Over the past 2 years Audi has taken a turn into premium segment lane, doing a handbrake turn parallel park in between BMW and Mercedes. I say this why? Well, in case you haven’t been on the highway in the past 2 years, and seen either a menacing gaping grill or the newest optional extra must-have – the LED running lights – then you must have missed Audi’s acceleration to premium segment greatness.
I’m not going to do an Audi history rehash, but let me tell you this: It all changed for Joe V Niekerk on the street with the 2003 A3, and then, in 2006, radically changed for Joe Lynch with the release of the Audi R8. This engineering masterpiece altered Audi’s brand perception as a whole, and people began seeing the R8 as a supercar competitor. They did this on purpose. One just an average family sedan marquee, now little Johnny sticks up his R8 poster next to the likes of the Lamborghini Gallardro and Ferrari California.
Quite a change in brand perception if you ask me. All of a sudden, Audi make cars you can lust over.
Audi has revamped not only its image but also, more importantly, its cars. One thing that Audi has not needed to revamp for quite some time, though, has been the Quattro drivetrain system. Queue flying Audi over gravel road spitting mud into rally-watching audience’s face.
Quattro has been the one point of difference that has made every Audi a first choice in the northern hemisphere. This is because of the snowy climate, and the unsurpassed traction that a 4-wheel drive vehicle gives in this environment. But we South Africans have yet to find a need for Quattro – aside from belting down a steady right hand corner at excessive speed.
That said, Quattro is an amazing drivetrain, bringing me to the reason I went to test-drive the Audi A4 2.0T Quattro.
In case you weren’t aware, Audi now offers the Quattro drivetrain with the S-tronic (VW readers read DSG) gearbox – a new addition as it now works with longitudinally mounted engines. This little marvel from the Ingolstadt brains has been one of the most lauded gearbox systems ever produced. Not only does it now offer smoother changes but, when the need arises, it can switch cogs at around 8 milliseconds. The result is a thrilling drive for any enthusiast. So this new Audi A4, fitted with a legendary drivetrain system and a phenomenal gearbox, was a logical choice to try out.
Moving along swiftly…
First impressions are good. Seeing as this is a car positioned at those that understand driving enjoyment and cars in general, the look is pretty much standard, with the only sporty item being the 18inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, and lowered sports suspension. There’s nothing in the way of wings, dual exhausts or red lining (unless you order an S-Line package, which adds some novelty items). Otherwise the car looks as subdued looking as any other current A4. I’d like to add here that I’m not a fan of the current A4 shape, it looks like it’s melting into the road when viewed from behind, and when viewed from the side looks like a 5 year old has molded the car out of putty. There are just too many grooves ves and folds. The previous generation was a much cleaner sweep.
So from the outside I’m not enthralled, but inside there’s standard Audi quality. Door shuts with a resounding ‘thud’. Black on Black interior (roof lining too) makes the interior a very cosseted place to be in. I find the roof a bit low, no matter how far down you sit, but this is a judgment call based on height so I’ll let is slide. The quality of switchgear, as always with Audi, is superb. A quality feel when you turn any nob, press any button or flip any indicator stalk. Otherwise all is well laid out, colour display in the instrument binnacle thus helping to keep your eyes fairly close to the road. A rather odd thing is the way that the control for the centre display – which displays and controls most of the car’s features – works counter-intuitively. Turn the nob right and you’d expect to move around the menu, but no, you have to go left. Odd. Maybe it’s just me.
For those of you who would like the run down, standard interior wise, here goes: Dual Zone climate control, MP3/CD/SD/Ipodjack Sound System with visual 6.5inch colour display as with all the current A4s. Pretty much everything that needs to be is electric, auto dipping interior mirror, rain-sensor, auto lights on, cruise control, controls on steering wheel and the list goes on… Pretty much everything you’ve come to expect from a German saloon of this category (except for electric seats of course). The only thing that leaves much to be desired is the flat seating. I have never been a fan of Audi seats, with very little lumbar and side support, you seem to wash left and right as you push into the bends. Now with the Quattro version I’d expect at least some standard sports seats, considering you’re going to want to push it into the corners and hopefully not land up wedged on the centre console. But I guess that’s how they get you to fork out some more cash for the Sline sports package, which offers you sports seats.
However, when it’s time to drive, you will not be washing around on the road. This Quattro system is absolutely phenomenal. Pushing it hard into a left hand bend out of Audi Sandton there’s absolutely no hint of understeer. What has always been Quattro’s piece-de-résistance is the way that if you pick a line and shove the accelerator to the floor the drivetrain does the rest. The joy with Quattro is that you need to feed it power to keep it going where you want it to and let the system figure out the rest. It seems an unnatural human reaction, but it’s the way you drive a Quattro car.
Ride is firm, as expected, running sports suspension and low profile 18Inch rubber. Steering is well weighted, but as with most of today’s vehicles, it can lose feel at low speeds, as the electrical assistance can be overly active.
The engine is another VW/Audi share, the recent 155kw turbo motor, used in the VW Golf 6 GTI and all other 2.0T Audi & VW motors, is an improvement on the old 147kw turbo, and being a 147kw Turbo motor driver currently, I can say that this is true. The new engine has a little more grunt at lower speeds and, coupled with Quattro, allows for what feels like a much faster off-the-line acceleration (although it really isn’t, because Quattro bogs you down off-the-line) with little to no wheelspin. Wheelspin seems to be something that is very common on this engine mated to front-wheel drive cars, forcing you to apply for short-term financing every 6 months to replace tyres. What is fantastic about this motor is when it is coupled to DSG, which allows you to quickly select the ideal gear to hussle in and out of traffic. This is where the car really shines.
One thing you can feel, though, is the extra weight from the Quattro drivetrain. Although it gives a more balanced feeling to the car, because of the weight distribution, it does feel a little heavier when doing quick lane changes.
A minor detail, as overall the car handles exceptionally.
A downside to the engine would be heavier fuel consumption due to the drivetrain (even with improvements in fuel consumption in this TFSI version), but this is a sacrifice most driving enthusiasts are willing to make.
I am a huge fan of the 2.0T engines, as they are the ideal weight not to be too heavy in the nose of the car, and offer average fuel consumption, but quick, responsive performance that a 6 cylinder can’t match because of the lack of turbo assistance. This is why the Audi 2.0T will generally be an easier drive in traffic than, say, a BMW 325i, which won’t be as responsive off the mark as the Audi can be.
Overall I was seriously impressed, the drive reminding why I like Quattro so much. The security and sure-footedness when powering into a corner, or making quick lane changes, is beyond compare, soaring above any FWD or RWD vehicle. The Quattro mated to the DSG gearbox and my current favourite engine makes this an ideal match. Pity about that boot part, which really isn’t my vibe at the moment, seeing as there’s no kids or Labrador.
The only other stumbling block, of course, is price. The model I was given a quote on came with a sunroof and Xenon headlamps (LED running lamps included) and came to R468 000 (pre discounts), which is a lot of money for something that isn’t visually distinguishable as a hot drive. That said, if the sports look isn’t your thing, it’s an incredibly capable car, but probably one that most South African buyers won’t go for because we really don’t need Quattro in this country. Most buyers will opt out for the traditional front-wheel drive, as the extra money can go towards some nice extras instead.
Sad really, because every part of the package
the best of the VW/Audi group.