Thanks to Quattro and those wide eighteen-inch tires, traction and grip are phenomenal. Body roll is rarely an issue, nor are pitch and yaw. The handling balance feels a lot more neutral than in the outgoing model, which was nose-heavy and a little stodgy by comparison. Turn-in is brisk, but the A4 no longer tends to overshoot the limit of adhesion, leaving you to struggle with ever-changing front-tire slip angles. Instead, improved weight distribution and a redesigned front axle support a pleasantly unbiased cornering attitude that is clean and quick yet nicely communicative. Unfortunately, it takes the freedom of a test track to distill the special talents of the new steering system. On the road, all you notice is near-total composure and very little electronic interference. Instead of merely modulating understeer, the throttle now plays a bigger part in the action, which is generally more transparent and more three-dimensional.
The new A4 is a coherent car to drive, neither excessively sharp nor unduly relaxed. We need to put in a few more miles and sample a greater engine-and-chassis variety to form a definitive verdict, but if those two days on the Costa Smeralda were anything to go by, the new A4 has accomplished its mission. It's a passionately pragmatic and stylish choice for those clients who find the 3-series too cramped and boisterous and the C-class too conservative in appearance and ability.