups, but it’s hard to tell on the sort of smooth, German roads we can but dream of in the UK. Still, even the 18-inch alloys of our test cars failed to transmit the harshest road surfaces we could find into the cabin.

One criticism many drivers of the outgoing model have is the steering, which features an unnerving ‘dead’ point just off straight ahead. This is now gone, with the A4’s electromechanical steering providing an instant response to every input from the driver. It’s a really pleasing steering set up – one that can be tweaked from ultra-light to sportily heavy through Audi’s driver select system.

Higher-end models will come with dynamic steering which adjusts its ratios depending on your driver select mode and the speed you’re travelling at. While a clever idea, and one we’d imagine we could comfortably get used to, it seems to lack a touch of the directness of the regular steering (we recently criticised a similar system in the facelifted BMW 3 Series).

Aside from the suspension and steering, there’s a host of driver assistance features to make life easier. One of the most significant is the adaptive cruise control (ACC). While ACC isn’t groundbreaking itself – it is becoming commonplace across VW Group products – some of the features debuting on the new A4 are.

For example, the ACC’s traffic jam assist can take over steering at speeds of up to 40mph. It uses the car’s front camera as well as sensors to gently guide the car and follow the vehicle in front in heavy traffic. Essentially, at low speeds, the Audi A4 can drive itself.

2016 Audi A4: on the inside

2016 Audi A4: on the inside

If you’ve ever driven a modern Audi, you’re not going to be particularly surprised by the new A4’s interior. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it feels solid and well-built, and provides that premium feel you’d expect from a car of this class.

A big change to the Audi A4’s interior is the addition of the virtual cockpit, as seen on the latest TT. This replaces the standard driver’s instrument panel (featuring the speedo and rev counter) with a 12.3-inch LCD monitor.

Using a button on the steering wheel, the driver can change the size of the instruments and switch between features such as the sat-nav and audio. It’s a system we like in the TT and it’s transferred well to the A4 – almost making the 8.3-inch MMI touchscreen in the centre console seem redundant.

While UK specifications are yet to be confirmed, the virtual cockpit is likely to be standard on higher-end models and available as an option on the rest of the range.

One complaint about the interior is the bulky transmission tunnel. It encroaches onto the legroom of the front passenger in the left-hand drive model we tried – suggesting, like the outgoing model, there might be awkward offset pedals on right-hand drive versions.

That transmission tunnel makes for uncomfortable seating for middle seat passengers in the rear. Audi says there’s now an extra 23mm of legroom in the rear, yet it still feels cramped for adults. Not a huge concern if you’re a company car driver covering 90% of your miles without passengers, but families with teenage children should probably look elsewhere.

2016 Audi A4: running costs

2016 Audi A4: running costs

With company car drivers being the staple of Audi A4 buyers, Audi has concentrated on making the A4 more efficient – boasting a 21% reduction in fuel consumption compared to its predecessor.

Because of the efforts Audi has gone to into reducing the weight of the A4 and making it more aerodynamic, it’s now class-leading when it comes to efficiency.

The A4 2.0-litre TDI Ultra comes in at 95g/km CO2 in saloon form (99g/km for the Avant) – bringing it below that 100g/km threshold for car tax and company car users. Jaguar has only just edged below 100g/km with its XE, while it’s only with the facelifted car that the BMW 3 Series dips below 100g/km: the volume diesel model starts at 102g/km.

More importantly for those of us who aren’t company car drivers is the A4’s fuel efficiency. With a manual transmission the 150hp A4 Ultra returns a frankly staggering 76.3mpg, while the more powerful 190hp 2.0-litre diesel achieves 68.9mpg in non-Ultra form.

The 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel starts at 67.2mpg, while the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol returns 49.6mpg.

2016 Audi A4: verdict

2016 Audi A4: verdict

Without driving the new Audi A4, you have to look very closely to see the differences over the predecessor. A slightly improved interior and tweaked exterior isn’t enough to excite buyers in the premium segment.

But when you start to look closely and, more importantly, take the new Audi A4 for a drive, you start to realise the new model is a much bigger advancement than you might have originally thought.

It now handles with the best – seemingly with little expense in comfort (although we look forward to putting it through a real test on UK roads). The addition of Audi’s virtual cockpit along with a host of technology will appease the most demanding of company car drivers.

