I will admit that, when asked about compact executive sedans, the Audi A4 isn't the first car that comes to my mind. Normally I'd mention the Lexus IS350, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and, of course, the BMW 3 Series, the segment's perennial benchmark. Perhaps it's time for me to see what makes an Audi, well, an Audi.
When the chance to try one out presented itself to me, I jumped on the opportunity to take it out for a spin. Now in its fifth-generation, the current A4 is internally known as the B9 and arrived in the country in late 2016. It was initially available as a diesel-only model locally in the form of the 2.0 TDI. A few months later, the gas-powered model followed suit as the 1.4 TFSI model.
So what does the Audi A4 have to offer against its prime competitors? Having driven two of its key competitors (BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class), will it surprise and delight even in its most basic form? With the A4 being the newest kid on the block, expectations were high.
So while this is the most affordable A4 you can buy, the folks from PGA Cars didn't make it look downmarket. Save for the smaller 17-inch alloy wheels, the entry-level A4 doesn't look basic at all. It's got LED headlights just like the diesel, as well as thin chrome strips tastefully applied to the grill and window surrounds. Granted, it looks similar to the previous generation model and some may even criticize it for being too evolutionary in its styling. Well, that's the way Audi rolls with their 'sausages cut in different lengths' philosophy.
Personally, I like it. For me at least, the design is low-key and doesn't attract a lot of attention. But you get to appreciate its looks the more you stare at it. The sharp, edgy headlights give it a hint of subtle aggression and the large grill complements that rather well. A deep character line running across the sides is a nice visual break from its minimalist profile and the tail lights has perhaps one of the nicest turn signal actions out there. It's a shame that the Ibis White paint on the car washes out a lot of the minor details.
Inside, it's an exercise of technology and minimalism. Open the door and you're greeted wide dashboard with a slim fascia. Sit in and it feels wide, giving you the impression that the A4 is a spacious car and indeed it is. Materials used feel top notch, as one would expect (or demand) from a luxury brand and, overall, the design is very easy on the eyes. Also, ergonomics are well sorted out thanks to clearly marked labels with buttons, knobs and dials exactly where you expect them to be. I reckon the cabin will age well and still look good in the years to come.
Headroom and legroom is good although it probably shouldn't come as a surprise as the A4 is the largest car among its peers. Speaking of space, the trunk is massive by compact executive sedan standards and its square shape makes good use of the cargo area.
To my surprise, even this base A4 comes equipped with Audi's fully digital instrument cluster. Called Virtual Cockpit, it's a wide screen that not only shows vital driving information (trip, fuel consumption, range), it also displays the map in widescreen fashion. Other surprises? It has triple-zone climate control, power adjustable seats for both driver and front passenger, automatic-dimming side mirrors, multiple USB ports and smart phone linking in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's even automatic parking as part of the package. It wasn't long ago when entry-level models in the segment were bare. Needless to say, the basic A4 is far from spartan.
As mentioned, the gas-powered A4 is powered by a 1.4-liter engine. If that sounds a little too small for your liking, it's aided by a turbocharger to give it 150 PS and 250 Nm of torque. Those figures are pretty much on par with non-turbocharged 2.0 liter engines. Unlike past small-engined A4s, the new model shifts via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission which Audi calls S Tronic, ditching the continuously variable transmission.
While the automaker has long been associated with its Quattro all-wheel drive system, we'll have to settle for two wheel drive. In this case, power goes to the front wheels. In a class where most of its rivals are rear-wheel drive, the A4 has quite the uphill battle ahead.
Some would say that having front wheel drive is a handicap for driving enjoyment. I'm glad to report that the A4 is an engaging sedan to steer. You can change the settings of the steering effort so I set mine in the sportiest setting possible while leaving the transmission and throttle response modes in comfort. Making the drive more engaging is the chunky, thick-rimmed steering wheel which weights up at higher speeds.
Even in its 'Dynamic' setting, it just misses out on a little more feedback to make turn it into a sport sedan but it's still enjoyable to drive. Turn in is sharp and its reflexes are quick on twisty roads. As far as the chassis is concerned, you won't really miss having rear wheel drive as Audi gets the handling fundamentals right for this car.
Despite only being two wheel drive, the A4 offers a lot of grip and refuses to give up its hold on the road. I can only imagine just how grippy the Quattro versions must be like. All-wheel drive and perhaps a little more weight in the steering wheel will likely make it a hoot to drive.
What makes the A4 even more impressive is the fact that the precise handling does not compromise comfort at all. The ride is composed and compliant thanks to good damping and a long suspension stroke. No float or wallow is felt over uneven roads and does its best to keep the body level at all times. Couple that with the cushy seats and the A4 is an effective and comfortable daily driver and cruiser.
While the new base engine is smaller than the previous entry-level motor, the 1.4-liter turbo feels more than up to the task of propelling over 1.5 tonnes of steel and aluminum forwards. There is initial lag, as with many turbocharged small engines out there but the boost kicks in a linear, sedate manner.
Instead of being pinned to the seat, you surge forward and the next thing you know, you're at cruising speeds. Audi claims a 0 to 100 km/h time of 8.5 seconds and I do find that believable. I reckon that it feels like a torque-rich 2.0 liter but it can carry the power until the higher regions of the rev band.
Also, the dual-clutch transmission is well matched to the engine with quick responses and wasn't jerky in operation. The small displacement engine and the slick transmission makes for an efficient package. In city traffic, the on-board computer displayed 9.2 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 17 km/h. In light traffic (average of 33 km/h), it was showing 15.4 kilometers per liter. That's knocking on diesel territory.
Despite the not being as sporty to drive as its rivals, lacking a reverse camera and the way too subtle styling for some tastes, there's a lot of good things to say about the A4. It's pretty good to drive, offers sprightly performance, practical and efficient. At Php 3,450,000, it's a lot of money to fork out for a 1.4-liter engined car but think of it this way, the entry-level A4 is a hugely capable car with a lot of kit. As far as base Euro sedans go, it's a solid choice that's far from basic.