The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR

CAN’T dis­tin­guish the new Audi A4 from the old one? Sur­prised to learn this ninth­gen­er­a­tion model is a clean­sheet de­sign from the wheels up? You’re not alone.

Not a sin­gle panel is the same in the new A4, which also is loaded with tech­nol­ogy not seen be­fore on other mid-size lux­ury sedans. Audi hails it as a mas­sive leap for­ward yet al­most trag­i­cally hasn’t matched the new model’s ad­vances with a more dar­ing de­sign.

There is much to like, start­ing with the price. The A4 range starts from $55,500, which is $600 dearer than the cheap­est (and lesser equipped) BMW 3 Se­ries, and $5400 cheaper than the top-sell­ing Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Stan­dard fare in­cludes au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing with pedes­trian de­tec­tion (up to 85km/h), eight airbags, rear cross traf­fic alert, “ve­hi­cle exit warn­ing” to de­tect cy­clists and cars, Ap­ple Car Play and An­droid Auto, rear-view cam­era, 8.3-inch “tablet-style” dis­play screen and, a rar­ity in this class, a space-saver spare.

LED headlights, stan­dard on all mod­els, au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just the beam to the con­di­tions. At free­way speeds, the beam is di­rected as high and as far down the road as is al­lowed.

In city and sub­ur­ban driv­ing the LEDs spread a broader beam to il­lu­mi­nate foot­paths, drive­ways and side streets.

The A4 will even mit­i­gate a rear-end crash. Sen­sors in the rear bumper de­tect an im­pend­ing im­pact and strobe the brake lights to try to alert the in­com­ing driver.

In the case of an im­mi­nent im­pact, it will ac­ti­vate the seat belt pre-ten­sion­ers and close the power win­dows to pro­tect oc­cu­pants from de­bris.

A $1900 op­tion on all A4s is a pack­age that in­cludes radar cruise con­trol with “stop and go” traf­fic jam as­sis­tance up to 65km/h, lane-keep­ing and au­to­matic brak­ing if you at­tempt to turn in front of an on­com­ing car (tech­nol­ogy first seen on the Volvo XC90).

A head-up speed dis­play re­flected into the wind­screen and Audi’s awe­some “vir­tual cock­pit” 12.3-inch wide-screen in­stru­ment dis­play are bun­dled as a $2100 op­tion.

LED “Matrix” headlights, a $1700 op­tion, dim nar­row por­tions of the high beam in the di­rec­tion of on­com­ing cars so as not to blind them — while still pro­vid­ing a high beam around the ve­hi­cles.

The list goes on. So long, in fact, that one A4 we tested dur­ing the pre­view (with a high out­put 2.0-litre turbo en­gine and all-wheel drive) started at $69,900 but reached an eye-

wa­ter­ing $92,791 with op­tions. The new range of en­gines, start­ing with a 1.4-litre four­cylin­der petrol en­gine, claims class-lead­ing ef­fi­ciency.

The small­est en­gine to date in an A4 sold in Aus­tralia, the 1.4 is no slouch thanks to tur­bocharg­ing and the weight sav­ings in the car’s de­sign.

Audi has trimmed 65kg from the body de­spite it be­ing longer, wider, roomier and bet­ter equipped than its pre­de­ces­sor.

The 1.4, fine for city and sub­ur­ban com­mut­ing and cruis­ing at free­way speeds, is left want­ing a lit­tle on long steep hills.

The top-end petrol 2.0-litre has am­ple urge and, paired with all-wheel-drive, cat­like grip.

The 2.0-litre diesel sounds like a Mit­subishi Tri­ton at first but once it is warmed up it’s one of the qui­eter diesels around. It also has plenty of oomph.

The cabin of the new A4 will feel fa­mil­iar to cur­rent own­ers; it’s very Ger­man and util­i­tar­ian, rather than classy or el­e­gant.

Some will pre­fer this type of sim­plic­ity but it lacks the class of the Mercedes.

Down­sides? The road roar from the tyres is much louder than we’d ex­pect from a lux­ury car and, while the Audi steers well and han­dles cor­ners and bumps with the usual ease, it lacks the C-Class’s sup­ple­ness .

I’m also not a fan of Audi’s new au­to­matic gear lever — un­til you’re ac­cus­tomed to it, it’s easy to leave the car in gear in­ad­ver­tently.

As a safety backup, other cars au­to­mat­i­cally lock the gear­box in Park if the driver’s door opens and “park” is not en­gaged. If it’s not se­lected, the Audi will roll away — so much for all that safety tech­nol­ogy. Audi builds a qual­ity car with a sharp price and class-lead­ing tech­nol­ogy and fuel econ­omy — and wraps it in a bland pack­age. PRICE $55,500 plus on-roads WAR­RANTY 3 years/un­lim­ited km CAPPED SER­VIC­ING $1620 over 3 years SER­VICE IN­TER­VAL 12 months/15,000km SAFETY 5 stars, 8 airbags EN­GINE 1.4-litre 4-cyl turbo, 110kW/250Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 140kW/320Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo, 185kW/370Nm; 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/400Nm TRANS­MIS­SION 7-speed auto; FWD/AWD THIRST 4.6L-6.3L/100km DI­MEN­SIONS 4726mm (L), 1842mm (W), 1427mm (H), 2820mm (WB) WEIGHT 1450kg-1585kg SPARE Space-saver

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