Despite the dilution brought about by increased segmentation and price-point intrusions, the premium executive sedan segment remains an important arena for automakers involved in that particular tussle to be in, and for good reason.
For many, a premium compact exec still represents the entry point into the big league, the sign that you’ve arrived, or at least, begun to. Somehow, a hatchback or a correspondingly-priced SUV – even if both happen to wear the same brand logo – doesn’t quite announce it in the same fashion.
Which is why things like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class continue to do as well as they do, even from a local perspective. Of all the outsiders that have long attempted to gate-crash that party locally, Audi has arguably been the most successful of the lot, managing to steal more than a few dances – and hearts – with its last two A4s.
While the B7 effectively pried open the door, much of the traction gained here has been made by the previous-gen B8, though the last couple of years – and the advent of the F30 and W205 – have faded that push. With the arrival of a new steed, Ingolstadt is looking to get back on to the floor, and not just as a bit part player. Let’s find out if the fifth-gen B9 Audi A4 has what it takes to shashay its way to glory.
More evolution than revolution is always the case where premium executive sedans are concerned, and the new A4 doesn’t veer from that path. It wears its fresh new suite well enough; the lines are clean and the angles, tidy, even if the local-spec 2.0 TFSI form seen here doesn’t quite show off the car at its best.
Much has to do with the chosen 17-inch five-parallel spoke wheels (dressed with 225/50 tyres), which lends the car a rather unflattering fleet-car appearance. Still, nothing a wheel switch and some bodystyling embellishments can’t change – there’s an optional S line package that can address this.
Back to the base form. It’s become much meatier, more so when you park it next to a B8, like we did for a gallery comparison shoot. I prefer the more organic approach taken by the older car’s lines, but this should well appeal to those who like their cars to be stockier-set in disposition. Grown up, you could say, ably filling the new clothes it has on.
Bigger it may be, but it’s lighter than its predecessor. Underpinned by the automaker’s revised Modularer Längsbaukasten Evo platform, the B9 weighs in up to 120 kg less than the B8, depending on the variant, the reduction in mass brought about by increased use of hot-formed high-strength steel for the body and aluminium for panelling.
Launched here in September, the fully-imported A4 is currently available only in a single 2.0 TFSI form, priced at RM248,900, but it will be joined by an entry-level 1.4 TFSI and range-topping 2.0 TFSI quattro in January next year. The 2.0 litre turbo mill is good for 190 hp at 4,200 to 6,000 rpm and 320 Nm at 1,450 to 4,200 rpm. Working with a seven-speed S tronic wet dual-clutch gearbox, performance figures include a 0-100 km/h time of 7.3 seconds and a 240 km/h top speed.
Standard kit includes adaptive comfort suspension with damping control and Audi drive select, with Comfort, Auto and Dynamic modes. Also on, LED headlamps with LED daytime running lights, with dynamic headlight-range adjustment to boot.
Inside, the equipment list includes leather upholstery, aluminium trim inlays, a triple-zone climate control system, cruise control, a start/stop system, electrically-adjustable front seats, a three-spoke leather steering wheel with shift paddles and a 180 watt, 10-speaker, six-channel sound system as well as a MMI Radio plus infotainment unit.
No navigation on this one, or for that matter the visually captivating Audi virtual cockpit instrument panel, but plans down the line will see the introduction of an optional Technology package, which will introduce these items to the variant. Aside from MMI navigation plus and the virtual cockpit, the Tech package will also bring about Audi connect, a rearview camera, smartphone connectivity as well as Matrix LED headlamps.
A quick recap on the optional S line package available for the car. It goes for RM25,000, and plasters on more aggressively styled front/rear bumpers and new inserts, chrome-plated rear exhaust tips and 18-inch five twin-spoke Star design alloy wheels, just the thing to get rid of that rental car look. The package also adds Alcantara/leather front seats in black, an S line sport steering wheel and illuminated door sills into the mix.
As for safety kit, the list includes six airbags, ESC, multi-collision brake assist and Isofix seat mounts on the outer rear seats. Elsewhere, no shortage of exterior colours to pick from, with 10 available for the car locally – the shades are Argus Brown, Floret Silver, Glacier White, Manhattan Grey, Matador Red, Monsoon Grey, Mythos Black, Scuba Blue, Tango Red and a unique Daytona Grey for cars specified with the optional S line package.
On to the performance, and if you were to judge a car solely based on its efficiency, the A4 would score very highly. Plus points are that it’s eminently quiet, fast enough and drives cleanly, elements that will no doubt appeal to the sensible looking for such measure in a car.
If you believe this is what a premium executive sedan should be, reliable but largely invisible, then this uniformity will make for plenty of appeal and fuss-free motoring. This scope permeated itself over a two-day drive out to Port Dickson, the usual fare of city-only driving having being ditched in favour of an extended run to see if anything struck out of the ordinary.
Nothing never did, right to the very end. The B8, which was sampled since it was in anyway, felt a much rawer, keener proposition, despite it being saddled with a dull CVT. The new A4 is so linear in behaviour that there’s nothing untoward in how it drives, but there’s also very little in the way of excitement. The result is a car that consistently strikes sevens out of tens from an engagement perspective.
Which is not really a bad thing, especially in a rote carried out on a daily basis. In this regard, it is no 3 Series, which despite its softer focus of late still throws in enough to make a drive an adventure, should you choose that avenue. Still, as my erstwhile colleague Danny Tan pointed out in a discussion we had about the merits of the car, you can’t always be barrelling along everywhere, every day, so maybe there’s validity in that dished out by the Audi.
The thing about all this consistency is that nothing shouts itself out, ever. Handling is competent, but isn’t going to give a 3er any sleepless nights, not that it’s the intent anyway. Despite the electro-mechanical nature of the steering, the rack feels shunted, offering very little in the way of feedback. Still, this matters little in a daily grind.
Ride quality, meanwhile, is far better than that offered by the B8 and falls somewhere in between its direct competitors. Primary is very good, though arguably a shade off that offered by the F30, and while secondary is on the firm side, it’s not that hard or fixed in approach as that coming off the C-Class. It’s aided by good in-cabin noise levels, which in terms of sonic isolation is noticeably ahead of the 3er.
Speaking of the interior, the lack of the virtual cockpit and smallish centrally-mounted display screen takes some gloss off an otherwise neat presentation of the revised forward cabin layout. The new dashboard and centre console is a significant leap from the B8’s both in functionality and visual appeal, though the MMI remains an infuriating piece of kit with its continued lack of intuitiveness and operational ease. The removal of the dizzying plethora of red illuminated switchgear buttons makes up for it though.
The biggest positive with the new business-like interior is with its volume and perceived space, most noticeably at the back – if you carry more than one passenger on a regular basis and value knee room, then these are definitely the rear seats of choice out of the trio of Teutonic offerings; both F30 and W205 rears are decidedly pinched in comparison.
In summation, the Audi A4 2.0 TFSI is easy enough to categorise. It’s one of those cars that, the more you drive it, the more its unwavering, constant character grows on you, though this will ring true only if you’re into that sort of approach.
It’s not for everyone, this path, but if you think the 3er seems too much of a rascal to keep and the C-Class a tad too flashy to be seen with, then this debonair will be the perfect dance partner. Actually, if you like things prim and proper, this one will never let you down.