The Ironman Triathlon is quite possibly one of the toughest, most demanding sporting events in the world. During competitive events, triathletes are required to swim a distance of 3.86km, ride a bicycle for 180.25km and run a 42.20km marathon. One after the other, with no time off for rest. German athlete Jan Frodeno holds the current world record for setting the fastest time ever, completing a full triathlon in just 7:35:39. Impressive, right? Of course, Frodeno trains hard for competition, cycling 700km, running 130km and swimming 20km per week. All of that, yes, in the same week.
Why, you might think, am I talking of triathlon in a review of the new Audi A4? Well, in terms of the breadth of its athletic ability, the A4 could well be a professional triathlete if it were a human sportsperson. Sure, the A4 isn’t as powerful as an Audi R8 or as off-road-capable as a Q5 or even as luxurious as an A8. But what really matters for most car owners is all-around capability and that’s where the new, fifth-generation A4 shines.
To start with, there’s a new engine under the hood. Audi has done away with the earlier A4’s 1.4-litre engine and has replaced it with a 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol inline-four, which produces 190 horsepower and 320Nm of torque. Those are respectable figures for a car that weighs around 1,500 kilos.
With the power going to the front wheels (no quattro AWD here, sorry) via a 7-speed ‘Stronic’ automatic, the A4 accelerates from zero to 100pkh in 7.3 seconds and hits a top speed of 241kph. Some might be surprised to know that these power and performance figures are roughly in the same ballpark as those of an early-1970s/late-1980s Porsche 911 Carrera, but such is the relentless march of progress.
In terms of the styling, the new A4 looks pretty sharp. It follows the design template set by its bigger brothers, the A6 and the A8, transmogrifying their bigger dimensions into a more compact package, without losing out on any of the elegance or the panache. It’s lean and taut, the A4, without an inch of flab on its beautifully sculpted body, and no unnecessary design flourishes. Very purposeful, very business-like, very Audi. With its LED headlamps and taillamps, restrained use of chrome and brushed metal trim, handsome 17-inch alloy wheels and low, sporty stance, the A4 manages to garner a fair bit of attention when parked, and often elicits an envious gleam in bystanders’ eyes.
The interiors are equally elegant; the test car that we had sported tan leatherette upholstery on the seats, with a mix of black and dark grey soft-touch plastics and brushed metal trim on the dashboard and centre console. Build quality levels are up there with some of the more expensive Audis and, overall, the A4’s cabin feels properly premium and upmarket. The seats (power-adjustable at the front) are nice and generously proportioned, with more than enough legroom and headroom at the front and at the back. The transmission tunnel takes up space at the back and the car works best for four adult occupants, though I suppose you could squeeze in a fifth person at the back for shorter journeys.
The A4’s three-zone climate control system works very well and cools the cabin rapidly; always a useful thing in India’s sweltering summers. Audi’s ‘virtual cockpit’ all-digital instrument panel is all there and accounted for, and is useful as ever, especially when using maps for navigation. Apart from that, the centrally-mounted infotainment touchscreen allows the driver to control all of the car’s settings and features, though physical controls are retained for the AC and the music system.
Using Audi’s multimedia interface (MMI) that controls the touchscreen is a cinch and functions like navigation, music playback and smartphone connectivity are all easy to figure out. You don’t really need an instruction manual here; just get in, spend a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with the way the systems work and you’re ready to go.
On the move, the A4’s 2.0-litre turbo-petrol feels nice and creamy smooth, responding to throttle inputs with a seamless surge of acceleration. Under hard acceleration, there’s a noticeable bit of torque steer sometimes. However, the A4 has a very well sorted chassis and as long as you’re not excessively brutal with the accelerator pedal, it’s all good. Out on the expressway, the A4 hits triple-digit speeds in double-quick time and given the fast-increasing prevalence of speed cameras everywhere (at least in the bigger cities), you do need to keep a close eye on the speedometer if you wish to avoid being fined.
The ride quality is very good on the new A4; there’s a sophisticated 5-link suspension setup at both ends, with roll bars front and rear. The suspension feels like it’s been specially tuned for Indian road conditions and the result is terrific; the A4 really does feel plush and comfortable at all times. Smooth and wide-open roads are its natural habitat, but the German sedan doesn’t complain much even if you insist on driving it across speed bumps or broken, pockmarked tarmac, which you must inevitably do at times, given the less than ideal condition of many of our roads.
The A4 works particularly hard to insulate its occupants from bumps and jerks and keep them cocooned in silent comfort, which is something that the car’s owners will really appreciate. In terms of safety, the A4 gets multiple airbags, ABS and traction control. There are also multiple driving modes, with the sports mode being particularly satisfying for enthusiast drivers who love to extract every last bit of performance from their motors.
To sum up, the A4 is indeed like one of those triathletes I mentioned earlier in the story. Lean and fit, all muscle, no flab, no unnecessary fripperies. Get in, get the job done, get out. It’s a lesson in German efficiency, build quality levels and performance. Audi is an accomplished carmaker, no doubt, and the new A4 is somewhere at the top of the heap in its class; with ex-showroom prices starting at Rs 42.35 lakh, the car makes a very compelling case for itself.