They are the mainstay of A4 customers, after all. And on paper, the figures more than stack up for them. It’s a bold move sticking with a steel platform, but Audi has put so much work into saving weight and improving aerodynamics.

The result is huge. It truly is class-leading when it comes to efficiency, meaning it’ll undercut rivals in company car tax and save money on fuel.

We understand why Audi hasn’t changed the A4’s appearance dramatically but for us, having seen just how good the new A4 is, it’s a little bit disappointing that most will dismiss this as little more than a slight facelift.

Our only other complaint? Interior space. Sure, it’s more spacious than its predecessor, but legroom in the back isn’t good for adults. If you rarely carry rear seat passengers, you should give the Audi A4 some serious consideration over a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE. Certainly don’t dismiss it without a good test drive.

Specification: 2016 Audi A4

Engines: 2.0 – 3.0-litre TDI diesels; 1.4 – 2.0-litre TFSI petrol

Prices from: £28,000 (est)

Power: 150hp – 272hp

Torque: 184 – 295lb ft

0-62mph: 5.3 – 8.9 seconds

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 49.6 – 76.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 129 – 180g/km

Honda Civic Type R

Honda Civic Type R review: 2015 first drive

We’re among the first to drive the all-new Honda Civic Type R, finally here a full five years after the last one was phased out. Has it been worth the wait?

Honda Civic Type R: Overview

Honda Civic Type R

The Honda Civic Type R was last sold in 2010. Five years later, the all-new one joins a crowded marketplace. Volkswagen’s Golf GTI continues to thrive, the RenaultSport Megane and SEAT Leon Cupra have been busy fighting one another for the Nurburgring crown and Ford’s been readying both a facelifted Focus ST and a snarling new Mustang-engined RS.

Honda’s answer is, in classic Type R style, striking. The new five-door hatch has 310hp, can do 167mph and accelerate from 0-62mph in just 5.7 seconds. Every single rival, immediately beaten. It’s also snatched Nurburgring FWD lap record honours from an aghast Renault and SEAT and, more controversially, risked leaving Type R traditionalists aghast by enhancing the VTEC engine with a turbo for the first time.

The fact it looks so incredibly fearsome has partly helped ally the fears. This is, in an instant, the most aggressive and specialised hot hatch on sale, with kudos coming from the fact the bodykit’s not just for show, either: it’s the first hot hatch to generate negative lift at speed, both front and rear.

As for the £29,995 list price – or the £32,295 price of the GT pack model 1 in 2 buyers will go for – it initially seems higher than rivals but, adjusted for specification and, vitally, considering the Type R’s performance advantage, it’s actually pretty sharp. There’s even a finance deal that lets you buy it for £300 a month.

Still, questions remain though. How on earth can a front-wheel drive car (no, Honda’s not given it four-wheel drive) cope with 310hp of turbo-boosted power? And can a Type R with a turbo possibly wear the legendary red badge proudly?

The answers, Honda Type R fans, will please you…

Honda Civic Type R: On the road

Honda Civic Type R

Only the first few hundred yards of your first drive will have you fearing the Civic Type R is too extreme: at low speed, the ride is undeniably stiff and sensitive to potholes, smashing and crashing severely at times. Let the suspension do its work, rather than just the shallow-profile 19-inch tyres, and things improve considerably.

Honda has completely redesigned the suspension of the Civic Type R. It has torque steer-quelling dual axis front suspension, a twice-as-stiff rear twist beam and high-tech ADS adaptive dampers as standard. Those dampers make it surprisingly supple, compliant and controlled at speed, but can be firmed up 30% at the press of an R+ button: this feels good.

What feels even better is booting the accelerator hard and feeling the full force of 310hp. Not because it’s explosive, but because the front wheels defy odds by digging in, finding traction and delivering all that power to the road, rather than spinning it away in a smokey, torque-steer-laden mess. The bite of the Civic’s front end is little short of astounding that Honda’s been able to make it do this. Rivals could learn plenty.

Honda Civic Type R

Perhaps the characteristics of the engine help. We told chief engineer Hisayuki Yagi that we felt it was VTEC first, with added turbo power, rather than the other way around. He beamed: the smile said it all. You still have to rev it like a VTEC, still get the biggest bang as you near the 7,000rpm redline: only this time, there is some semblance of torquey pull lower down – oh, and the small matter of an extra 110hp over the previous VTEC engine that didn’t have a turbo.

