Audi A4 1-8T FSi Attraction Multitronic

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Keywords: Audi A4 1-8T FSi Attraction Multitronic

Description: But where new Audi A4 takes a major leap forward is with its dynamics as a result of some reengineering of the powertrain.

One of the motor industry’s intriguing – and longest running – battles is the sporty compact executive saloon market, started by BMW with its original 3 Series, then expanded by fellow Germans Mercedes-Benz and Audi with the C-Class and A4, respectively. Other marques have challenged with varying degrees of success, but the Teutonic Three remain the protagonists, each taking turns to lead the pack and be the one by which others are judged. Since its introduction last year, the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class has held the baton, but with the arrival of the latest generation A4, is it already time to hand over? The 1,8T FSI and 2,0 TDI are the first models to enter the market, each in two trim levels, Attraction and Ambition, and all with the choice of either a sixspeed manual or a Multitronic CVT. Our test unit is the 1,8T Multitronic in Ambition trim, irritatingly loaded with a host of options that need to be ignored in order to properly assess the basic vehicle. From the outside, the only obvious extras are the road wheels, 17-inch 10-spoke alloys – in place of the standard 16-inch rims – which forms part of a sports package that includes firmer, lower (by 20 mm) suspension, and racy front seats.

The headlamps are optional adaptive xenon units that include sexy and distinctive LED daytime running lights, a feature set to become a legal requirement in Europe in 2010.

None of these items affect the overall impression of the new A4, though. Simply put, it is bigger and even more handsome than before. The steel bodyshell is 120 mm longer, and 50 mm wider than its predecessor – yet weighs about 10 per cent less – which helps give the car a very imposing stance. The styling is distinctively Audi, but the proportions are improved – longer wheelbase, shorter front overhang – and the lines have been sculpted to create a striking and progressive evolution of the A4.

The front is subtly aggressive, and the coupé-like profile is retained, highlighted with gently flared wheelarches and pronounced sills. Doors are notably big, to ease entry/exit. Inside the test car, optional features included the sporty seats, aluminium trim accents, colour sat-nav screen and info displays, the Audi Drive Select module, three-zone climate control, Audi Music Interface, a glass sunroof and a split rear seat. These aside, the Audi’s cabin is, as ever, a classy and comfortable compartment. The A4’s increased size has created much more passenger space than before, and combined with the expected high quality levels of fit and finish and choice of materials, the travelling environment is first class. There is an instant “homeliness” about an Audi that most other marques can only aspire to.

The curving facia is an imposing yet user-friendly piece of architecture designed around the driving position, with all instruments simply marked for legibility, and practically all minor controls having a logical operation, even the MMI Multi- Media Interface control. The steering wheel has a huge range of adjustment – 50 mm rake and 60 mm reach – and retains the unusual roll/press satellite controls for the audio system, which perhaps are the only items not up to the ergonomic instinctiveness of the rest of the switchgear. An electro-mechanical park brake is standard, which frees-up a lot of console space, and is a triumph of functionality.

Upholstery is leather, and the stylised front seats are characteristically comfortable with sensible bolstering and decentlength cushions, the one on the driver’s chair being extendable.

Adjustment of the right-hand seat is all-electric, including comprehensive lumbar support, but at this level why no memory settings? Space in the rear is generous.

Audi’s four-cylinder, 1,8-litre engine has been around for a long time, both naturally aspirated and with forced induction, but apart from the cylinder spacing, there is now an all-new block with a noise absorbing grey cast iron crankcase. The complete engine weighs only 135 kg. Two balancer shafts help smooth out the engine’s operation, but it still emits a slightly gruff sound that is nevertheless unobtrusive, as shown by a low cabin noise level of 63 dB when cruising at 120 km/h. Now with FSI direct fuel injection – six-hole fuel injectors are used, and the fuel pressure is 150 bar – the turbocharged and intercooled twin-cam, 16-valve unit delivers 118 kW between 4 500 and 6 200 r/min, and a healthy 250 N.m of torque right across what is the most used range of 1 500 to 4 500 r/min. It is mated with an uprated Multitronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) that now has eight “steps” in its operation, the equivalent of a conventional automatic’s individual gears. There is a manual mode that can be controlled either by the console shifter, or by small paddles affixed to the steering wheel’s horizontal spokes – left for downshifts, right for up. No matter the mode selected, changes slip through smoothly (as a CVT should), but the transmission will not hold on to any manually selected gear. A readout (could be bigger, Audi) in the instrument cluster indicates which gear is selected.

The Multitronic’s whirrings when accelerating hard sound a little odd to the uninitiated, but the 1,8T effortlessly produces consistent acceleration times, the best we achieved to 100 km/h being an even nine seconds.

A kilometre was dispatched in 30,19 seconds at 175,8 km/h, and we achieved a top speed of 222 km/h. Combined with a fuel index of 8,14 litres/100 km, the A4 1,8T offers a excellent blend of performance and economy.

But where new Audi A4 takes a major leap forward is with its dynamics as a result of some reengineering of the powertrain.

The differential has been located 154 mm ahead of, instead of behind, the clutch (or torque converter, whichever applies), which allows the front axle assembly to move forward by the same distance to below the engine. The steering unit has been lowered, too, allowing steering input to act directly upon the wheels. As a result, the new A4’s steering now has a slightly heavy and meaty feel rather like a BMW 3 Series’, and the feedback is much greater than before, laying to rest the constant criticism of previous generation A4s.

Being front-wheel drive, the A4 will never compete with reardrivers such as the 3 Series and C-Class when it comes to handling balance, but only very experienced drivers will be able to detect and noticeably exploit that advantage. The longer wheelbase and wider tracks have helped give the new A4 superb poise and response, and liberal use of aluminium in the car’s suspension has kept unsprung mass to a minimum. It is a more involving car to drive than its predecessor, and has a neutrality and assuredness that the vast majority of drivers will never come close to overstepping.

Just be wary of pulling away briskly with the wheels turned, though: some scrabble takes place before the electronic traction aids kick-in and restore decorum. Lock to lock is a convenient three turns, and the 11,4-metre turning circle is not as cumbersome as the measurement might suggest.

Given challenging roads, A4 can hustle with the best, providing an enjoyable – entertaining even – ride with reassuring composure. What is more, tick the Audi Drive Select box on the options sheet, and, as with the test car, you get a choice of settings that, through changes to fuel intake, steering response, and (if fitted) autobox shift points, offer subtle yet distinct differences to suit all moods and occasions. By simply pressing a switch, you can choose from comfort, dynamic or auto (which balances between the other two) modes that deliver a driving experience to suit their respective titles. In addition – and depending upon which combination of options you have ticked (terms and conditions apply…) – you can create an individual setting, which offers 24 characteristics that you can combine in a fashion to suit your personal requirements. It all boils down to on-board dynamic customising that is both clever and highly effective. All-disc brakes, ventilated up front, with ABS and its associated helper systems, provide adequate retardation, as shown by the 3,02-seconds average stopping time from 100 km/h.

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