An abysmal weather forecast failed to dampen the spirits of the Audi folk who presented the ninth generation of their A4 to media in Taupo. After a couple of stints in the quattro variants we can understand why they were relaxed about weather conditions.
It’s not the quattros but the base front-drive Design A4 model ($72k) that Audi wants to be its poster child for the sector, keen to raise the proportion of sales it contributes to annual overall Audi retails (expected to be around 1800 this year). It’s much less expensive than the former 2.0L starter. The A4 contributes roughly 11 per cent of revenue locally, level-pegging with each of Q3 and Q5. The new model, on a new platform, is expected to give the brand a boost locally, given its attractive appearance, improved performance and economy through weight reductions, and better specification.
The A4 has been around since the 90s, although its heritage dates back to the 70s and the Audi 80. Its shape has long been popular amongst those disaffected with styling of its rivals, and the new design continues the conservative but shapely, sophisticated theme. This iteration is wider, longer and lower, with pleasing character lines, and slimline headlights. It is also amongst the most slippery of sedans, with a Cd of 0.23.
Inside, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit appears in the upper tier models. The range consists initially of four sedans, three of them quattros. The base Design front driver is
powered by a 2.0 TFSI engine, good for 140kW and 300Nm. A major lightweighting programme has seen the A4 lose roughly 100kg reckon Audi, benefiting both performance and economy. The Design model is rated at 5.3L/100km, while the base 2.0 TDI consumes just 4.3L/100km of diesel overall. The next in the range is the higher output version of the 2.0TFSI, dishing up 175kW and 350Nm, and rounding out the quartet, the bruiser V6 TDI with even figures of 200kW and 600Nm.
We kicked off proceedings in the Design model, simply because the rain had abated temporarily. Local product guru, Jarrod Ho, believes its replete specification will give the A4 an advantage over its three rear-drive rivals, the 320, XE 2.0 and C 200. It features powered leather-trimmed seats, four drive modes, paddle shifters on the wheel, and three zones of climate air. Being front drive it has a packaging advantage over those mentioned. The new A4 adds 23mm of rear seat legroom and offers boot space of 480L. The engine is said to be virtually a complete rethink and is friendly in normal mode, and more aggressive in the dynamic setting, the seven-speed S-tronic transmission also hyped. That said, it does like a few revs for best effect.
On the go you tend to hear mainly tyre noise, with little wind rustle and engine clamour, as you’d expect given it’s turning a paltry 1600rpm at 100km/h. Fixed suspension offers a calm, absorbent ride. We found in tighter going we needed second gear occasionally but it runs to roughly 80km/h which is sufficient. The gearbox might be shortchanged a cog against the eight-speeders of the opposition but seven is enough. Given the damp conditions, we noticed a bit of scrabbling at times and had to back off a bit in tighter going. That was immediately apparent stepping into the base turbodiesel, the $80k 140kW/400Nm 2.0 TDI quattro. By this point, around Bennydale, it was fair hosing down, and quattro security was gratifying, the 2.0 TDI unraveling Waimate Rd in dramatic fashion. This is a real test of grip and dynamics, not to mention wiper ability, and it fared well on all counts. At no time was second gear required, just third through slower turns, the added grunt of the TDI readily apparent at lower revs. Engine noise is similarly well hushed, with little in the way of diesel clatter. Our car featured the S line upgrade with sports suspension but gone are the days of this meaning an uncompromising ride. It proved a tad more settled over the rough stuff and in corners than the Design model, the quattro system clearly adding grip and confidence in the wet. The S tronic box is a nice accompaniment and we had fun paddling the car through this highly technical section of road. You get from A to B quickly in this machine, and economically too.
The final drive back to Taupo via the west side of the Great Lake was in the $106,400 V6 turbodiesel, an effortless flyer. With so much torque on hand it receives an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of a twin-clutch gearbox. Both 0-100km/h time and overall fuel use rate around 5.3 (L/100km and seconds, respectively). It gets LED headlights, a 360 degree camera and 19-inch alloys.
More variants are arriving this year, including estate versions (add $3500) along with a Quattro 2.0 TFSI ($85,900), all road, and an S4 version likely here by September sporting a new 3.0L turbocharged engine.
ABOVE-Audi interiors are always well sorted. Drive Select options can be chosen by MMI or pushing a button on the dash. Active damping comes standard in higher level models, is optional in the others. Audi Virtual Cockpit a visual feast, user selectable, and is standard on all but the base model.