Audi has a lot riding on the A4; it's the brand's top-selling vehicle.
Audi has sold more than 10 million units of the A4 and its predecessor, the Audi 80, since it first rolled off the line nearly four decades ago. To keep up with fierce competition like the all-new BMW 3-Series coming out this year, Audi is giving its A4 and high-performance S4 sibling a facelift for 2013.
The mid-lifecycle makeover isn't dramatic. But one significant change is the return of the A4 Allroad Quattro to the family. It's based on the A4 Avant (aka wagon), which won't be coming to Canada for 2013. The Allroad is similar to the Avant, but adds a beefed-up exterior, a taller ride height, larger wheels, recalibrated suspension for off-roading and different interior packages.
From the exterior, the A4 gets new front and rear fascias. One of the most noticeable changes is the redesigned headlights. The jewel-like lamps have a curved lower line and more wedged shape than the last version.
The interior is tweaked, too, but remains as elegant as ever. Redesigned steering wheels, simplified controls, and an easier-to-use MMI infotainment system are the key changes. The MMI now has four buttons instead of eight, which makes it easier to operate the telephone, navigation, radio and media functions. New seat heaters are simpler to use, too – just push a button to select the intensity of heating as opposed to the multi-step process of pushing a button and twisting a knob to find the right setting.
The cabin is elegant with excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail. The trunk space is large in both the sedan and wagon – in fact, there isn't much of a difference, unless you drop the rear seats. The A4 Allroad offers 490 litres of cargo space versus 480 litres in the sedan. Seats down, the luggage space jumps to 1,430 litres and 962 litres respectively.
Chrome-plated tie-down rings made of solid metal and a cool storage system on rails in the wagon's trunk are especially handy for keeping items securely in place. The tailgate on the Allroad also opens high enough so even tall people can stand beneath it without hitting their head.
The A4 also comes with new innovative technology such as Audi Active Lane Assist. At speeds of 65 km/h or more, a small video camera in the interior mirror detects land markings on the road. If the A4 crosses the lane without the turn signal being activated, the system intervenes to coax the driver back in their lane. You can also splurge on other features such as adaptive cruise control. A radar-based driver assistance system automatically monitors the distance between you and the vehicle ahead and applies the brake and throttle as needed to maintain a safe distance.
Under the hood of the base A4 is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four – the same engine as the 2012 version – which delivers 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, it's quick off the line with little turbo lag. It easily passes slower-moving motorcycles and cars along our seaside route from Lisbon to Cascias.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the high-performance S4 sedan. With its 3.0-litre supercharged V-6, it pumps out 333 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque. Nail the throttle and it launches from 0 to 100 km/h in five seconds flat and has a top speed of 250 km/h.
It's spirited and agile, hugging the winding roads beautifully. The S4's sport suspension and 18-inch cast aluminum wheels with five-parallel spoke design offer great grip. The deep exhaust note is pleasing, too. And the fuel consumption isn't out of this world – it averages 8.1 litres/100 km combined driving.
My tester's S-Tronic double-clutch seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters is smooth and precise. It directs power to the Quattro drivetrain with the self-locking centre differential and torque vectoring. A new feature is the electromechanical power steering – dynamic steering is available with Audi's drive select. You can switch between comfort, auto, dynamic, and efficiency modes.
Unfortunately, Canadians won't get any diesel engines.
Europeans can actually choose between 10 gas and diesel engines. And the diesels really impress. They're powerful, yet fuel-efficient. My tester, an A4 Allroad quattro with a 3.0-litre TDI V6, is amazing. Boasting 245 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, it's fast and furious. It'll hit 0-100 km/h in less than 6 seconds. The fuel economy is another bonus – averaging only 5.7 litres/100 km combined driving. Of course, the 136-hp, 2.0-litre TDI 4 banger does even better, returning a frugal 4.3 litres/100 km combined driving. Audi has reduced fuel consumption and CO2 emissions across the A4 line-up by 11 per cent.
On the road, the diesel handles beautifully. Going up hills or along twisty bends the engine doesn't struggle. It's composed and sure-footed as well as super quiet – you'd never guess you were driving a diesel. Too bad, Canadians won't get to buy them. I'd take it in a heartbeat.
The new Audi A4/S4 will go on sale in the third quarter of 2012. Prices are expected to remain the same as the 2012 A4, which starts at $37,800.
2013 Audi A4/S4
Type: Five-passenger, mid-size luxury sedan or wagon
Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, turbocharged, inline-four or 3.0-litre, DOHC, supercharged V-6
Horsepower/torque: 211 hp/258 lb-ft for four; 333 hp/325 lb-ft for six
Transmission: Six-speed manual/eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual/S-Tronic double-clutch seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): A4, 6.8 combined for A4; 8.1 combined for S4
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, MB C-Class, Lexus IS, Acura TL, Cadillac CTS