You shouldn't be surprised if the new A4, which debuts at this fall's Frankfurt Auto Show, looks a lot like its two-door brother, the A5. The A5, after all, is the car that its designer, Walter De'Silva, declared to be the most beautiful car he's ever designed. The A4 is a little less sexy, but the resemblance is clear - and their shared appearance isn't just skin-deep.
Audi doesn't like to call its new platform - B8 - a platform, instead describing it as a matrix. Either way, it's shared with the A5, which means that it uses Audi's new drivetrain layout that swaps the location of the differential and clutch. The new layout allows the engine to be moved further back in the chassis, and the results are measurable: compared to the current A4, the new car's front axle has been moved forward by 6.1 inches.
The resulting short front overhang removes some of the trademark Audi visual front-heaviness, giving a BMW-like stance. At 185.2 inches long, the A4 is a full seven inches longer than its Bavarian competition, the 3-series, and it rides on a wheelbase that is almost two inches longer. An even bigger difference is in the trunk size - the A4's enormous, 17 cu. ft. trunk dwarfs the BMW's, which can swallow only 12 cu. ft. of junk.
Not only is the new platform significantly bigger than the old A4's, it's more rigid. And, more impressively, it's ten percent lighter - the base, front-wheel drive A4 weighs only 3109 lb.
That model uses a 1.8-liter turbo unit that is closely related to the 2.0T in current U.S.-market Audis. It, like all of the engines in the new A4 lineup, uses direct injection. In 1.8-liter form, it produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and when equipped with a six-speed manual, it accelerates the A4 to 62 mph in 8.6 seconds. A Multitronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available as an option on front-wheel drive A4s.
The top-specification 3.2-liter V-6 sends its 265 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels using Audi's rear-biased Quattro system, and, with a manual 'box can hit 62 in 6.2 seconds. A six-speed automatic transmission is still under development for Quattro-equipped cars - the previous unit won't fit in the new chassis because of the new layout. The 3.2-liter uses Audi's AVS variable valve lift system, which helps improve fuel economy drastically: the new engine uses almost fifteen percent less fuel than the old one - which produced ten horsepower less.
Audi is clearly after efficiency - the new A4's air-conditioning system pumps the interior full with ten percent more cold air while using twenty percent less fuel. And the interior, by the way, is packed with loads of technology and comfort features, starting with available three-zone climate control (one zone for each front passenger, one for the rear passengers) and ending with "Climatic Comfort seats" that use fans to draw perspiration away from passengers' skin through perforated leather. Somewhere in between are six standard airbags, adaptive cruise control, an iPod interface, and the usual list of goodies.
There are a few surprises, though - the first is Audi Braking Guard. Using the radar sensor from the adaptive cruise control, the system determines if a crash is eminent. It then flashes red lights and beeps at the driver - and, if he doesn't react quickly enough, it can stab the brakes to get his attention, applying enough force to knock off 3 mph in 0.3 seconds. Kind of like what your mom did when you were misbehaving in the back seat.
Next up is Audi Side Assist, which uses two radar sensors in the rear bumper to determine if a car is in the driver's blind spot (or rapidly approaching) and illuminates an LED inside the outside mirror housing.
In the number three spot for surprise electronic aids is Audi Lane Assist, which uses a camera on the windscreen to monitor lane lines. If the system determines that the car is about to change lanes without using a turn signal, it vibrates the steering column.
The biggest surprise, though, is that Audi has developed an active steering system similar to the unloved BMW Active Steering. Much like the BMW unit, Audi's system varies the steering ratio according to road speed. Another BMW-ism is Audi's "Drive Select," which, in a manner similar to BMW's M-Mode button, changes up to twenty-four vehicle settings (including accelerator pedal response, automatic transmission shift points, power steering assistance, steering ratio, and the stiffness of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers) by pressing one button.
In reality, all of these BMW-isms shouldn't be a surprise: Audi's is taking direct aim at BMW with the new A4. The A4 even has Audi's take on BMW's Angel Eye daytime running lights - cars equipped with Xenon lights have a band of fourteen white LED DRLs. Whether it can match the BMW's driving dynamics is a question to be answered just as soon as we slip behind the steering wheel.
Look for full driving impressions in the December 2007 issue of Automobile Magazine.