Hands On: Audi A4 B9 S Line 2.0l TDi
7 January 2016 | 0
Audi has established itself as a leader in applying technology to its cars and the 2015 A4 B9 is the latest to get a tap of the tech wand.
The A4 B9 now enjoys all of these features, with some refinements and more to make the car not only safer, more capable and more aware, but also more effective as a mobile office.
By way of recap, the key features of all of this for the driver are a full colour screen instead of the traditional instruments, a centre mounted full colour multi-function display, and a head up display (HUD). The dashboard screen is the ‘virtual cockpit’ that allows the driver to select either a traditional instrument display, complete with dynamic metrics such as fuel consumption, trip meters etc., or a mix of instruments, navigation and information sources. You can, for example, have a Google Maps satellite view of your current positon or navigation steps, with the instruments de-emphasised either side. The centre screen, which can be used by passengers too, can add to the effect of the virtual cockpit. For example, for the situational awareness of an Apache Longbow pilot, you can have the virtual cockpit display set to satellite view, the centre screen set to the traditional ‘north up’ map view and still have the turn by turn information prompts on the HUD.
The B9 builds on previous levels of connectivity by not only having its own SIM card slot, thereby allowing it to share a 4G uplink between up to eight Wi-Fi devices, but also by being able to use your smart phone as the connectivity link via Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. The Audi Connect integration can then allow the driver to use the steering wheel controls to connect directly to a range of apps, including Facebook and Twitter, or by vastly improved voice control. The smart phone can also act as a media device for playback.
This means that not only can you tweet as you drive in perfect safety, it also means you can use your own device as connectivity, share its connection between the car and other devices and have your phone wirelessly charged (if it supports it) as you go via the dedicated charging pad in the centre console, which uses the Qi standard.
An option that was also fitted to the review model was Audi Pre-Sense. This is not the odd looking clairvoyant from that Philip K Dick novel, but rather the sensor suite for parking and cruise control deployed in driving mode to sense objects around the car. Say for example, you move to the left while on the motorway, if there is something there, a warning light on the inside of the mirror mount illuminates in an ascending mode of urgency. The detection can sense objects moving from behind on either side too. This works for cars, cyclists and the like, to give an extra warning and increase awareness of potential road hazards.
The Connect suite also provides connectivity to various information sources, from traffic information to fuel sources, local points of interest and travel information.
The virtual cockpit provides near eye-line satellite views in Google Maps or Earth, which combined with the HUD, make the consumption of all this information easy and unobtrusive.
This sets the tone for the rest of the car, as a lot of technology is cleverly integrated to allow you to just get in a drive, or to configure things to your heart’s desire to have a fulfilling driving experience.
For example, when just commuting, comfort or economy driving modes allow you to simply waft along, not worrying about anything. The seven speed electronic auto-gearbox taking care of things and again, just generally being unobtrusive.
However, kick into dynamic mode and things change. The four-cylinder engine gets a raspier note, and the car takes on a livelier character.
Audi has done a lot of work on platform to improve things here. First of all, the B9 gets a greater use of aluminium in its hybrid monocoque, making things lighter. The suspension components have been lightened with extensive use of alloys again, to ensure that both sprung and unsprung mass is down, making things more responsive, a new damper design makes for smoother action with greater sensitivity, without losing out on a sporty action. With 190BHP, it was never going to be outright quick, but acceleration is lively and the extra ratio gives the ability to get the best of the engine in a broader range of circumstances. Aerodynamics get a lot of attention too, and much of the styling has form follow function to ensure very low drag coefficients, adding to the weight benefits for both handling and economy. Overall, the impression is of sharper lines, bold creases and dog-tooth points here and there that add up to a familiar familial look that is yet distinctive and fresh.
Without getting into the finer points of physics, the car handled extremely well, even in the tighter sections of our favourite twisties, and it was not until consulting the spec sheet that it was established that the tested car was a front wheel drive. That is testament to how well the car is balanced, and the various management systems control everything. Not only was it not dominated by the drive type, it did not lose anything obvious from the legendary Quattro system feel. No obvious torque steer, or lack of rear end grip or feedback when powering out of tighter bends, as has so often been the case with powerful, front wheel drive saloons.
Now the B9 platform is longer than previous A4s, and some of this has gone into the wheel base. Some reviewers have reported a slight steering vagueness, which may be a result, but even with the test models larger 18”, split five-spoke alloys, it was not something that this, perhaps more ham-fisted, reviewer found. Instead, the more Quattro-like characteristic of digging in and driving out of slower corners was evident, with no lack of directness.
Now, while that is all a credit to Audi design and implementation, it does add up to one of the only real criticisms of this car. While the front seats are sumptuous, especially with the S Line option of leather and Alcantara, the rear seats are a bit of a compromise. Leg room in the rear is excellent, partly due to the scalloped backs of the front seats, but also headroom has been extended. However, the centre rear seat is a poor compromise. Despite the test model being a front wheel drive, the prop shaft tunnel is still much in evidence. This means that even a short legged, or younger, passenger has to either have their knees at their chin, or try to splay either side, at the cost of comfort. It is a minor grip, but it makes this a 4+ seater as opposed to a true 5-seater.
Summing up, a two-wheel drive car that feels like a Quattro is no mean feat. When combined with the seven-speed electronic auto-gearbox, lighter, nimbler chassis and running gear, and 190BHP goes a long way. When you add the extra interior room and then finish it off with probably the most integrated and connected electronics and driver aid suites and the A4 B9 stands head and shoulders above rivals. If you have to be on the road a lot and you want something that not only does the job but gives a certain frisson as it does, then the A4 is high on the list. If you have to either take a call or stop and get involved in a meeting requiring connectivity, then the list narrows even further.
The model as tested was the A4 B9 2.0 TDI 190 S Line, and, with all of the options, had a price of €59,949, while the base model comes in at €48,500.