The Audi A4 is a great car, but the price just isn't right
While the recipe for a small luxury sports sedan has always been largely the same – a punchy engine up front, a silky-smooth automatic transmission behind it, and rear-wheel drive at the back – one car that has always done things a little bit differently is the Audi A4.
Drawing upon the company's rallying heritage with its quattro all-wheel drive system and utilising newer Volkswagen Group technology with a dual-clutch auto rather than a torque-converter unit, it's a car that has always looked to offer a slightly different take on a familiar concept and has certainly won plenty of fans by doing so, even if its name doesn't carry quite as much sports sedan clout as something like the go-to BMW 3 Series.
As I've been fortunate enough to test a few class newcomers and revitalised models in the past couple of months both from the German establishment and newer players in the segment, I grabbed the keys to this 45 TFSI variant of the A4 while over in Melbourne to put it through its paces and see if its points of difference give it a certain charm in a class that truly includes some of the best driver's cars out there right now.
Sitting at the top of the regular A4 range before the step-up to the S4 and wagon-only RS4, the A4 may appear to be priced competitively with its rivals on paper, things can get out of control rather quickly when it comes to the budget as this press car was fitted with nearly $20k in optional extras.
An advanced set of active safety tech – the Assistance Package, which includes high-speed AEB, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keep assist, all of which shouldn't need to be optioned on – to build upon what's fitted as standard gets the ball rolling at an extra $2470, while other packages fitted to this tester include the reasonably-priced $1300 S line interior, the not-so-reasonable $5600 Technik Package that brings a Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, heads-up display, and matrix LED headlights, and the $1300 Parking Assistance package that adds a 360-degree camera.
The rather understated Daytona Grey paintwork – which fits the sleek but very conservatively-styled exterior of the A4 – tops the whole package off for $1950, while a slew of other subtle items such as ambient interior lighting, heated seats, and a sunroof continue to rack up the bill like extra drinks and desserts at a company dinner.
For me, the real must-have is the S line package which not only adds the S4-style matte-finish Audi Sport alloy wheels but also boosts the interior spec for a relatively minor spend. From the lovely flat-bottomed steering wheel to the sports seats, and the perforated leather shift knob to the Alcantara door trim, it's a distinctly high-quality interior with a nice sporting edge to its design.
The Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster is one thing that does come as standard, thankfully, and is one of the real cabin highlights as it's still easily one of the best digital gauge clusters out there given the dial customisability and how well its full map view works. Next to it, however, the non-touchscreen infotainment system does seem a little old-school in that regard, although the rotary dial used to control it with a writing pad for the sat nav on top does work well so I'll forgive it for that omission.
Interior comfort, it should be noted, is also very good, as the seats all around are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustability for the front and ample room in the rear. Three-zone climate control and individual air vents will certainly keep those in the rear happy, too.
If you opt for what has been renamed the 45 TFSI variant as part of Audi's new and incredibly odd drivetrain naming system, you'll find a longitudinally-mounted 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet making 185kW between 5000-6000rpm and 370Nm from 1600-4000rpm, which is paired to a quick-shifting 'S tronic' seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and Audi's famed quattro all-wheel drive system as mentioned earlier.
Despite being a little down on power compared to some rivals, the rear-biased all-wheel drive system – that can send as much as 70 percent of power to the front wheels and 85 percent rearwards – helps improve the A4's performance to no end, as its excellent traction off the line affords it a spritely 5.8 second 0-100km/h sprint time.
And certainly, when you put your foot down, it feels as punchy as it is, as it should do being right on par with, if not faster than, many hot hatches out there, but with a veil of smoothness and refinement draped over it. After getting itself off the line with absolutely no drama, it makes rather a good noise as it shoots towards triple digits, too – not only does it have a decent engine note, but it lets out some ripper 'DSG farts' on upshifts as well.
Through the bends, it feels nicely balanced thanks to the rear-biased all-wheel drive system, with its all-paw traction allowing you to put the power on far earlier on the exit from bends with more confidence than in something rear-wheel drive, while also not exhibiting as much understeer when pushed hard as something with a front-biased all-wheel drive system might, such as the Volvo S60.
The steering feel is on the lighter side for the class, even in Dynamic mode, but it does still have a certain Germanic solidness to it when you turn the tiller, with it feeling as fast and responsive as you'd hope from a sedan like this with such sporting aspirations.
What stands out most to me, however, aside from its brilliant all-wheel drive system, is the fantastic ride quality. While it does lean slightly more through corners than the most dialled-in cars in the class, like the Jaguar XE, its suspension does feel particularly absorbent of bumps and road imperfections, making the long drive out to Warburton I needed to make to find some decent roads to really push it on a total breeze.
While the A4 might look subtle and understated, the fairly exciting way it drives comes as a very pleasant surprise, as the experience it does offer from behind the wheel is definitely unique compared to the typical class standards.
But where the A4 45 TFSI falls apart for me, unfortunately, is with the price. Although the $70,300 starting figure for this most-potent four-pot variant is competitive, the fact that this car's price tag with a few options that you'll want is nearly nudging ninety at $89,680 before on-road costs does mean that it loses a competitive edge on price when you spec it up – especially when that figure is within arms-reach of the brawnier V6-powered S4.
However, with this 2019 model about to be phased out for a facelifted but more-or-less mechanically identical model in the coming year, you may be able to snag a deal on an existing MY19 build sitting on a dealer lot, and if you can haggle down the price to a figure comparable with what you'd be getting from the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus, Volvo, and Genesis, it'd be a great bet for those after all-wheel drive and something a little bit different from this exciting class.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on December 23, 2019. The car tested here was provided by Audi Australia for four days with a full tank of fuel.