Audi A4/S4: First drive
The A5 was face-lifted recently and now it's the turn of Audi's best-selling A4 to get a new look and like its coupe range, the latest A4's emphasis is on efficiency.
Key in making the A4/S4 more economical is the introduction of new engines and the fitment of start/stop as standard across the range.
The petrol engines start with a new 172bhp 1.8-litre TFSI which is redesigned and replaces the previous the previous 162bhp version. Power is up, but so is torque from 250Nm to 320Nm and it combines 49.6mpg with a 21% improvement in emissions to 134g/km.
The other engine changes for the latest A4 range are the six diesels. New 165 and 179bhp versions of the 2.0-litre TDi are added to run alongside the existing 138bhp version. Two efficiency focussed TDIe engines are also available in 138 and 165bhp versions, with Co2 emissions of 112g/km and 115g/km respectively.
At the other end of the diesel engine range, there's a new 204bhp version of the 3.0 TDi that was first seen in the A6 saloon and the A7 Sportback, which boasts 57.6mpg consumption figures.
Audi doesn't like the term face-lift and the exterior changes for the Audi A4/S4 follow those made to the A5/S5 and are hardly radical. Most obvious at the front with the A6-like nose, the bumper, grille, headlamps and bonnet are all-new. From the side, you'd be hard pressed to spot any differences between this and the outgoing car.
Where xenon lights are fitted, there's also distinctive new versions of Audi's trademark LED driving lights.
Changes for the back of the face-lifted A4/S4 models are limited to a new set of rear tail lights with LEDs and a revised rear bumper.
There wasn't a lot wrong with the interior of the outgoing car and as such there are only small changes. Look closely and you'll spot the gloss black interior trim highlights, new steering wheels and a streamlined version of Audi's MMI infotainment system with joystick.
Like the revised A5/S5 before it, Audi has fitted a new electromechanical power steering system to the face-lifted A4/S4 range. Designed to improve feedback and save fuel, I couldn't really notice any difference from the previous model. Generally light and accurate on all the cars I drove, it doesn't feel particularly sporty. However, Quattro models are worst, with the four-wheel drive dumbing down the steering responses further.
Clever new technology for the A4 includes a driver-fatigue detection device, called Brake Recommendation, it checks your reactions and can tell if you're falling asleep at the wheel. Other useful kit includes monitoring for lanes and blindspots.
There's also the latest adaptive radar cruise control, which features a low-speed braking function. It's designed to help the driver avoid or reduce impacts at speeds up to 19mph. Other standard safety kit for all A4 models includes stability control.
Of all the versions I drove, the 1.8TFSI and 2.0TDi 138bhp versions on 17-inch wheels rode best. Go for a sportier set up with bigger wheels and expect both the road noise and vibrations to increase. Although, the S4 felt surprisingly composed despite its 19-inch alloy wheels.
Refined and capable probably best sums up the 248bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, but out of the other diesels I tried, it's the smaller non-eco 175bhp and 138bhp 2.0-litre versions I'd rather have.
Okay, they lack the refinement of the bigger V6 diesels, but there's enough performance, the dynamics are sharper and the economy figures are still impressive.
My favourite petrol engine was the latest version of the 1.8-litre TFSI with 172bhp. It doesn't sound as interesting as the bigger V6 engines, but it feels willing, sprightly and is torquey. It was also the most fun to drive, apart from the S4 with its fine balance.
I got a brief drive in the performance flagship (well hopefully until Audi does an RS version!), the S4. It sounds great and has near linear acceleration, but it lacks the driver involvement of rivals.
So overall, the face-lifted A4/S4 is a success, as sensibly Audi hasn't moved too far away from a top-selling formula. The A4 isn't particularly sporty, even in S4 form, (buy a BMW 3-Series for that) but the smaller engine versions are the most fun to drive.