Yesterday was all about charisma. The days before, the future of driving, more or less ambitious.
Today, thanks to a very nice invitation from the Audi Forum at Munich airport, something more solid, almost down-to-earth. But still a bit exciting.
Exciting, of course, is the word you least hear when the topic of discussion comes to the new Audi A4. Same old, same old, “just a facelift”, nothing’s changed. That seems to be a widely held belief.
Like many beliefs, of course, it is not founded in facts.
On the outside, you may be excused if you don’t see many changes. However, asking a large automaker to radically alter the looks of its bread-and-butter mid-size four door car is akin to asking Jever to make their pilsner a little less bitter.
Still, there are many more design changes to it than to the iPhone 6s, and we know that the only thing that changed there is everything.
Subtle edits to the grille, headlights, taillights, mirrors, bonnet, air intake, side skirts, and more, add to an overall impression of a sharper and sleeker car than its predecessor.
And it’s not only the looks - the new A4 also promises to be better to drive, through a combination of lighter weight, improved suspension, and better steering.
To experience that, you have to first sit in the car, of course. And look at the interior.
For the “nothing’s changed!” naysayers, this is where it should get a bit “ahem, err…”, egg on face, foot in mouth, humble pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Because you have to be blind not to see that sure, the steering wheel is still (somewhat) round, but the rest has changed. And of course you can argue that it hasn’t changed for the better, but you might look a bit like a fool. Because this is what an interior in 2015 has to have - lightness, airiness, with nice clean lines, and a few oversized screens to distract you from your smartphone for at least a bit while driving.
Of course, there is the main navigation monitor, which should be familiar, just jumped in size from M to XL. Those of you still claiming that Audi should have somehow “integrated” that screen more into the dashboard, feel free to imagine just how massive such a dash would have to be.
Of course, they could have continued using a smaller screen, but…no. I want me iPad mini in me car.
The real looker, however, is the new virtual cockpit, which (optionally, for a price, this is still a German car) replaces the analogue gauges in use since the Stone Age.
Content? Pretty much the same as the large central monitor. Just with the huge benefit of keeping your eyes more towards the road ahead instead of to the side, while you idly browse your Bee Gees collection doing 250 (electronically limited) on the Autobahn.
If you add the (also optional) HUD, complete with nice clear graphics and well-timed indications for when to turn left, right, or not at all; you will never have to move your head to the side. And risk taking a look at your passenger who is furious because you only play the Bee Gees.
On the wonderful Bang & Olufsen with 3D sound. Of course.
And of course the list of technical advancements doesn’t end here. If you like, you can get your Bee Gees fix by ways of Apple CarPlay or, if you are one of those people, Android Auto. If this gets you in a mood, you can change the ambient lighting from baby blue to a strong red. Or bright green, or pink. It’s your car, nobody’s judging.
If you configure wisely, you will be able to see everything in front, even if it’s dark, because you will have Matrix LED. Which are awesome. And if you get distracted by that Phish song someone added to your playlist, no worries, the A4 can be had with active-prettymucheverything-assist, where it can basically drive itself. But won’t, because legalese.
So, how does it drive? Almost perfect, at least in this tested 3.0 TDI quattro guise.
The engine with 272PS, 600NM and 8-speed automatic more than takes care of straight-line acceleration when needed (always), and the previously mentioned 250km/h when wanted (often).
And when the roads get more narrow and windy, there is still a lot of fun to be had. Engine, steering and quattro suspension play together harmoniously, enabling you to effortlessly feel like being a really really good driver at curve speeds where your mother might start raising an eyebrow or two.
Still, it’s no BMW (without xDrive) or Jaguar steering, which is to be expected since the front wheels also have to deal with going faster and cannot concentrate as much on turning. But it’s quite close.
Also, I am sure the quattro sport differential, not (yet?) available for the 3.0 TDI, would have made quite a difference regarding the still noticeable understeer.
But these minor quibbles cannot distract from my overall impression that the new A4 is an extremely good car. Because a gazillion people will buy it, it may lack a bit in charisma compared to more exotic brethren. But there is a reason all these people buy it.
The new A4 manages to take the best from its predecessor, and refine it to a point where even our less than three years old A7 sometimes looks a bit envious. Especially when it comes to the more high-tech bits. All while keeping an elegant exterior with clean lines, and the usual Audi interior where you have to go much higher in the automotive food-chain to find something comparable in haptic perfection.