Audi A4 pushes all the right techno buttons

More dazzling vorsprung from Audi
More dazzling vorsprung from Audi
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I PUSHED the starter button on the latest, all-new Audi A4.

The diesel engine rumbled into life like a Fordson and the car clattered off down the...

audi a4

audi a4

Keep reading. Joking. This latest compact saloon and estate from Germany is exactly what I’d expected from the flashier end of the Volkswagen Group. It bristles with new techno options such as virtually autonomous driving in town when it will keep its place in a line of traffic and brake or pull round obstacles. It does this by using an array of sensors and computers. Toyota and Volvo are among the companies working on robot driving. It’s the future for some of us.

Of more general appeal is the “infotainment” kit. Audi UK’s PR guru Jon Zammett says that driver aids and connectivity are “the new ball game”, making the A4 “one notch away” from being a self-driving car. It will not, for example, drive itself at higher speeds and cannot follow corners, or deal with the mish-mash of driving in, say, Shanghai – yet.

It will predict traffic jams, anticipate junctions, warn you if you open a door when traffic is passing from behind, warn you if cutting across other ­vehicles when pulling out, and so on.

Clever stuff but it comes as an extra price on the standard car – and is worth paying for increased safety.

A4 prices start at £25,900 for the 1.4 petrol TFSI SE with 148bhp, ratings of 126g CO2 and 53mpg and 0-62mph in 8.7 seconds. It replaces the previous 1.8 petrol engine and is 110kg lighter in the saloon and 120kg lighter in the Avant estate body. Other petrol engines are the 2-litre TFSI in 187bhp and (with quattro 4x4 drive and automatic gears) 248bhp tune. Diesels are the 148bp and 187bhp 2-litre (available as a quattro). The 3-litre V6 diesels, automatic gears, give 214bhp and 268bhp (each available as quattros).

Standard equipment on this base SE model includes 17 inch wheels, Xenon lights, triple zone climate control, multi mode selection for comfort, sport etc, city crash anticipation, cruise control with freewheeling, keyless ignition and a smartphone connection which allows integration on the screen of “apps” like navigation and Spotify.

A dedicated navigation system and better audio are principal additions on Sport models (an extra £950). Moving to the racier and sportiest S-Line S-Line (£2,450 above SE and not offered with the 1.4 TSI engine) adds lowered sports suspension, 18 inch wheels, LED lights front and back, part leather seats etc. Top A4 is the 268bhp diesel quattro with eight speed automatic gears at £38,950

In most objective assessments it matches or beats the BMW 3 series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volvo S60 and Jaguar XE in areas like weight, economy, emissions, tax ratings and luggage capacity.

However, these cars are all excellent and I would find it hard to pick one of them. It will come down to personal whim – maybe you prefer the Swedish style or the Germanic “thing” or the Jaguar’s driving controls.

Audi has made the new A4 slightly larger but reduced the weight by around 60kg on the 2-litre mainstream models. It is built in steel but matches the weight of the aluminium-shelled Jaguar. Its 1.4 litre entry model (from £25,900) is the lightest car in this bunch, some 50kg less than the 2-litre version.

I read somewhere that an Audi technician had spent a year using a wind tunnel and computers to make the A4 as slippery as can be. Its rating of 0.23 pips the Jag (0.26) and is, says Audi, the most aerodynamic production car bar the Mercedes CLA, which recorded an optimum 0.22. Streamlining matters because at higher speeds it reduces fuel consumption and wind noise.

The A4 has various aero tweaks, including panelling underneath the mechanical gubbins and side mirrors which attach directly to the doors. This method also reduces the block on visibility caused when the mirrors are on arms near the screen pillars. Anyone remember the conical mirrors which were screwed on to the front wings in the days of the hot Ford Cortinas?

In those days (the very Swinging Sixties) Audi was developing as a brand, being taken over by Volkswagen, with cars which led to the Audi 80 in 1972. This was front wheel drive and the basis of future Volkswagens, which were then air-cooled and rear-driven. In 1980 the Audi Quattro rocked the world of road and rally driving and vorsprunged Audi towards the prestigious position it revels in today. The first A4 in the mid 1990s was part of that advance, as the marque took on BMW and Mercedes. In recent years an A4, or the larger A6 and A8 models and the Q7 estate car, have been convincing alternatives to their German or other peers.

Verdict: More dazzling vorsprung from the brand.