Experience the thrill of driving every month with evo magazine, devoted exclusively to the greatest performance cars in the world. If you're passionate about performance cars then evo is your ultimate monthly read.
When it comes to halos, few brands can rival the glow surrounding Audi at the moment. The R8 – complete with its two-year waiting list – is the hottest ticket in town, but what’s the point in grabbing everyone’s attention with a stunning flagship if your best-seller is fast approaching its sell-by date?
The all-new A4 will remedy that, but it can’t rely solely on the reflected glory of its stellar sibling to succeed. This, after all, is the car that spawned the awesome RS4, and the consequences of getting the basis for its replacement wrong don’t bear thinking about.
The A4 order book is already open, but the first cars won’t hit the UK until next March. When they do, the 261bhp 3.2-litre V6 will be the most potent option available. However, ‘S-line’ examples like our test car won’t be around until the middle of next year, which is a shame, because it undoubtedly shows the saloon in its best light. You see, Audi has taken the styling direction signposted ‘evolutionary’ for the new A4, and while the result is smart and clean, it needs the S-line’s 19in alloys and lower suspension to provide some visual aggression.
A revised front bumper, a gloss black grille and alloy-rimmed foglights (complete with eyelash-style surrounds) also set it apart from lesser models, but you have to fork out extra if you want the ‘cool’ LED daytime running lights you see here – you only get them if you tick the £775 xenon headlights option.
On a more practical level, the latest A4 is 117mm longer and 55mm wider than its predecessor, while the wheelbase has grown by 160mm to improve weight distribution. Point it down an empty road and the A4 makes a decent fist of getting from A to B with a minimum of fuss. The 0-62mph sprint takes just 6.2 seconds and traction from the quattro four-wheel-drive system is predictably impressive. The tuneful V6 makes short work of straights and slow-moving traffic, while high grip levels and tight body control make for impressive composure when you up the pace.
The steering isn’t the most talkative but it is precise, and the smart three-spoke wheel is great to hold. Unfortunately our test car wasn’t fitted with Audi’s latest innovation, dubbed Dynamic Steering. This £1000 option varies the steering ratio according to road speed to boost agility or stability and, working with the ESP system, can even apply small amounts of opposite lock to help correct oversteer. It also detects the onset of understeer and reduces the steering ratio to help maintain grip, although Audi claims the adjustments go unnoticed by the driver.
We did get to experience Audi Drive Select, however. Also £1000, it optimises suspension, steering and engine settings depending on which of three modes has been selected by the driver. A pair of dash-mounted buttons cycle through comfort, automatic and dynamic settings, but ride quality is impressive even in the most extreme mode, so best to leave it there, where you get to enjoy the more substantial steering feel and sharper responses. A fourth ‘personal’ setting allows owners to fine-tune a bespoke set-up using the new MMI interface, so if you want the most comfortable suspension setting with dynamic steering, you can have it.
For all its talents, though, the A4 feels slightly inert from behind the wheel. It’s undeniably capable, combining agility and pace, but the whole experience is very businesslike. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise from a car aimed largely at company buyers, where the gearshift indicator lights are designed to tell you how to maximise fuel economy rather than when the red line is approaching.
Don’t despair though, because it’s an improvement on the old car across the board, which means the legend of the RS4 is in safe hands.
|Max power||261bhp @ 6500rpm|
|Max torque||243lb ft @ 3000-5000rpm|
|Top speed||155mph (limited)|
|On sale||June 2008|