(A4)ward progress

(A4)ward progress image

Text: Jude Morte / Photos: Jude Morte | posted August 02, 2008 00:00

Audi A4 Subic drive

The branding of the Audi A4 has always been as a direct rival to the BMW 3-Series, the Volvo S40 and the Mercedes Benz C-Class, but rarely made first name impressions on consumers for one reason or another, despite major technological advances. To make sure that the A4 will become THE choice in the premium compact sedan class, PGA Cars took a select number of journalists to Subic (including the Subic International Raceway or SIR) and back to Manila using the current iteration of its volume seller.

A prominent aspect highlighted by PGA Cars of the B8 (chassis code for the new A4) is its fuel efficiency, very much evident on the drive from PGA Cars to the Petron station at Subic and back to Metro Manila. Journalists drove the A4's two variants - a 1.8L four cylinder turbocharged fuel injection (TFI) version, and a 2.0L four cylinder turbodiesel injection (TDI) model - using their normal highway driving methods, with the aircon's blower speed subject to occupants' discretion (and comfort requirements) and rarely going over 140 kph. The results posted were impressive - the tandem of Business Mirror motoring columnist Andy Sevilla and Philippine Daily Inquirer motoring columnist Andre Palma achieved 24.16 km/liter in the 2.0L TDI, while Philippine motorsports legend Pocholo Ramirez bested all in the 1.8 TFI variant with a 19.92 km/l consumption rate.

This can be attributed to the technical advances - particularly when it comes to rigidity, aerodynamic and loading efficiency - done by Ingolstadt with the B8 MLP (modular longitudinal platform, the A4's first truly new platform). PGA Cars claims that the chassis is more rigid (thus being safer) than the previous A4 and totes a drag coefficient of 0.27, thus helping improve fuel consumption further due to reduced drag. Also, the B8 has a 480-liter trunk loading ability that PGA Cars claims can swallow two golf bags, and is arguably bigger than others in its segment.

Upon reaching the SIR, scribes then put the A4 (specifically, the 141 hp/320 NM 2.0L TDI variant) through its paces through the long straights and tight corners of the track's weekday setup, plus a slalom section (marked by a long row of strategically placed pylons) installed by head marshal Kookie Ramirez to show the B8's handling and steering capability. On the straights the A4 effortlessly reaches 120 kph without you knowing it, thanks to the vastly reduced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels that are significantly better than in the B7 (chassis code for the previous model A4). Toss in an eight-speed automatic (with Multitronic manual mode and even gear ratios) and the A4 gets a close-to-perfect balance between outright power and fuel efficiency, rarely moving gears and only overriding the driver choice of gears on inclines.

On SIR's lefthand hairpins and cramped chicanes (plus the installed slalom course), the A4 provides steak knife-sharp handling (with roadholding up to 110 kph) and steering despite the use of electric power assist. Quick science lesson: Normally electric power assisted steering (EPS) reduces steering feedback sharpness due to the constant search of the steering column's built-in electric motor to get consistent steering feedback. On hydraulic power-assisted steering, when you hit a rut or bump, the power steering fluid inside the steering column gets in flux. The result is a magnification of the force sent to the wheel, then to the steering column/steering wheel and to your fingertips.

On the current A4, the Audi Dynamic Steering (which also includes EPS) features a rack that is now mounted low in the engine bay's front AND close to the front wheels, providing more direct steering action. The steering wheel goes from lock to lock in just 2.2 turns, so it responds to inputs quickly and relays information back from the ECU (electronic control unit) with added clarity. Less corrections on steering wheel movement on hairpins and medium sweepers are evident than in the previous model, helped immensely by the Continental SportContact 2 225/50R17s, which provide better road feedback and roadholding than the Dunlop 17-inchers tires commonly shod on the previous A4.
The new A4 closely resembles its A5/S5 sports coupe sibling, especially at the front end. The austere Bauhaus-inspired lines of the B7 A4 remain, but more sinewy surfacing and edgy detailing give the new car a fresh appeal. Also, it moves the engine 5.9 inches rearward by mounting the differential forward of the gearbox, allowing the center line of the front wheels to be relocated closer to the nose. This results in more balanced weight distribution, resulting to less mass leading the new A4 through the corners by the nose and crisp handing. In contrast you had to provoke mild understeer in the B7 to get you through entry, playing judiciously with throttle and steering to get you to corner exit.

In creating the interior, Audi has not overlooked what was arguably one of the B7 A4's key selling points - supreme quality that makes more expensive cars look cheap by comparison. Few interiors - including the current BMW 3 Series and the Mercedes Benz C-Class - seem as well conceived and constructed. The detailing is highly impressive, especially the controls for the MMIS (Multi Media Interface System), which has a wide range of functions, including toggles for the sound and lighting systems. For Audi-philes, normally the MMIS is located right around the a/t stick, but for the B8 it finds itself right below the middle aircon vents. It can take some time to acquaint one's self with the new A4's MMIS, but once you get the hang of it you'll find that the ergonomics and operation is very much the same as in the B7.

Despite growing in every vital dimension, the B8's high shoulder line and high dashboard mounting provide a soothing feel from the driver perspective, reinforcing a sporting ambience. At the same time, it gains added seat and steering wheel adjustment (helped a lot by power-assist for the former and tilt/telescoping ability for the latter), allowing you to tailor the driving position perfectly. Rear accommodation has significantly improved by the new A4's longer wheelbase and more efficient packaging of the rear seat, with a one-and-a-half fistful of 2009 A4 rear real estate available for a rear occupant with a 5' 9" height. While the B7 eventually blossomed into a car of true desirability for keen drivers, the B8 manages to up the ante with newfound levels of response, body control and fluency.

Increases in dimensions, major attention to interior (and exterior) detail, plus noise, vibration, and harshness reduction, make the new Audi A4 a major progress. Suffice it to say, it's a major (A4)ward progress.