The new Audi A4 offers refinement of bigger car in a compact

The new Audi A4 has a "virtual cockpit" which is useful and intuitive.
The new Audi A4 has a "virtual cockpit" which is useful and intuitive.PHOTO: AUDI AG
The new Audi A4 has a "virtual cockpit" which is useful and intuitive.
The new Audi A4 has a "virtual cockpit" which is useful and intuitive.PHOTO: AUDI AG

Audi's all-new A4 offers the refinement of a bigger car in a compact package

Press drives are typically very smooth events.

This particular media drive, however, was not. When we arrived in Venice, we waited 30 minutes to disembark and another 40 minutes for our luggage to arrive. To give us more drive time, the typically long and thorough product presentation was rushed.

Perhaps the event was executed in a bumpy manner to create a contrast between it and the new Audi A4, which oozes smoothness and refinement.

My test car was a 1.4-litre turbo paired with a six-speed manual gearbox. This will be the entry-level engine variant when the new A4 arrives in Singapore next year, but it will have a seven-speed dualclutch transmission.

Once settled in it, you will find that there is nothing basic about the car. Audis are known for their solid interiors and the car's build quality reflects this. There are plenty of soft-touch materials and the gaps between the dashboard and door panels are nice and flush.

The test car is equipped with Audi's "virtual cockpit", an alldigital instrument panel that displays the speedometer and tachometer, along with relevant driving information.

  • SPECS/AUDI A4 1.4TSI

  • Price: To be announced when it arrives in the first quarter next year

    Engine: 1,395cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Six-speed manual

    Power: 150bhp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 250Nm at 1,500-3,500rpm

    0-100kmh: 8.7 seconds

    Top speed: 210kmh

    Fuel consumption: 5.3 litres/100km

    Agent: Premium Automobiles

The amount of data presented to the driver can be bewildering. But in navigation mode, it is quite useful. There is a big map to refer to, plus two smaller displays that show the exact road you are on and the distance to the next turn.

Even cooler are the controls for the car's three-zone air-conditioning system. Rather than having more buttons to figure out, the system features unmarked rocker switches that, when touched, display the options for that particular switch on the control screen. The system is not only neat, but intuitive as well.

Thanks to a wheelbase extended by 12mm, backseat passengers in the A4 now have more room to stretch out. But while legroom has increased, headroom is tight for anyone taller than 1.75m. Foot space is also at a premium - unless the front passengers can be convinced to raise their seat heights.

Very convincing, on the other hand, is the aforementioned 1.4- litre turbo engine. Despite having just 150bhp, it does not struggle even with three adults onboard.

The power plant feels capable because of the 250Nm it produces from just 1,500rpm. The other reason is that the latest A4 saloon is 110kg lighter than the older model. The engineers have managed to reduce the weight of not only the body, but also components such as the electrical system, suspension and steering.

It is easy to get the A4 up to highway speeds despite having to row through the six-speed manual. Both the clutch and gearshift actions are light and precise.

The engine also has a pretty punchy mid-range and continues to feel revvy until 5,000rpm.

The A4 handles corners in a tidy manner. The turn-in is sharper than before and its new electric power steering, while offering little feedback, is more accurate.

Thanks to its stiffer body and more forgiving dampers, going over poorer surfaces does not upset the ride as much as it did in the previous model.

Enthusiasts might be disappointed, but they should note that Audi never said this would be a sporty saloon. Instead, the carmaker promised that the A4 would offer the refinement of a bigger car in a more compact package. And refined, this saloon is.

•The writer is with Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 26, 2015, with the headline 'The big easy'. Print Edition | Subscribe