Be in no doubt, the Civic Type R has attitude. It responds with immediacy, is lively and electric, rewards you immensely for driving it with manic vigour. It’s just that this time, there’s a welcome layer of usability, flexibility and rolling comfort on top. Buyers are going to find this very appealing indeed.

What it can’t match, though, is the ultimate precision of the class-leading Renaultsport Megane Trophy (and it’s near-perfect £38k cousin, the 1-of-15 Trophy-R). If you’re after the last edge of fingertip precision from the steering, detail-flooding feedback from the front end and solid confidence to use the brakes very, very hard indeed, you should still go for the otherwise aged and dated Megane. For the rest of us, the Civic’s likely to plain electrify.

Ford Focus RS development team, were you expecting this?

Honda Civic Type R: On the inside

Honda Civic Type R

The interior of the regular Civic has been richened with Type R specifics, but it’s still the weak area of the car. Impeccably assembled, it’s still too plasticky in appearance, with a downmarket appearance to the trim that’s more budget city car rather than Audi-like Volkswagen.

The Type R bits are a complete success though. The chunky, flat-bottom steering wheel is lovely, classic titanium-topped gearlever beautiful and even the dials have been given a polished appearance. Alcantara trim has neat red stitching, red seat belts are retro-tastic and we love the bespoke electronic dials that appear when you press the red R+ button.

Honda Civic Type R

The best bit are the seats. They are exceptional, some of the best seats you’ll find in any car. Be careful when you first get in, because the deeply bucketed bolsters are hard and hip-hugging, but the focused grasp they hold you in is a treat. They look brilliant and endow the Civic Type R with further Porsche 911 GT3 RS vibes.

It’s practical, too. The 498-litre boot is disarmingly large – like, really large, particularly in depth – and the rear cabin is awash with space as well. All Type R are well equipped – choose the GT for sat nav, tech goodies and a better stereo – and, overall, it’s a supremely practical family-focused hot hatch that just happens to also do 167mph and 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds.

Honda Civic Type R: Running costs

Honda Civic Type R

Honda claim 38.7mpg and 170g/km CO2 for the Civic Type R which, considering its stonking performance, seems pretty fair. It’s considerably more fuel efficient than the 2010-spec Type R, despite its 110 extra horses, if not a match for the 47.1mpg Golf (220hp) or Ford Focus ST (250hp).

The £29,995 list price is sweetened by that £299 a month PCP finance deal; it requires a 30% deposit but that’s still striking accessibility for the hot hatch of the moment. Honda says upgrading to the GT pack will only cost £10 a month more.

We only expect positive news for depreciation too. Honda’s currently quoting a five-month delivery time, and that’s before any reviews of the car were published: when they are, the firm expects this to grow further as demand builds. It can only help strengthen used values further.

Honda Civic Type R: Verdict

Honda Civic Type R

Honda has delivered better than we ever expected with the Civic Type R. On paper, it shouldn’t work; in practice, it does so with considerable ability and real charisma.

STATISTICS: 2015 Honda Civic Type R

Power: 310hp at 6,500rpm

Torque: 295lb ft at 2,500rpm

0-62mph: 5.7 seconds

Top speed: 167mph

Combined fuel economy: 38.7mpg

CO2: 170g/km

RIVALS: 2015 Honda Civic Type R

Alfa Romeo Giulietta QV

BMW M135i

Ford Focus RS

Renaultsport Megane 275 Trophy-R

SEAT Leon Cupra

Volkswagen Golf GTI

Vauxhall Astra VXR

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

Volvo XC90 review: 2015 UK first drive

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FDVolvo XC90: Overview

We already know the second generation Volvo XC90 is good. What remained unclear was just how good it could be back here in Britain. Well, following the UK launch we’re prepared to admit that Volvo has well and truly nailed it. The all-new XC90 is a deeply impressive machine and a worthy successor to the original.

Make no mistake, there will be a few executives in Munich, Stuttgart and Ingolstadt having sleepless nights as a result.

For years we’ve positioned Volvo cars as worthy alternatives to the German rivals. The new XC90 changes the game. It’s good enough to place it ahead of the X5, Q7, M-Class. Now it’s the turn of the Germans to play catch up.

Put bluntly, the XC90 is simply brilliant. Seven-seat SUVs are supposed to be vulgar, brutish and charmless, whereas the XC90 is elegant, sophisticated and charming. We’re well and truly smitten.

