UPS | Brilliant engine, quality interior, safe handling
DOWNS | Safe and sensible looks
A YEAR AND more than 25000km of driving tells you a lot about a car and the big diesel Audi A4 proved to be a quality piece of equipment. When you’ve shelled out R520k (including options to the tune of R42k) you expect the best, and the Audi certainly delivered.
Returned with just short of 30 000km on the odo, still feeling as rock solid as day one, during its innings with Topcar it performed almost faultlessly. Apart, that is, from a water pump letting go (batch problem, apparently) soon after the 15000km service, followed by what was perhaps a reassembly hitch when a problem with the throttle controller began playing havoc with gearchanges. All fixed under the standard 5-yr/100 000km maintenance plan. Then I damaged one of the very tasty 18-inch five-spoke alloys and split an expensive Pirelli 245/40 boots (R5200 each) after losing an impromptu duel with a brick. Bad month. But all sorted out polite and pronto by Audi Centre Cape Town.
A grinding noise from the brakes on long downhills and under hard braking forces led to a stripdown, but the pads and disks were declared to be within factory spec, so no action was required. The noise popped up intermittently, though there was no change in the car’s rather effective, feelsome stoppers.
Bad stuff out the way, I can enthuse a bit about this accomplished sedan. The A4 was used extensively in heavy stop/start traffic on a long daily commute that often required a number of school drops. Rear legroom was never a problem, and certainly better than in an equivalent 3 Series BMW. It was hauled off on a good number of flying coastal trips to the Eastern Cape, and loaded up for some weekend surfing getaways up the West Coast and camping trips to the Cederberg, where the deep 480-litre boot was a boon and the low airdam a bit of a liability on the gravel.
Fact is, with those big, wide tyres, low and relatively stiff sports suspension, plus motive force from a grunty V6 diesel, it does its best work as an Autobahn cruiser. That engine is an absolute beaut, offering 500Nm of torque from 1500rpm and 176kW of power from 4000rpm. You can get away with the 2.0 TDI very easily in this bodyshell, but there’s nothing to beat the 3.0-litre’s seamless overtaking urge. Coupled with the clever six-speed Tiptronic auto with its paddle shift override and the safety net of quattro, it all makes for a very fine combination. And despite the regular loads and a fair deal of flat-foot enthusiasm in the daily round, it consistently delivered 700km-plus tanks and a monthly consumption average of 9.62litres/100km.
The B8 fourth generation A4, which shares the Modular Longitudinal Platform with the rather sexier A5 coupe, marked a step-jump in dynamics and technology for Audi. The A5 has a 160mm longer wheelbase than its B7 predecessor, bigger boot, lower kerb weight, reduced front overhang and better mass distribution to make it a far more fluent handler. The flat cornering and 60:40 rearward bias of the Torsen T3 quattro system make for predictable, tenacious grip and great stability, with less understeer than before. A rather unfair duel against the air-sprung Citroën C5 at Killarney amply proved the handling point. One criticism is that the steering is a fraction light and artificial at slow speeds, though it is precise and firm at pace.
The interior was a daily treat, with brilliant supportive seats in quality leather, major controls that are great to hold and a pleasingly premium blend of colours, textures and materials. Simple, sensible logic rules when it comes to the buttons, which feel good to use and are in the right places. Fewer points for a cruise control stalk which is hard to operate without prior knowledge, but the rest scored right up there. And best of all, no creaks, rattles or strange bumps, no fault codes, mystery sounds or electronic lapses. The standard spec including three-zone Climatronic aircon and the basic MMI multimedia interface (not the R21 300 satnav/colour option), but Audi, bless them, specced the rest for driving pleasure: sunroof (R9200 option), sports front seats (R5600) plus electrical adjustment (R6200), rear parking system (R4200), cellphone prep (R3200), sports suspension (R2800), and the coup de grace – Symphony radio (R3270) and 14-speaker/505w B&O sound system (R7200). A heady R42k options total back in early 2010, and not easily recoverable after the first year of steep depreciation, but priceless on the driving pleasure index.
And the looks? I loved this particular model’s subtle muscularity, the low stance and sparse alloys with their wide Pirellis, the fat twin exhausts, the flat nose and aggressive driving lights that hinted at the top TDI’s true ability. Some have accused the A4 of pulling the design punches, of blending into the crowd. Paradoxically, for me, that was the best part. A proper Q car isn’t meant to stand out.