It’s easy to forgive the introduction of the revised 2021 Audi A4 going largely unnoticed in a year where Audi has launched a huge array of conspicuously fresh metal, including a slew of much-anticipated RS weaponry.
But the stalwart nameplate and its mid-sized passenger car foundation are still, SUV popularity apart, foundations of sorts for the Ingolstadt marque. Evolution of the A4 breed doesn’t come lightly even if it might seem it’s been lightly applied.
There are no wholesale revolutions here in this blink-and-you-might-miss-it update that’s actually more involved than exterior styling suggests – nose to tail it’s a virtual reskin, including the ‘quattro genes’ pumped guards and completely redesigned horizon line, even if it not immediately obvious.
A bit of all-round-massaging inside, out and underneath, then, as outlined in our recent launch review that’s perhaps more easily sensed and felt than it is instantly recognisable, at least in oh-so-familiar 45 TFSI Sedan form here, with time-honoured quattro drive and popular S line, finished in grey-on-grey-on-grey…or ‘German rainbow’ as some detractors like to jibe.
Yes, it’s exactly the same car and rego plates as in the lovingly crafted press photos featured in our launch review, which suggests one thing: our test machine is lushly loaded with options, for best foot forward demonstration and to showcase all that the A4 45 TFSI quattro S line can be if you loosen the purse strings a little.
The 45 TFSI lobs as the high-spec A4 sedan version above the front-driven 35 stock and, thus, is the only all-paw four-door before climbing into sporty S territory. A clean-skin example lists for $68,500 plus on-road costs, nine grand above the 35 TFSI S line ($59,900) and a further four grand stretch down to the entry base 35 TFSI ($55,900).
Want the Avant wagon version? That’s a $2500 premium.
Against the usual suspects, you’ll need five grand more to slip into a BMW 330i ($74,900 list) and nearly as much to slide inside the Mercedes-Benz C300 ($74,700 list), while mid-grade Alfa Romeo Giulia Veloce ($71,450 list) and Lexus IS 350 F-Sport ($73,636 list) both start in the sevens. Meanwhile, the turbo-four Genesis G70 in high Ultimate spec ($69,300 list) and Jaguar XE R-Dynamic HSE ($71,940 list) also make compelling options, as does the price-busting Volvo S60 T5 R-Design ($64,990 list).
Pricing starting with a six would surely do the ‘45’ favours by drawing in price-savvy shoppers. However, our optioned tester starts with an eight…
As the flagship in range, the ‘45’ isn’t quite as technically adept as it could be. Otherwise, you want have to stump an extra $3770 for the Assistance Plus package. This brings adaptive cruise with stop and go, lane keeping, all-speed forward collision warning, all-speed autonomous emergency braking, collision avoidance steering assist, high-beam assist, turn assist, a head-up display, 360-degree cameras and parking assist…which is a lot of gear, some of which should arguably be fitted to a premium high-grade sedan nudging $70k list.
A further S line interior package is added to the, erm, S line variant, adding Nappa leather, stitching upgrades, perforated leather for the wheel and transmission selector, stainless steel pedals, extra black colourisation, colour mood lighting and brushed alloy inlays for its $2730 upcharge. Our tester also adds an exterior Carbon and Black package that, for $3770, adds blackout exterior trim, carbon mirror caps and spoiler outside and Carbon Atlas augmentation inside. The fetching battleship-like Quantum Grey paintwork adds a further and final $1990 that rounds up to $81,160 before on-roads.
The range gets a choice of 12 colours, two of which are at no cost and remainder wanting between $1531 and $1990 (as sampled here).
Despite some questionable active assistance and safety omissions, the plain ‘45’ does load in a decent array of features.
Outside, it sits on 19-inch alloys and features sporty S line styling, boasting LED headlights and taillights, sport suspension, auto wipers and headlights, heated and power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera and passive cruise control. Solid bases covered then, if not a lot that’s particularly premium grade nor omitted from mainstream vehicle packages wanting for far less outlay bar, perhaps, the LED headlight jewellery.
Inside, though, the A4 really starts to lay on the tech and feel-good vibes. The sports seats get electric adjustment including lumbar and it fits Virtual Cockpit plus digital instrumentation, a flat-bottom sports wheel together with leather appointed trim, three-zone climate control, extensive ambient and ‘feature’ lighting, a frameless auto-dimming mirror, inductive phone charging, lashings of aluminium trim work, keyless go and a space saver spare wheel.
Infotainment is high-grade MMI navigation plus featuring a 10.1-inch touchscreen, proprietary sat-nav, DAB+ and wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The newly revised A4 carries over a five-star ANCAP rating from assessment conducted in back 2015 for all A4 “with four cylinder engines” which is the entire current line-up.
