Back from the surgeon's table

Audi’s bread and butter model has just undergone a major revamp, and it looks ready to slice the competition with its sharp looks

For most segments, Audi has struck the perfect balance between the overtly comfortable (old man’s) approach of Mercedes and the sportingly bent (rabid dog) philosophy of BMW. The A4 has been epitomising this balance for a decade now and it was time to give it the overhaul it so deserved.

The 2016 model isn’t a facelift, but an all-new model that wears aggressive headlights with dual-DRLs and dynamic indicators, a sharper grille, subtle gymming of body and a more modern rear section. All this without upsetting the executive look of the earlier car, and that’s a recipe Audi doesn’t want to mess with. In fact, the new A4, even with its liposuction of 100kgs, is being pushed as a chauffeur-driven limo, which explains why the cabin feels roomier and a whole lot richer.

The tech toys

Since the old A4 was getting a bit long in the tooth, Audi decided to give the new model the royal makeover. Not even a hint of the older, vertically stacked dashboard remains - what you get is a sweeping design with continuous air vents running across the breadth of the car, as we first saw on the new Q7. There’s even the Virtual Cockpit instead of the usual analog dials, which really is the deal clincher for many.

There's also a hi-res 12.3in screen that can serve any kind of visuals the driver demands - sat/nav, media, vehicle info, phonebooc, etc. in glorious HD, while keeping the speedometer and rev counter always in view. Of course, there’s also the standard 7in freestanding screen in the middle of the dash that doubles up as an information source for use along with the MMI Touchpad. But unlike some of the higher-end models, this one doesn’t stow away and is similar in that way to the C-Class. 

The new stuff doesn't end there, though. Audi also has cleverly given hot keys for your favourite tech features, which can be programmed to bring up your most often-used features with just one key instead of floundering about in the sub menus. You also get a lot a love for your smart devices and the A4 joins the elite group of cars that currently support both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The integration is fine and dandy, but to get back from any other screen to CarPlay means going back to the main menu and selecting the icon again. Miss.

What is very well thought out is the new smart key, which not only memorises the seat and steering positions for individual key holders, but also remembers their preferred music and climate control settings. It’s the little things, right? The sound system isn’t a fancy brand, but Audi’s in-house engineers have still equipped it with enough speakers to have a little bit of fun with the Chemical Brothers. It’s best used to hide the strained engine from whining when you happen to get a bit frisky behind the wheel.

The business end

The biggest change, mechanically, has been under the hood, and Audi has trimmed the fat along with some muscle here. The 1.8lt petrol motor gets replaced with a new 1.4lt unit, and it goes down on power and torque, but Audi claims it’s faster to the 100km/hr sprint. The 150bhp and 250Nm of torque feels adequate while negotiating with urban traffic and commute, but out on the highway, it feels strained the moment you cross the 5000rpm mark and doesn’t really like being pushed around.

The suspension, on the other hand, is sublime and could possibly make this the best riding car in the segment. It’s 7-speed DSG gearbox gets a little help from the paddle shifters, but honestly, you don’t need to intervene. With the seamless and completely inconspicuous gearshifts, it’s a car that practically drives itself. The steering, like most Audis is light and, even in Dynamic mode, doesn’t make the drive or drivetrain urgent enough, but is great at eating up city or highway kilometres perched in the comfort of the supportive seats, front or back.

It’s an engine that allows you to drive in a comfortable and relaxed manner, much like what it feels to be inside the A4. It’s aeroacoustics work perfectly by isolating you from the outside world and the  air-slicing drag co-efficient of 0.23 helps that cause immensely,  as do the smaller details like putting the outside rear-view mirrors on the door instead of the A-pillar as is the norm. All this adds up in making for a ride that feels properly luxurious and executive like.

In the end

The brilliant craftsmanship of the interiors is testimony to Audi’s great attention to detail. It’s high-tech with a hint of traditional charm, thanks to thick planks of wood that add the requisite plushness that a 40-plus-lakh rupee car needs to be. It’s sharp inside and out with more room than ever before, more standard equipment than ever before and with the statement of technology that only Audi can make so confidently. The Virtual Cockpit concept is the best thing to happen to the instrument cluster, and there’s no doubt it’ll make its way to other Audis in the future. But for now, you can revel in the fact that you’re part of the club that includes only the Q7 and the TT. Not even the mighty A8 has yet received this level of TLC.

Audi knows what the typical consumer wants from a practical, FWD car, and this is everything anyone wants. Minus the drama, which serves Audi’s plan for the A4 in India just as well. There will be more variants on sale in the future, but when it launches in September, the 1.4TSI petrol will be your only option. If you’re a keen driver, test drive before you buy. But if you like tech and like it wrapped in luxury and want to forget about what potholes lie under the tires, just sign on the dotted line!