Volvo XC90: On the road

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

The XC90 is the first Volvo to be built using the new Scalable Product Architecture (SPA). All future Volvos will be released using the platform, so it has to be good. It’s properly flexible, with only the area from the front axle to the dashboard fixed, leaving the designers and engineers free to conjure up all manner of future products. Stay tuned for the new V90 and S90, due to arrive some time next year.

In the meantime, the XC90 represents the future of Volvo. And if the XC90 is anything to go by, the future is incredibly bright for the Chinese-owned Swedish company. The XC90 has no right to drive as well as it does. On some properly narrow, twisting and unforgiving Yorkshire roads, the XC90 felt surefooted, composed and supremely comfortable. It’s easy to forget you’re driving a seven-seat SUV.

And that’s because the XC90 seems to shrink to fit UK roads. An Audi Q7 might have felt cumbersome and oversized when trying to weave through some tiny Yorkshire Dales villages, but not the XC90. It has the nimbleness to shame a much smaller SUV.

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

Part of the appeal is the astonishing level of comfort. For £2,150 you can equip your XC90 with four-corner electronic air suspension, allowing you to float from A to B on a cushion of…well, air. We were initially tempted to mark it down as a must-have upgrade, but the XC90 is so good without it, we’re not so sure. Put it this way – the XC90 rides better with air suspension, but it does manage to blunt the otherwise excellent steering and turn-in. You pays your money, you takes your choice, etc.

It’s worth pointing out that the air suspension does mean you can order 21-inch alloy wheels and not sacrifice ride quality. It really is that good. However, we’d be tempted to save the money and put it towards the excellent Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system, but more on this later.

The powertrains on offer in the XC90 are derived from the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder architecture – a D5 diesel, a T6 petrol and a T8 plug-in hybrid. The D5 is an impressive unit, producing 225hp and emitting just 149g/km CO2, compared to the 200hp and 215g/km offered by the old 2.3-litre D5. The T6 is almost as good, with the combination of a turbocharger and supercharger helping it to produce 320hp and 295lb ft of torque. But it’s the additional 51lb ft of torque offered by the D5 which gives it the edge over the T6.

The D5 is more in-keeping with the XC90’s smooth and relaxed character, with the extra torque making for more relaxed cruising and overtaking. Neither engine feels particularly rapid, but you hardly feel shortchanged. One area of complaint would be the way in which the automatic transmission can feel out of sync with the engine, especially when exiting a corner. There’s a momentary delay as the transmission searches for the right gear, which is especially noticeable in the petrol version.

Unsurprisingly, Volvo expects the D5 to account for the majority of sales, thanks in part to the claimed 48.7mpg, compared to the 35.3mpg of the T6. Curiously, the 400hp petrol-electric plug-in hybrid is attracting a large number of pre-release orders, largely thanks to the business benefits of running a 59g/km CO2 SUV.

Volvo XC90: On the inside

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

If any area of the new XC90 justifies the premium prices, it’s the new interior. Jump into an XC60 after spending time in a new XC90 and it’ll feel like going back in time. Jump into the first generation XC90 and you’ll be heading back to the dark ages. The new interior doesn’t just feel premium, it is premium.

There are two trim levels available from launch – Momentum and Inscription – with R-Design following later in the year. Volvo expects 50% of buyers to opt for the Momentum trim and this is arguably where the greatest value lies. And that’s because the quality is first rate, even with this so-called entry level trim, while the level of standard specification is generous in the extreme. As the flagship of the brand, Volvo has decided to load the XC90 with toys, so all buyers will get Sensus navigation, LED bending headlights and active high beam, CleanZone air quality system, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, power driver’s seat, City Safety and Run-off Road Protection.

Central to the experience is the new 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system which will be instantly familiar to anyone who has used an iPad or other generic tablet device. Not only that, but the display is crystal clear and extremely user-friendly. The majority of the car’s functions – including the sat nav, audio, phone, car settings and climate control – are accessed through the display. Nitpicking, we’d say we’d prefer to change the climate control settings via a pair of dials, but the speech control function presents a strong counterargument against this.

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

It’s a uniquely Swedish interior, which in itself is the perfect antidote to the me-too offerings from Germany. The leather used on the seats is supplied by Bridge of Weir, the carpets are influenced by Swedish rugs and the colours are said to be influenced by Swedish landscapes. Had the interior been a dog’s dinner, it would have been easy to laugh at such marketing waffle. But it has been executed so superbly, you can’t help but sit back and nod with approval. Little details like the beautifully finished start-stop control switch, the small Swedish flag on the driver’s seat and the feel of the electric window switches highlight the work that has gone in to creating one of the most convincing cabins you’ll find.

