Some times all it takes is a sprinkling of fine chocolate on top to make one schwarzwalder kirschtorte (black forest cake) stand out from another. Audi seem to have taken this approach in their new A4 and have just tweaked the ingredients for what is their most successful car in India. The battle in this segment with the other two German manufacturers, BMW and Mercedes, is hotting up with the new C-class being launched last year and BMW's all new 3 Series launched a couple of days back. And it seems that each manufacturer has a slightly different recipe to try and take the largest slice of the pie, or cake in this instance.
The A4 has received small changes in the looks department. Some that stand out, like the new neon like LEDs and some that take a second glance to notice like the changes to the rear bumper. Overall it's the sum of the changes that make the impact and it just manages to look refreshed and sporty, which Audi hopes will attract new younger buyers. The interiors also have minor tweaks to the materials used and to the accents on the dash and around the gear console. You now also have the option of the Audi MMI system with voice dialogue. And you can have quite a dialogue with it too. The car forces you to perfect your diction and MTI (mother tongue influence) to its lofty standards, as I found out while trying to call my wife using voice command. If you have some interesting names in your phone book then I wish you all the best.
It won't do your black forest cake any harm to add the freshest cherries and the finest cherry brandy to give it that extra zing. Audi have done just that by refreshing their engines too. All the engines feature direct injection and are turbo charged for better efficiency and more power. The 1.8TFSI petrol is more powerful making 170PS and 320Nm of torque while the 2.0TDI outputs the same 143PS and also 320Nm of torque but being more efficient at it. There is also a 3.0TDI V6 with its 245PS and 500Nm but we only tested the first two variants, the bread and butter cars for Audi in this segment. Audi claim a 10 per cent average increase in efficiency in the entire A4 range. Fine-tuning has been made to the rear suspension control mounts and the rear shocks and it gets new electronic power steering replacing the hydraulic unit on the outgoing models. This basically sums up the new recipe that Audi have made the A4 with.
So does this add up to a wonderful dessert? We were able to drive the A4 1.8TFSI and the 2.0TDI on track as well as Mumbai's potholed and traffic infested roads to find out. On the track I was able to put the sporty aspiration of the A4 to test and I have to say that while it is entertaining its not entirely at home on the track. With 320Nm of torque on tap both cars pull eagerly out of the corners and fly down the two long straights of the Buddh International Circuit crossing the 100kmph mark in 9.47 seconds and 10.80 seconds (standing start) respectively, faster than the old cars but not the competition. Both the current 3 series and the new C-class variants are faster to the hundred. On the handling front both the diesel and petrol tend to under steer in the slower, tight corners pushing wide and not wanting to hold a tight line. The quattro-equipped 3.0TDI would be more suited to the track but that drive will have to wait for a later date.
Audi had also set up a slalom course as a driver experience exercise and we were able to get to grips with the ESP and the new electronic power steering. I can attest to the effectiveness of the electronic stability program. While driving the car in the slalom course set up in the paddock area of the Buddh circuit I went into a tight u-turn section too fast, fast enough that I thought I was about to go through the cones and off into the grass. The ESP cut in immediately and I could feel the electronics working through the pedal, power being cut and the brakes working overtime to keep me on track, slowing the car down to a crawl. All this was accomplished in the time that it would have taken to take my foot of the accelerator. The result was I came through the turn with no cones knocked over and the car only half a car's width wider than my intended line. Not the ideal way to go around a corner but I couldn't imagine even the heaviest lead foot getting in trouble with this car, the ESP works perfectly. On the limit the power steering is very direct but lacks a little feedback not quite telling you what the tyres are doing,
While the A4 is no track star, the drive through pot holed, traffic blocked Mumbai roads couldn't have been better. Both the petrol and diesel engines are well refined and with 320Nm of torque on tap, both cars are a breeze to drive in town. The ride quality is excellent and very few road imperfections make their presence felt inside the cabin. The electronic power steering, which lacked feel on the track, is now a boon in traffic with steering inputs immediately transferred to the wheels with little effort. It also weighs up well once speeds increase. This electronic power steering also aids in the increase in efficiency, as does the start stop feature that cuts the engine when stopped in traffic. The petrol returned 9.1kmpl in the city run as compared to 8.8kmpl from the older engine. But on the highway run the car returned 14.9kmpl, which is lower than the previous figure of 15.8kmpl. This gives it an overall figure of 10.55kmpl that is practically the same as the old car. The diesel on the other hand returned figures of 12.8kmpl in the city and 17.5kmpl on the highway, both figures higher than the old car (12kmpl and 16kmpl) giving an improved overall average of 13.95kmpl. Not quite the 10 per cent as claimed but given the increase in power in the petrol and the unchanged state of tune for the diesel these figures seem reasonable. The automatic CVT Multitronic transmission that the 1.8TFSI and 2.0TDI come equipped with is nice to drive in drive mode and if you chose to slot it into manual mode the shifts are quick and precise. Only the 3.0TDI gets the S tronic dual clutch box and permanent all-wheel drive quattro system.
Audi have countered well to Mercedes' 2011 launch of their new C-class saloon, pricing the new A4 cheaper than the outgoing one. Prices start at Rs 27.33 lakh for the 1.8TFSI, Rs 29.38 lakh for the 2.0TDI and the 3.0TDI starts at Rs 38 lakh (all prices ex-showroom in Maharashtra) giving excellent value to buyers in this segment and much below our earlier estimate. Audi actually brought forward their stated launch date to try and secure their place as a leader of this segment. Time will tell if they have succeeded in doing this. All three manufacturers make excellent cars that are separated by fractions of a second in their performance and a few millilitres in efficiency so it may just come down to those fine chocolate sprinklings then. "Please sir, I want some more"