There's nothing quite like a midlife face-lift. A nip here, a tuck there and suddenly you're back to being the talk of the town. It's a system that's worked wonders for celebs who refuse to raise the white flag against the merciless onslaught of age. Audi happily subscribe to the same school of thought and put their bestselling A4 under the knife. Sure, the car's lost its 'old' feel and is now pretty up to date, but is that enough?
Take the all new BMW 3 series, it's exactly that - all new. And while Mercedes also gave their C-class a refresh they took it a step further with a new 7-speed auto that significantly improves driveability. So what changes does Audi bring to the table to compete with its two biggest rivals' rather healthy spread?
The biggest changes are visual, with the car getting a new face. The earlier A4 was one of the first cars to use LEDs in the headlamps for a striking front end. Improving on that the new headlamps with their light scatter tech LEDs now throw an even beam of light as against the individual bursts of light from the old units. While the headlamps themselves are reminiscent of the new A5, the defining shape of the LED housing gives them quite a unique look. The grille gets tapered edges at the top like on the new A6 while nicely flared intakes add a bit of drama to an otherwise serious face. The side profile stays the same while the tail gets ever so slightly freshened tail lights with LED clusters.
On the inside the layout is largely the same but there's now a new button layout for the MMI navigation system. The key fob and steering wheel have been redesigned as well. Also, new aluminium and walnut trim options are now available. Many might not even notice the changes but that's a testament to the fact that this was one of the best cabins in the category to start with.
It's a similar story with the dynamics. The only changes to the chassis are the fine tuned the rear suspension control arm mounts and shock absorbers. The big change though is the new electromechanical steering that replaces the old hydraulic unit. Audi steering set-ups never offered great feedback to begin with and this new system continues the lineage of precise yet slightly numb steering. Of course the advantage of going electric is increased fuel efficiency(upto 18 percent higher) and lower CO2 output. Also new is the Drive Select system that now gets a new Efficiency mode in addition to the Comfort, Dynamic and Individual. As the name suggests it sets up the engine, steering , transmission and suspension for optimum efficiency.
We drove both the 2.0-litre diesel and 1.8-litre petrol variants albeit with a six-speed manual box unlike the CVT Multitronic automatic that India will most likely get. The 143PS diesel is a carry-over from the old car. However the 1.8TFSI petrol has been reworked with a new turbo and higher boost ratings. Power climbs by 10PS to 170PS while torque goes up by a massive 70Nm to a total of 320Nm. And thanks to the wonders of modern engineering efficiency is now up by 11 per cent as well. Both cars were front wheel drive but torque steer was kept to a minimum by the electronic limited slip diff.
Out in the open the A4 felt refined on the smooth yet tight roads that snaked through the hills around Cascais in Portugal. Both engines have generous low end torque, the petrol with a nicely linear power delivery. While the diesel is the least powerful engine in the class its refinement levels are high and the claimed 0-100kmph time of 9.2 seconds is adequate while returning a phenominal 22.7kmpl. Rowing through the precise six-speed manual really brought to light the additional onslaught of torque from the revised turbo petrol.
Hell this engine makes the same peak torque as the diesel, only lower and longer! The car stayed planted and held its line through corners. However, if you do have a lead foot through bends the ESP and diff help by braking the front wheel that's under lower load depending on the camber of the road to hold a tighter line. Low speed ride quality was quite supple even when driving through the town's smaller cobbled streets. As for the fine tuned rear suspension, yes, there is a small improvement in ride quality.
The new A4 will go on sale by the start of the third quarter. International prices have risen slightly across the range but Audi has pulled a surprise on Indians by pricing the new A4 Rs 70,000 lower than the outgoing model (The prices start at Rs 27.33 lakh for the 1.8TFSI, Rs 29.38 lakh for the 2.0TDI and Rs 38 lakh for the 3.0TDI. All prices ex-Maharashtra). On its own the A4 is a very competent all rounder but it has a lot to prove against its German rivals. The updated C-class is already here and the new 3 is barely three to four months away. None of these cars are going to go down without a bloody fight, that's a given. Audi may have won last time but is a refresh and an engine upgrade going to be enough this time around? We'll find out soon enough.