Driven - Jan 2021

Doing nothing in the Audi A4…

If someone were to ask me how I would sum up an Audi A4, I would use one word – sensible. The applies to all the generations of the vehicle, including the newest iteration that Audi South Africa loaned us for the December holidays. We at TheMotorist have been very fortunate to sample many of the Volkswagen Group’s vehicles over an extended period. Normally these periods include long drives to the coast, frequent excursions to popular areas and many selfies. 2020 however, proved to be very different as the world has been and still is going through a pandemic. As a result, our German steed had the fun task of parking at either my home, or my brother’s home five kilometres away. What would have been hundreds of kilometres on the road ended up being nearby shopping runs, dinner outings and the usual “staycation” activities that are involved when trying to avoid getting infected by a potentially deadly virus.

To call a spade a spade, it’s rather unfortunate that our 40TFSI A4 with all its bells and whistles didn’t get the attention it deserved. However this situation did allow us to put on our “consumer hat” and evaluate this vehicle from a consumers perspective. Often times us journalists make the mistake of judging a vehicle as a petrol-head, forgetting that for most, a vehicle needs to do the normal stuff very well too – something a number of performance vehicles struggle to do. Speed, style and flair often wow us to write sterling reviews of a vehicle. The reality is that majority of buyers need a vehicle that makes sense in many ways, something the new Audi A4 seems to have nailed on many counts. Let me tell you why…

Looking at the updated A4 will not evoke heart-racing emotion, unless you have a thing for understated sedans. The overall design of the car remains largely similar too, with the modernisation of the front and rear bumpers, as well as the headlights being the main changes. The vehicle remains good looking and in the specification we tested, the larger wheels make the design “pop” more. What stands out in the outward appearance of the vehicle is the LED lighting system, with the rear lights being my favourite. Audi have always had a strong lighting game and it’s great to see the A4 get the lighting design treatment you’d expect in an A6 or even the ever so rare Audi A8. So outwardly, the A4 is pretty enough to be admired briefly but it also blends in on the road, quietly going about its day, not drawing too much attention to the driver – something that can be appreciated by a number of motorists.

Where the new A4 comes into its own is on the inside. Finished in a light grey leather, the interior of this specific vehicle was top class. Minimalistic, vast and very modern are the words that one can use to describe the A4 on the inside. Oh and the build quality is great too. My wife, a non-petrol head kept commenting about how she enjoyed being inside this vehicle, with its comfort being the winning attribute for her, but we’ll touch on that shortly. At the virtual launch of the updated A4, Audi South Africa emphasised the new connected services, now on offer in the updated A4 through the myAudi app. The technology in this car is what they’re most proud of, which is interesting as face-lifts are usually about the exterior changes. This time around, Audi is talking directly to a tech-focused audience. The app is impressive as it allows you to lock the vehicle remotely, check how much fuel you have, find the vehicle in a car park and then some.

My favourite feature was the ability to search for a specific location on the app and then send the location to the vehicle, which lessens the time it takes sitting in the vehicle and setting up your next stop on apps such as Waze and Google Maps. Being in South Africa, you don’t want to be sitting in an idling vehicle, looking down on your phone, as that is when you can potentially be affected by crime. All in all the features of the app are useful, but I fear that other systems such as Apple CarPlay could steal the limelight from the myAudi app as nothing is more simpler than simply plugging in your phone and mirroring your smartphone – something our December A4 did as it was fitted with the Technology package. That meant that we had the awesome Virtual Cockpit, which fully digitises your instrument cluster, allowing you to mirror customised information onto your dashboard. A must in our opinion.

Another feature we felt was a must in the A4, was the upgraded sound system. Listen, R17 200 is not cheap but you’ll kick yourself if you don’t do it because the Bang & Olufsen setup is brilliant. Every dance song was a party, every vocal sounded like a concert and the bass on offer was perfect for any Amapiano song. Interestingly, if you switched the radio off, you’d be surprised at how quiet the A4 was. That is what Audi has done really well with this update. The A4 felt very refined behind the wheel. My wife’s praise was warranted as this was one comfortable sedan. Despite it riding on optional 19 inch wheels, it glided through the quiet streets of Joburg gracefully. Personally, I felt our model was riding a smidge too high. The clearance between the wheels and the wheel arches seemed to large. But obviously there’s reasoning as to why the vehicle is set up like this and judging by the ride quality, I can understand why.  

Our vehicle was equipped with the tried and tested 2.0 TFSI engine that has done the rounds at both Audi and Volkswagen for many years. This specific engine produced 140kW/320Nm and was good for a 0-100km/h sprint of 7.3 seconds. Truthfully, you don’t jump into an A4 with the mindset of racing around town. As a result, the power delivered by this vehicle is just enough for what most people will use it for. Consumers will be more enthralled by the 7-speed S tronic gearbox that changes gears quieter than a child stealing sweets from the pantry. The overall driving experience is what you would expect from a vehicle such as this, again there’s a strong feeling of sensibility in the way this car does things. It almost feels like the A4 is not looking to compete with the sporty characteristics of the likes of a BMW 3 Series or a Mercedes C-Class. The A4 feels like it’s doing its own thing.

After four weeks in this vehicle, myself and fellow motorist Richard understood why the A4 exists and why it is still seen on the road today, despite it not being the “star” of the segment. You see at standard price of R726 500, the A4 is not cheap. Our model came in at a whopping R920 200. This is a lot of money and one could justify that there are other Audi models that a customer could buy for the same amount of money, especially in the pre-owned market. But that’s the thing, the A4 is not for those looking for thrills, it’s not a vehicle aimed at die-hard petrol heads. It’s a vehicle for consumers who want to commute quietly, in style and luxury. It’s for a consumer who wants a vehicle that simply makes sense and for many, the Audi A4 is just that. Good sense. Spending our time in this model for a month doing “nothing” allowed us to take a break from being a journalist and rather look at things from a consumer perspective. Now each time I see an A4 on the road, I think to myself, that’s a well to do person who wanted a vehicle that simply makes sense. A vehicle that will most likely be kept for a long period of time, until a new A4 arrives. Question is, are you that consumer?

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