Wednesday, 29 August 2007

New Car: 2008 Audi A4 Sedan

You’re looking at the first official pictures of the new, fourth-generation Audi A4, a car that Ingolstadt is hoping can steal even more of the European junior executive market from BMW and Mercedes, with a mix of improved dynamics, evolutionary design and a cheaper entry-level price tag. Behind its familiar design, the new Audi A4 features new underpinnings, advanced engine technology and the latest safety features. The new premium saloon will make its debut at the Frankfurt motor show in two weeks and will go on sale in the UK in January 2007.Prices on this new A4 remain under wraps for the moment, but we can confirm the starting price will be under £20,000, making it cheaper than today’s entry-level 1.8T at £21,350.

Audi has placed a heavy emphasis on dynamics with the new A4 in a bid to challenge BMW’s 3-series and the Mercedes C-class, while continuing to fend off more affordable but improving rivals such as the Volvo S60 and Saab 9-3. It will be available with Audi’s Drive Select, which allows the driver to tailor up to 24 suspension, steering assistance and transmission response settings to his own taste. At the heart of the new car is Audi’s modular longitudinal platform (MLP), as used beneath the mechanically identical A5 Coupé. Supporting both front-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, MLP moves the front axle 154mm further forward than that of the outgoing model, and adds widened tracks to provide the new A4 with what Audi describes as a “vastly improved weight distribution”.

The suspension — a mixture of a four-link arrangement at the front and multi-links at the rear — is made almost entirely from aluminium, which helps to reduce weight. Despite the fact that the new car is larger all round, Audi claims the weight of the bodyshell has been cut by 10 per cent.Subtly tweaked design:Audi’s designers have not attempted to do anything new with the A4’s exterior, which takes cues from the A5; the A4 will be built alongside its coupé sibling at Audi’s Ingolstadt headquarters. The Bauhaus-inspired lines of the outgoing A4 have been replaced by an edgier appearance first hinted at on the Walter de’Silva-penned Nuvolari concept in 2004, and now reflected on just about every Audi model. The new A4 inherits a conservative, evolutionary look, therefore. Highlights include a prominent single-frame grille, LED sidelights, a heavy shoulder line and a convex treatment to the rear end – but nothing we haven’t already seen from the brand.At 4703mm long and 1826mm wide, the new Audi A4 is 118mm longer and 56mm wider than the outgoing car. It also rides on a wheelbase that has grown by 168mm in all, to 2808mm — just 37mm shorter than the A6. The drag coefficient of 0.27 is the lowest in the Audi line-up, due partly to tighter shutlines that improve the airflow over the car.

The new A4’s cabin architecture — including the dashboard, switchgear and instruments — is shared with the A5, and offers an electrically operated handbrake, automatic air conditioning and six airbags as standard. Audi’s MMI (multi-media interface) will be optional, together with sat-nav.

Although the engine and other ancillaries have been moved back in the body for improved weight distribution, Audi says the length of the cabin has grown by 20mm, with rear kneeroom extending by 36mm, thanks partly to the rear bench being set further back in the wheelbase. Boot space has grown by 20 litres, the saloon now offering 480 litres.

At the A4’s launch, two direct-injection petrol engines will be offered in the UK. The first — a turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder TFSI — produces 168bhp and 184lb ft. Audi claims 0-62mph in 8.6sec, a top speed of 140mph and 40mpg. Above it is a 3.2-litre V6 with 261bhp and 243lb ft, propelling the A4 from 0-60mph in 6.2sec and up to 155mph. But it’s the trio of diesel models that are expected to capture the majority of A4 sales in the UK. Among them is a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail engine that replaces the old 1.9-litre pumpe düse unit. With 141bhp and 236lb ft of torque from 1750rpm, it covers 0-60mph in 9.4sec, tops out at 134mph and averages 50mpg for a range exceeding 650 miles. It will also have the lowest CO2 emissions in the range, with 144g/km. Future models will improve on this figure. The other two diesels are a 2.7-litre V6 with 187bhp and 295lb ft, and a reworked version of today’s 3.0-litre V6, offering 236bhp and a heady 369lb ft. The most powerful petrol and diesel engines get four-wheel drive; the diesel uses an updated version of Audi’s “torsen” centre differential that directs 40 per cent of the drive to the front wheels and 60 per cent to the rear. Audi has also reworked its standard six-speed manual gearbox for the new A4. It now comes with a shift indicator on the dashboard displaying optimal shift points. Other transmissions include a six-speed automatic and Audi’s Multitronic CVT.

Following the saloon’s UK launch (the order book opens on 11 September, before the car is unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show), the A4 range will expand next year with the Avant, due in the UK next April. But we won’t be getting an A4 cabrio; that car will in effect be replaced by a convertible version of the A5 coupé. And don’t expect a new RS4 any time soon. Audi has repeatedly said it won’t do more than one RS model at a time, and we’re just about to get the new RS6. Audi also tends to wait for two years into a new model’s life cycle before launching an RS model, so an RS4 saloon wouldn’t be ready until 2009 at the earliest.

But that tactic could change. Replacing the A4 cabrio with the A5 will result in no RS4 cabrio, a vital model for the U.S market. That could mean an RS5 cabrio and coupé running alongside the RS4 saloon to provide rivals for BMW’s forthcoming M3 saloon and cabrio.

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