Adult occupant protection is a commendable 90 percent with child occupant protection at 87 percent. Both vulnerable road user and safety assist each returned a 75 percent result, with a 0.0 out of 1 for lane support in the latter, with no explanation from ANCAP – or its Euro NCAP assessment source – in the published report, other than the fact that lane keeping was and is optionally available.
What is standard? The ‘45’ fits eight airbags, Pre Sense City – Audispeak for low-speed autonomous emergency braking – as well as pre sense rear, blind-spot monitoring with exit warning, rear cross-traffic alert, driver alert, an active bonnet and a tyre pressure monitor.
We reckon the Assistance plus package brings such a lift to the A4’s active safety credentials that it should almost be considered mandatory fitment and budgeted for when buying your A4 45. That said, buyers not wanting the combined safety suite benefits of an Assistance pack-loaded vehicle have the choice to opt out of the tech for a sharper price and there’s a fair argument that choice is no bad thing. Fair enough.
Audi knows its nous for appealing cabins puts a good many shopper signatures on rego papers and our 45’s multi-optioned accommodation doesn’t disappoint. In terms of on-paper feature counts, the new version doesn’t add or change that much over in predecessor, but the fettling at play brings a noticeable lift in upmarket vibe and premiumness.
The old 8.3-inch infotainment screen and format was starting to lag behind emerging BMW and Benz systems but this slick and refreshed 10.1-inch design really moves Audi’s game forward. It’s razor sharp, intuitive and offers a newfound degree of user personalisation that taps the marque’s latest ‘connect plus’ connectivity smarts.
The Virtual Cockpit skin variety, while in familiar design formats, in more detailed and ornate than the outgoing A4’s plainer looks – a subtle if noticeable lift in presentation. That said, the rotating action of the in-dash sat-nav mapping display is a little jerky.
There’s some debate whether the loss of the MMI Touch console controller and a move to touchscreen-only interface is an upgrade (says Audi) or downgrade (others). You get less – there’s now a plastic oddment tray in its place – but its maker reckons a) users associate touchscreens more closely with phone and tablet devices and b) the driver uses the wheel controls anyway. Still, A4 now offers one less point of difference to the mainstream.
Inductive charged is featured and is handy if you’re not mirroring your smartphone to the infotainment system. CarPlay is wired, though, forcing you to jam your phone ahead of the transmission controller near the USB outlet. No real biggie.
A special shout out goes to the 360-degree camera system: it’s fantastic. The ten-speaker audio sounds good, too, and is far superior to some of the base systems Audi’s fitted to some models I’ve sampled in the past.
The Nappa seats are lush – and ought to be for the extra charge – and comfy. Ditto the wheel perforation. And Audi’s ‘feature’ lighting, illuminating ports, cupholders, the volume knob – is a nice feature helping to navigate a darkened cabin, though A4 misses some areas, such as seatbelt clasps, otherwise found in pricier ranges such as A6.
But the basic design, other than the shape of the console surface, is pretty much carryover and that’s why so much of the A4 cabin is oh-so-familiar.
Including the too-deep dead-pedal in the foot well that drives your author crazy. The carbon twill effect across the dash is a bit twee – at least for a vaguely sporty executive sedan – but otherwise there’s a nice richness and dignity to the ambience.
The new A4’s very modest stretch in length (24mm) and width (5mm) doesn’t translate to any extra accommodation but the sedan remains a pretty decent place for four adults to spend reasonable time in, especially with the three-zone climate control arrangement.
Leg and elbow room is quite decent for larger occupants and it’s airy enough to not make the ambience too claustrophobic for small kids. No USB outlet here – A4 strangely mixes USB and USB-C up front – but there is a 12-volt outlet for device power.
Bootspace is a reasonable 460 litres of neatly square proportions and, let’s face it, if maximum luggage capacity is a real priority you’ll have stumped for the Avant/Allroad (495L) or the more practical A5 Sportback anyway.
It begs the question, too: is there really an extra $3500 of metal, glass and rubber in the Avant to justify the extra cost? Or are you just paying for more interior air?
Nothing much newsworthy under the bonnet of the ‘45’, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four producing 183kW from 5000rpm and 370Nm between 1600-4500rpm more or less the same as the old version. It’s backed by a familiar seven-speed dual-clutch ‘S tronic’ gearbox and, as its namesake suggests, all-wheel drive.
The one difference in the update is the sailing stop-start system Audi markets as the oxymoron ‘mild hybrid’ – though there’s actually no hybrid propulsion at play – and unlike some older designs requiring 48-volt hardware this new tech runs on good old 12-volt.
A nice little technical fuel saver, you’d expect, though the new 45 TFSI’s claim of 7.1L/100km is higher than the 6.3L/100km boast of the old version. Go figure.
