As if competition from the SUV uprising and rivals from the sedan segment wasn’t enough, the Audi A4 has had to fend off cannibalism from within its own family. Over the years, the improvements to the A3 have made it a tempting package for sedan buyers, while the A5 has become increasingly popular due to its stylistic personality. This leaves the A4 in a bit of a weird spot where its dominance has started to wane. It has just received a midlife refresh, though, so we took it for a drive to see whether it still has what it takes to survive in the market.

Exterior Impressions

The refresh brings some notable changes to the A4. The front is sporting a more aggressive grille and new bumper design. The redesigned LED lights also look striking in typical Audi fashion. You will also find new LED taillights, which are now connected by a chrome strip that adds character to the rearview. Usually, when manufacturers refresh a model, they stick to the bumpers. However, Audi went to the trouble of bringing some change to the sheet metal, too, evidenced by the sharp creases that run over the flared front and rear fenders, which keen-eyed enthusiasts will spot immediately. You can have the A4 in three trim specs, with the Standard and Advanced trims available on the 35 TFSI variant and the more expensive 40 TSFI model eligible for the S Line spec. 

What’s New On the Inside?

Not much, really. It’s pretty much the same interior from the previous generation, but that is hardly a bad thing. Everything is screwed on tight and has a reassuring build quality – don’t expect any creaks or rattles from this cabin. Also, you will be hard-pressed to find any cheap-feeling bits, with every surface point covered in premium materials. 

The one significant change in the cabin is the new infotainment system, which is now a touchscreen 10.1” interface. Gone is the highly convenient rotary dial. While the touchscreen system helps modernise the cabin, it is a nuisance to use on the road. Unlike the more premium models in the Audi range, the A4 system lacks the reassuring haptic feedback that helps you know when your touch input has registered. This means you will spend more time than you should, looking down at the screen instead of the road. Be that as it may, it is a responsive system with good graphics. 

Thankfully, the climate control system still has physical buttons and dials, so you can gladly interact with those via muscle memory without having to take your eyes off the road. S Line trim cabins boast a few extra touches, like a flat bottomed sports wheel, several S Line badges, and seats clad in leather and Alcantara.

Interior space is pretty good for a vehicle in this segment. I found that even with the driver’s seat set to my specs, I was able to fit my 1.9 m frame comfortably in the passenger seat immediately behind it. Legroom is generous, with headroom just about making it into acceptable levels. You could sit three adults in the rear though the transmission tunnel is relatively high and requires the middle passenger to straddle it awkwardly. Plus, although the car looks wide on the outside, shoulder room would be tight for adults in the rear. There were no compromises in the boot, however, with the load capacity of 480-l being competitive in the segment.

What’s Under the Bonnet?

If you are on the hunt for an A4, you will have a choice of three engines. Of the trio, two are 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol units sourced from the VAG pool. The entry-level 35 TFSI produces 110 kW and 270 Nm of power, with the 40 TFSI unit that sits above it produces 140 kW and 320 Nm of torque. The most potent variant (unless the RS4 makes it to our shores) is the 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 reserved for the Audi S4. The 2.0-litre engines are paired with seven-speed dual-clutch transmissions, driving the front wheels. The S4, on the other hand, has Audi’s Quattro system and comes with an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic.

The new A4 also comes with mild-hybrid technology. Carbon conscious folks will have to contain their excitement; however, as the cars cannot run on battery power alone, nor do they derive extra power from the batteries. Instead, the secondary battery feeds on kinetic energy from the car and uses it to power the car’s electronics and steering. It also helps in coasting and making the stop/start feature smoother. However, the hybrid system is nestled under the boot floor space, right where you would typically find a spare tyre. Yikes!

What’s Like On a Daily Basis?

I received a gorgeous grey 40 TFSI review unit with the S Line trim package to use as a daily vehicle for a couple of days. With the slightly more aggressive bumper designs and bigger 18” alloys, the 40 TSFI A4 S Line has good presence on the road, and daily driving was surprisingly enjoyable. 

Despite the S Line having a stiffer and sportier suspension, the car was perfect over bumps and road imperfections. Navigating around tight spaces was no hardship due to a decent turning circle and light steering. Visibility is good all around and helps when driving around heavy traffic and also when parking. The view mirrors tilt downwards to help you place the car better and prevent you from curbing those nice wheels. The reverse camera is also quite handy, albeit a tad bit too low resolution for the screen.

That mild hybrid system is more apparent during city drives. The stop/start is more aggressive in operation, cutting off the engine when you slow down to below 20 km/hr, allowing you to coast silently to a stop at intersections. By the time you have your foot off the brake pedal, the engine will begin purring again, and you will be on your way. It’s a smooth transition, and Audi claims it will help in saving average fuel consumption.

Taking the Family to Sun City

It was not all city driving for me as fate would have it. My time with the Audi also coincided with an invitation I received from the Sun Vacation Club Marketing team, which is part of the Sun International group. Having never been to Sun City before, this provided an opportunity to take the A4 on a mini road trip. The kids were ecstatic about the entire thing, more so when they realised that we were going to the same place where the movie **Blended** was filmed (which they love). 

Out on the highway, the car continued to represent Ingolstadt well. Apart from the cabin space limitations that come with the vehicle’s form factor, it excelled in everything else you would expect from a road trip machine. The car is composed and refined on the road, which makes for a relaxing drive. The cabin insulation is also good, so you can have a conversation with your passengers without having to raise your voices at each other like you are at a concert. 

The 2.0-litre engine is punchy when you need it to be, overtaking with ease. I am sure the S4 will be noticeably quicker, but the 40 TSFI is more than adequate. Engaging Dynamic mode makes the car sportier, and using the paddles increases driver engagement. Is it as fun as a 3 series? Maybe not. But it is pretty darn good at doing the stuff a family car should. Fuel consumption was also good, which I suspect is an added benefit of that mild hybrid system.

Last Word

The midlife refresh for the Audi A4 is more cosmetic than mechanical, but its modernised look should keep it exciting until the next generation A4 comes along. If you already have the pre-facelift model, you aren’t missing out on much; however, to anyone looking to buy a new car, this should be on your list. 

Gorgeous looks, excellent build quality and good engines are guaranteed in the A4. Of the range, I reckon the 40 TSFI strikes the best balance, providing a punchier engine for a relatively affordable price in the A4 line-up. If the looks are too conservative for you, you can look at the A5 or alternatives from the Mercedes C Class, BMW 3 Series, Volvo S40 and the Jaguar XE. And, while the 2021 refresh does not bring dramatic changes to the A4, the car still has what it takes to remain competitive within its segment.

Report by BRYAN KAYAVHU | Images © Audi SA




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