Why the Audi A4 is an unsung icon
The premium motoring landscape was very different when Audi introduced its A4 to the world in 1994. Its portfolio consisted of three main products, with the A6 and the A8 on the higher rungs of the ladder. Okay, there was also the niche Coupé (B3) and its Cabriolet sibling, the latter famously driven by the late Princess Diana.
The ranges from BMW and Mercedes-Benz were equally limited. Remember that this was before the explosion of sport-utility vehicles and crossovers. Indeed, the era even preceded nameplates such as A3, 1-Series and A-Class.
Sedans were a mainstay and as the entry point into the range, the A4 in its heyday was a staple for Audi. Last week the brand announced the updated version of the current, fifth-generation model which wears the internal designation of B9.
Before we discuss the highlights of the newcomer, we ought to take a quick gander at the timeline of the lineage. It would not be remiss to label the 26-year-old nomenclature as iconic, held in the same high esteem as fellow stalwart saloons from Germany.
The first generation car, dubbed the B5, took the baton from the Audi 80. Among its list of honours was the debuting of the Tiptronic transmission, a now ubiquitous concept. It was a technology based on the gearbox Porsche offered in the 964 911. The B5 could also be had in Avant wagon guise, a format continued to the present day, just not in SA, where consumers have a distaste for estates.
Some would say the B6 version of the A4 (2000) marked a real coming of age. Its bulbously assertive shape, penned by the legendary Peter Schreyer, took cue from the contemporary A6. This was also the first time the A4 was available in cabriolet format, considered a precursor to the birth of the A5 we know today.
The third-generation B7 (2004) was essentially a dramatic refresh of the existing B6 foundation. The front and rear had been treated to a thorough restyle, ushering in a single-frame grille, which is now an Audi hallmark.
Then came the fourth-generation B8 (2008), significantly larger than the former car and with a greater emphasis on plushness. Also, it was a pioneer of lighting technology as one of the first cars to be offered with a distinctive daytime-running LED setup. The facelift (2013) brought a subtle restyle and more technology to the mix, such as the option of a Google Earth navigation system.
In April 2016 the current B9 landed on local shores. Referring to our launch assessment of the car from four years ago, we were mightily impressed, saying it felt like “a car built to last much longer than the average lease term” and deeming it “the new segment leader in terms of refinement and quality”.
A powerful appraisal, no doubt, but the game has moved forward considerably since. In 2018 Mercedes-Benz gave their W205 C-Class a notable upgrade, and last year BMW launched the all-new G20 3-Series, a stellar contender that arguably reaffirmed its supremacy in the category.
What does the new A4 bring to the table? Well, aside from a bolder and more expressive outward appearance, the model has gained technology upgrades. Among these is a touchscreen Multi Media Interface (MMI, with voice control and an interface enabling Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity. It joined the rest of its peers in 2020, basically.
An Audi Connect suite of services works in tandem with a smartphone-based application, allowing owners to keep tabs on various aspects of the vehicle remotely, like service appointments and fuel level. A car-to-X service, which relies on an integrated SIM, enables features such as emergency assistance calls directly from the vehicle.
Mild-hybrid technology has also been incorporated into the range. Both the 35 TFSI (110kW and 270Nm) and 40 TFSI (140kW and 320Nm) use 2.0-litre, turbocharged engines. The S4 packs a 3.0-litre unit good for 260kW and 500Nm.
Pricing for the 2020 A4 range kicks off at R644,000.