Beauty more than skin deep
When a German manufacturer sends out an invite for a car launch or a facelift, it is usually a big deal.
This is because of the nature of the game - a dog-eat-dog approach is always at play.
I recently attended the facelift launch of the Audi A4 and was a bit disappointed.
What is it?
The A4 is Audi's bread and butter, just as the 3 Series and C-Class are to BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Since its launch five years ago, the new A4 has grown stronger and stronger, to the point of being a real contender (not an alternative) to the two other German giants.
How does it look?
It looks bland. But, for anyone looking for functionality as opposed to beauty, the A4 is your mate.
Despite the not-so-good looks, the A4 has all you need and more in a car. Like many Audis the A4's interior will not fail to impress. Having attended the launch of the "new generation A4" I knew then that the car had everything on its side to win in the tough South African market.
The design of the bonnet is now more arched, the upper corners of the single frame grill are tapered and the cross ribs and Audi rings are highlighted three-dimensionally.
The grille is painted grey, with high-gloss black on the six cylinder models or in combination with the S-line exterior package.
The A4's headlights have also changed, with a slight wave at the bottom edges, and a rearranged interior.
Unfortunately, they did not adhere to the old saying, "don't fix it if it isn't broken".
The designers took away a few lines from the A4 and left it with one line to define the whole car.
The daytime running lights have also been changed.
That's where the real problem is - they took away the face of this car and made it look bland.
But Timo Resch of Audi AG was quick to defend the facelift.
He said Audi designers were inspired by multifunctionality, hence the fewer lines.
How does it drive?
All four derivatives have a thing or two going for them. I drove the 3.0 TDI, the S4 and the 1.8TFSI. All three did well. The 3.0 TDI proved to have improved a lot, pulling much better than the engine found in the A5, which had an irritating turbo lag.
The 1.8TFSI responds well, with the manual achieving some impressive results.
I wouldn't give the S4 full marks against BMW's 335i, but it is an awesome drive. It has quick response and its handling is precise. Audi's quattro system comes into play and makes the S4 a real driver's car.
Any special features?
The interiors of the A4 models have also been refined.
A wide selection of new steering wheels with chrome and gloss inlays are on offer.
The steering arm and ignition key have also been modified. High-gloss applications and the slender chrome trim on the controls add elegance to the interior.
Elaborate finish makes operation even simpler and more intuitive.
The MMI navigation plus system now features four instead of eight buttons with a script function fully integrated in the volume control dial.
Other improvements concern the operations of the automatic transmission, the efficient air-conditioning systems, optional Audi drive select and the multifunction steering wheel.
Should you buy one?
Anyone who believes that beauty is more than skin deep can purchase the A4.
There is nothing sexy about the A4. But, if you are looking for more than intimidating lights and a sexy rear, this Vorsprung creation is your car.
Audi A4 1.8TFSI
Engine: 1798cc four-cylinder
Power: 125kW at 3800-6200rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1400-3700rpm
0-100km/h: 8.1 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 230km/h (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 7.4/100km (claimed)
Audi A4 2.0 TDI
Engine: 1968cc four-cylinder diesel
Power: 130kW at 4200rpm
Torque: 320Nm at 1750-2500rpm
0-100km/h: 7.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 222km/h (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 5.7l/100km (claimed)
Audi A4 3.0 TDI
Engine: 2967cc V6
Power: 180kW at 4000-4500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1400-3250rpm
0-100km/h: 5.9 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (governed)
Fuel consumption: 6.8l/100km
Power: 245kW at 5500-7000rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 2900-5300rpm
0-100km/h: 5 seconds(claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h(governed)
Fuel consumption: 8.0l/100km
Prices: From R309500 for the A4 1.8T FSI 88kW S man to R620000 for the S4 quattro S tronic
An array of features
We don't like:
Lack of appeal