All seven occupants should be happy in the XC90. The seats are all-new and will be used in all future Volvo products. Crucially they are smaller than before, helping to provide more space inside the cabin. Which in turn means the third row seats can be the same as those found in the second row, so there’s little in the way of compromise for those relegated to the back. Sure, adults won’t thank you for sending them to the back and access isn’t brilliant, but it’s hardly a tight squeeze.

It helps that the seats are laid out in theatre style, meaning you sit higher up the further back you go. There’s stacks of leg and headroom in the second row of seats and even the middle seat is OK for adults. For occupants a little younger, it’s possible to fit an integrated child booster seat in the middle. It’s part of the Family Pack, which also includes power child locks for the rear doors, a load protection net and integrated sun curtains. At £275, this is a steal and is sure to prove popular in one of the XC90’s key markets.

The boot offers 451 of space in seven-seat configuration and now includes a slot to store the load cover when the third row of seats are in use. The loading lip is on the high side, which won’t be good news for arthritic dogs, but buyers who have fitted the air suspension will be able to lower the car’s height via a button on the inside of the boot. The tailgate can be opened by doing a merry dance under the rear bumper with one of your feet. Best foot forward, and all that.

A word on the Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system, which at £3,000 – including Senses Connect – is hardy cheap. But it’s up there with the best in-car audio systems we’ve experienced and features 19 speakers and a jewel-like tweeter on top of the dashboard to provide a more ‘spacious’ sound. Order this and you can play your music through a Gothenburg Concert Hall setting. Sounds naff, but it isn’t. We took the XC90 to a top of a Yorkshire Dale and did our own rendition of Last Night of the Proms. We stopped short of waving the Union Flags.

Volvo XC90: Running costs

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

Sure, the Volvo XC90 is more expensive than the previous model, but then it’s so much more than the car it replaces. Prices start from £45,750 for the D5 Momentum, rising to £63,650 for the T8 Inscription. Volvo will also offer a choice of seven option packs, so it’s possible to spend serious cash on the car. Historically, the XC90 has held its value better than other Volvos and we see no reason why this should change with the new model. Demand is likely to be high on the used car market.

Understandably, the T8 offers the lowest running costs, with a claimed 112.9mpg and 59g/km CO2. That said, it probably only makes real sense for business users, who can take advantage of its 5% BIK rate. In the real world, you’d be better off saving the £10,000 outlay and opting for the D5 diesel.

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

Being hyper-critical, we’d argue that the XC90 can get super-expensive once you’ve add a few must-have options and accessories. One of the cars available to drive had £14,000 worth of options added, taking it up to just shy of £65,000.

You’ll find yourself looking at some of the packs and thinking you can’t do without them – like the rear camera, which you’ll need because rear visibility isn’t all that great. It comes as part of the £2,000 Xenium pack, which also features the excellent power slide and tilt panoramic roof and Park Assist Pilot.

You’ll also want the Winter pack, with its heated seats and steering wheel, plus head-up display. In short, be prepared to spend more than the list price.

Volvo XC90: Verdict

Volvo XC90 2015 UK FD

The Volvo XC90 is worthy of a full five-star rating. Not only does it feel worth the money, it also feels like you’re getting something extra, a rare commodity in a car costing upwards of £45,000. We’re not saying that isn’t a huge amount of cash, but the level of quality, generous level of standard spec and a massive feel-good factor combine to more than justify the expense.

Everything feels new and yet it still feels like an XC90. Volvo’s traditional hallmarks of safety and comfort are there in abundance, but the new-found sophistication and confidence takes Volvo to a new place. Make no mistake, the new XC90 is an exceptional car and Volvo will sell many more than the 5,500 it is forecasting for the UK.

Get your order in early to avoid disappointment. Waiting lists are likely to be lengthy.

Specification: Volvo XC90

Engines 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol and 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel

Gearbox Six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic

Prices from £45,750

Power 225hp – 320hp

Torque 295 – 346lb ft

0-62mph 6.5 – 7.8 seconds

Top speed 137 – 143mph

MPG 35.3 – 49.6

CO2 149 – 186g/km

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