The apparent penalty clearly isn’t down to extra output and nor, at a fairly decent 5.8 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint just like the old version, is it trade off for extra performance. Nope.
You can be the old figure was measured using the now defunct NEDC assessment while this new and ostensibly no thirstier reboot is a figure derived using the WLTP regime introduced late 2018.
On test, consumption would fluctuate a bit but longer trips of mixed driving usually returned very low eights. Pretty decent, then.
The 45 TFSI’s sub-six-second performance and roughly seven-litre economy is bang on the money for a premium executive mid-sized sedan. Balance is the key to success here, with a bit of inherently sporty, satisfying-to-drive character that the Audi and its BMW and Benz nemeses have long been renown for blended in for good measure.
The top-spec A4 drives nicely indeed. There’s a faint lethargy and a mild underpinning sense of hard-working strain the more basic four-pot versions of typical Euro mid-sizers and you pay handsomely for better-endowed high-powered variants and our tester returned as expected: polished refinement, keen response, very few gremlins or any annoyance. And, enough herbs for a decent kick up the tailpipes when twisty back-road curves beckon.
It’s a satisfying and flexible engine with ample torque from the rpm depths, and lofty enough lungs if you need to wring it out to 6500rpm which is mostly unnecessary around town. But truly impressive is the dual-clutch transmission: Audi’s had a long time to smooth out off-the-mark ripples and gear changes and it’s such a clean transmission you’d swear it had a torque converter.
Sporty and Nice
The A4 45 TFSI offers a great balance between everyday usability and punchy performance
Of its five selectable drive modes – via a clumsy shuffling method via buttons or by sub-menu digging in MMI – the middling Auto serves pretty nicely more or less anywhere, adapting well to whatever driving style you throw at it. Tap-for-Sport on the transmission controller is all it needs for swift momentary sprinting, and given the level of adaptability in the drive modes – powertrain and steering settings – there’s really no call for fiddly swapping modes anyway.
It will do its new sailing stop-start trickery… if you first activate Efficiency mode, find a flat bit of road and lift off the throttle. Maybe. The engine switches off on the move, usually momentarily, before zipping silently back in life.
Thing is, it activates so occasionally whatever modest fuel saving seems barely worth the effort of dialling the drive mode up, which robs engine response a touch in the process.
I’m not sure why the system doesn’t just shut the engine down off throttle or on a trailing brake in Auto or Comfort and, undoubtedly because of the impact on engine braking, it doesn’t fuel save in shutdown down hills.
It is quiet to the near point of anesthesia but no foul. Those who buy them, such as my A4-owning dad, have no call for intrusive engine or exhaust noise in a daily driver and, besides, if you want uncouth rort go buy a hot hatch (Dad’s other car is a Golf R).
On that, the A4 45 TFSI fits single-tune passive suspension, and adaptive dampers aren’t even available as a cost option (they’re standard on the S4). That said, the keenly struck ride and handling balance doesn’t really want for changeable tuning because the lowered sport tune it’s gifted with as standard is so evenly measured.
Steering is typical Audi – clear, crisp and direct in a manner fans love, absent of much genuine weigh-related feedback as often criticised by detractors – and a matter of taste more than anything else. I’d have this format over under-assisted, lumbering or unnecessarily pointy direction finders every day of the week.
Gripes? Not many. Again, the left-foot dead pedal is set too low forcing strange seating adjustment that can lack under-thigh support, and CarPlay takes its sweet time to resume playing Spotify. But otherwise, this grade of A4 delivers a convincing and genuine sport-tinged luxo-sedan experience on road that easily meets its price and premium stature.
Audi offers an ordinary three years of unlimited-kilometre warranty from the date of first registration. (That second bit’s quite important, as my dad discovered the hard way).
In terms of servicing costs, Audi offers upfront packages of $1710 for three years and $2720 for five years with intervals of 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The A4 45 TFSI quattro S line lives up to the sort of sport-luxo experience it promises in the drive as well as in looks and cabin presentation.
I suspect you’d have to step up from the base 35 TFSI to this flagship for the effect to be quite so convincingly fulsome, particularly with how the high-power engine and quattro driveline augments the mid-sized package.
It looks relatively affordable against competitors and more value-laden than its predecessor all things considered, though it appears more complete – at least in terms of tech and safety – with that optional Assistance pack considered an essential extra.
The price becomes much closer to BMW and Benz rivals as a want-for-little package if without a few dubious holes in the spec list when viewed as a cleanskin.
Does it bring much new to the A4 providence? Ostensibly not really though, again, a bit of the in-cabin touch-up in is more noticeable in the experience than on it is written on paper.
Outside of that, it’s easy to regard this facelift (and skin-lift) as a mild evolution of a concept not broken nor requiring much fixing at all.
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