REVIEW | The 2021 Audi A4 seems to be running on borrowed time
The good old Audi A4 is no longer the sales mainstay it was for the German automaker. The more attainable A1 and A3 have long supplanted it in volume, locally anyway. Further pushing it to the periphery is the Q-range of vehicles which nowadays pretty much covers all the size bases, from compact to big.
Is there a future for the A4 in the line-up? Will the world go on in the absence of the classic, medium-sized three-box sedan? Can the model be sufficiently reinvented, perhaps under the auspices of the fully-electric E-Tron sub-brand?
These were the questions that filled my brain over five days about the latest Audi A4, which is still the B9-generation you know and like from 2016, but with updated styling and more in the way of connectivity. This new model was launched in October last year.
Since the initial introduction of the B9 nearly six years ago, much has changed in the segment. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W205) also received an upgrade in 2018, and a completely new generation of the BMW 3-Series (G20) joined us in 2019. The slow-selling Jaguar XE was quietly updated last year. The equally slow-selling Alfa Romeo Giulia is destined for enhancements in 2021, and a new Lexus is model is imminent.
Back to the Audi. The aesthetic changes are instantly recognisable, even if you are not an A4 connoisseur. From the front at least. Note the moustache – which seems to be a current Audi hallmark. A busier single frame grille and bumper arrangement match redrawn headlamps, now with furrowing LED eyebrows. The rear lights get added pizzazz too.
The interior remains “calmly styled”, as the press release describes. Little has changed from the previous car and it still rates highly in the aspect of build quality. The cabin is a testament to how advanced the B9 was: it still looks up-to-date and with an uncluttered sophistication that easily rivals newer peers.
What is new is the Multi Media Infotainment (MMI) system, which eschews the central-mounted rotary controller for a more 2021-friendly touchscreen. The A4 also introduces Audi Connect, which is both new and not-so-new. Volkswagen introduced a similar concept at the beginning of 2020 already, dubbed We Connect Go.
Audi Connect basically uses a smartphone application, allowing the owner to keep tabs on their vehicle, with information such as driving range and being able to book services. A SIM card embedded in the vehicle offers internet-based services, including access to roadside and emergency assistance, which can be summoned directly from the car. Opt for the Technology Package and you can use your smartphone as a key.
To drive, the A4 is still as polished as it has always been, keeping occupants superbly extricated from external stressors. Even on the 19-inch wheel option of our S-Line test unit, it rode with comfort. Of course, it is not the dynamic leader of the pack, but you knew that already. The engine now benefits from a 12-volt mild hybrid setup, purporting to slash consumption by a frankly negligible 0.3l/100km. The 140kW/320Nm 40 TFSI we drove yielded approximately 10l/100km after a mix of freeway and town sessions.
Your other engine choices include the 1.4-litre 35 TFSI or the six-cylinder S4. The 35 TFSI and 40 TFSI are both standard with seven-speed, dual-clutch transmissions while the S4 packs an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic.
More questions entered my head. Would a more affordable A3 not cut the mustard if an Audi sedan was what you needed? If you did want to spend upwards of R644,000 (the basic 35 TFSI), then surely you could have more from a Q3 instead? The 40 TFSI S-Line, S-Tronic seen here goes from R726,500.
As times have changed, the A4 is not the simple and clear cut answer to premium midsized motoring it once was.