Earth Mover: Audi A4 (2007)
In 2004, Audi introduced the “all-new” A4 with much fanfare. Boasting that it overtook its chief rival, the BMW 3 Series in several key markets, this new one wanted to rub salt into the wounds. Based heavily on a platform dating back to 2001, vast improvements have been done outside, inside and underneath all in the name of improved performance, comfort and practicality.
A walk around reveals the most striking feature: the gaping front grille. Though it’s been the focus of numerous design debates, this “Bauhaus” styling motif makes the A4 easily distinguishable from its Volkswagen stable mates such as the Passat. Unfortunately, this very same treatment also makes the A4 too similar to the rest of Audi’s passenger car range. Granted that the styling is on the bland side (discounting the grille), you can’t deny the handsomeness and timelessness of the A4’s lines. Despite being an “Avant” (Audi speak for wagon), everything is well proportioned. There are nice styling details such as the headlamp kink which is echoed at the rear as well. From the side, the Avant looks sleek with a sloping loading bay and a hard crease running through the length of the body.
Though locally available with a multitude of engines, the most practical choice would be the 2.0 TDI. Seen as the range-topping engine on the Avant model (mid-range in the sedan), it easily makes more sense than the conventional 2.0-liter petrol. As the badge suggests, there’s a 2.0-liter common rail direct injection diesel nestled under the hood. With five-valves per cylinder, it’s actually shocking that it gives only modest performance figures: 138 horsepower and 320 Nm of torque. There’s some diesel thrumming on idle, but nothing that’s really discontenting. There’s a nice evenness to the engine, perhaps equaling Audi’s own petrol engine in terms of overall refinement. A light tap of the throttle induces a nice kick from standstill, but nothing really in the realm of extra-ordinary. Perhaps the lack of thrust is attributed to the A4’s continuously variable transmission, which is called Multitronic in Audi terms. It saps power from an already overworked engine—which has to push a not-so svelte 1,470 kilograms of curb weight.
Once the A4 gather speed though, all its weaknesses fade. Passing and climbing power with the A4 is excellent, as long as you work the transmission correctly (i.e. gingerly throttle application). If you don’t like the sensation of seamless acceleration, the Multitronic system does come with 7 virtual gears that help bring back the feel of a conventional automatic. There’s even a paddle shifter attached to the steering wheel, but it’s difficult to use with the shift/gear indicator buried to obscurity on the instrument panel.
The rest of the A4 suffers from this mixed bag result. Just when you’re beginning to like the car, you just manage to find a new fault. For example, the steering and brakes are responsive—something standard in a car of this caliber, but start tossing the A4 around a corner and it returns with servings of understeer and body roll that would make a Japanese car proud. Don’t get it wrong—the A4 does the twisty road thing perfect well; it’s stable, confidence-inspiring and all, but it’s just not that fun. And what makes it worse is despite the comfort-oriented chassis, the A4’s ride is far from cushy.
So while the driving experience is still something to de desired, the A4 really shines in the interior department with its excellent fit and finish. Like its skin, the look isn’t creative in any sense of word, but everything is exquisitely finished from the switches to the minutest controls. Standard kit is quite generous with leather seats, dual zone climate control, power front seats and a CD changer all coming as standard.
Despite the quality interior, the treatment’s starting to date faster than the rest of the car. For instance, the air conditioning controls are a plain mess, filled with indecipherable acronyms which are hard to master. At a time when everyone else has gone for clearly marked rotary dials or chunky buttons, the A4’s sticking to buttons—lots of them; small ones to make matters worse. The same goes for the audio system which is confusing, although audibly pleasing.
In terms of seating comfort, the Audi offers huge adjustment to both the steering wheel and the driver’s seat—perfect for the tall and wide out there. There’s electric lumbar adjustment here too, which is lacking in the BMW 320d unless you opt for their sports seat pack. The square-cut dash help in increasing foot well and hip area making the A4 the choice for long trips. Those in the back though will find the accommodations less than first class. Fitting three is purely wishful thinking, so it’s best left to two grown adults and a stuff toy. The driving position’s spot on, with the handbrake as the only odd man out (it can’t be engaged when the driver’s arm rest/center console is put down. Though the seats don’t look comfortable in pictures, they are very agreeable.
Although the Audi A4 has excellent fit and finish, as well as agreeable space for the front occupants, it severely lacks in other key areas to make for a convincing buy. It doesn’t have the overall “gotta-have-it-factor” as with other cars of this caliber, which makes for a big problem, especially if you’re shelling out P 2,990,000 for one. If you’re decided for an A4, you’d be better off with the turbo-charged, Quattro-ed A4.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang