New Audi A4 2019 review
The new facelifted Audi A4 has arrived to take on the BMW 3 Series, but can it pose a threat to the king of the sector?
The all-round ability of the Audi A4 is what has kept this car a popular sight on Britain’s roads after all this time. Despite a heavy redesign, Audi’s facelifted exec is still a jack of all trades; it’s solid and safe to drive but a little uninspiring, yet the new 12-volt mild-hybrid setup means the 35 TFSI pulls off a solid double act of being impressively economical and powerful enough for daily life. The A4 keeps its place as a sensible, no-nonsense, modern and upmarket saloon car in a class of increasing complexity.
Fewer family car buyers are turning to the trusty saloon these days, but that’s not stopped it being a busy time in the segment of late. Merc’s updated C-Class has impressed, as has the recently refurbished Jaguar XE and the new Volvo S60. The BMW 3 Series has slid straight to the top of the pile for its dynamic prowess, while on the electric side of things the Tesla Model 3 has just scooped our Car of the Year title.
So the newly facelifted Audi A4, which is now on sale in the UK, has its work cut out. Maybe that’s why this mid-life refresh is so visually unambiguous. The look of the car changes quite drastically; the surfacing is transformed and the look of the front bumper, grille, headlights and taillights has changed, too. The alterations make for something altogether sportier than before, but with a clear family linkage to the likes of the larger A6 and the A8 – both a generation ahead of the A4 in Audi’s product cycle.
Get on board and you’ll spot some differences too, though not quite as drastic. The infotainment has moved away from the rotary-knob Audi MMI system, to a strictly touchscreen-operated affair. Even the entry-level Technik model gets the new 10.1-inch central display complete with navigation and the brand’s latest Virtual Cockpit fully digitalised instrument display. Sport cars build on the base level of equipment with visual trinketry, sports seats and leather upholstery.
The new touchscreen set-up is slick, but perhaps on the move a physical control would be much easier to use. The new infotainment is bright, and the menu layout is far simpler than before, but a bit of functional friendliness has been lost in the move away from the rotary-operated setup from before.
Still, at least Virtual Cockpit remains probably the best digital set-up on sale. The new, higher-resolution setup is still ruthlessly easy to master, with every control at your fingertips, right on the steering wheel. The A4’s interior remains high-brow, and there’s good space front and rear thanks to the Audi’s conventional silhouette. The layout of the switchgear is neat and feels well put together, and the materials feel as premium as anything you’d find in a 3 Series, C-Class or XE. All things considered, a lot of buyers will find personal taste is all that separates the four big players in the market for cabin quality.
From behind the wheel, Britain’s big selling posh saloons remain very different propositions, though, and the A4’s place in the pack goes unchanged despite some technical revisions.
There’s mild-hybrid assistance across the board – with an emphasis on mild. We tried a front-wheel drive 35 TFSI model with a seven-speed S tronic gearbox, which will be the best selling engine and transmission configuration. The mild-hybrid system runs off the car’s conventional 12-volt electrics. The electrical energy is undetectable while driving, but stringing out 40mpg on the trip computer is a fairly effortless thing to achieve.
A lot of that can be put down to the 35 TFSI’s lower power output and front-wheel drive layout, but either way it won’t be an expensive saloon to run. For many, especially the increasing numbers of business buyers turning their backs on diesel, that will be one of the main draws of this car.
How the A4 drives probably won’t be, however. It isn’t bad – far from it – and even with just 148bhp, the 35 TFSI feels like a credible, refined engine with enough performance. It’s a safe, predictable, direct, quiet, but fairly bland thing to try and unpick on a nice road, playing to the limitations of its front-wheel drive set-up.
The steering is accurate and darty and the wheel is lovely to hold, combining well with a highly adjustable driving position. But that steering is just far too light and removed from the road to consider the A4 a car for keen drivers. S Line cars (tipped to be the most popular trim level) do come with sports suspension lowered by 23mm, which tightens body control marginally, at the cost of spoiling the A4’s medium speed ride.
If you’re a private buyer and you value something that will be rewarding to drive, the BMW 3 Series remains a no brainer. A just as well-equipped, more powerful, dynamically superior 320i M Sport runs the A4 35 TFSI S line pretty close on a monthly PCP deal, and is actually a little less per month than the 187bhp 40 TFSI car it’s supposed to compete with.
The fact the Mercedes C-Class remains the only car in the class with optional air suspension is hard to overlook for comfort-driven buyers, too.