Let me stop you right here: if you’re an Audi enthusiast who reckons the brand is all about running four rings around the opposition in terms of powertrain technology, with dual-clutch this and Quattro that ¬– well, this might not be the car for you.
The latest entry-level Audi A4 TFSI has a small-capacity engine, continuously variable transmission (which Audi craftily calls Multitronic) and front-wheel drive. Not much full-throttle rally/racing heritage there.
However, if the Audi brand tickles your fancy and you have an eye for value, this entry-level A4 gets you into the club for less than $70,000. Only $10 less, but still.
Actually, it’s a bit unfair to complain about the powertrain, because the engine itself is all-new and very impressive. It’s an all-new 1.8-litre turbo that replaces the previous 2.0-litre: 7kW more power (125kW), same torque (320Nm) and an 18 percent improvement in fuel efficiency.
It’s a fantastic engine, albeit one tempered by the realities of ‘gearless’ Multitronic. It provides smooth performance in normal driving and excellent fuel efficiency (5.8 litres per 100km), but this type of transmission technology has its limitations in low-speed hill work/parking (where it slips and stutters) and when you really want to open the car up and enjoy that European chassis engineering you’ve paid a premium for.
The A4 does offers a Multitronic cheat: slip the gearbox into Sport mode and it will shift using eight predetermined points. It’s common for continuously variable transmissions to offer drivers this kind of manual-hold facility, but the Audi’s Multitronic will also shift automatically through those steps, giving the illusion of a conventional automatic gearbox.
It’s not bad actually, although ultimately it won’t fool anybody because you still perceive that sense of slip as the transmission struggles to hold station and maintain the desired acceleration. What it really wants to do is let loose and rev wildly up and down. That’s what a continuously variable transmission was born to do…
The main virtues of an Audi A4 remain: exceptional build quality and a gorgeous (if somewhat sterile) interior. Entry-level does not mean sparse: this car has full leather upholstery, three-zone climate air conditioning and rear parking radar.
This is a perfectly nice vehicle but nothing special; you’d have to really like the idea of an Audi A4 and really be on a $70k budget to buy it. A Mercedes-Benz C 200 CGI costs the same $69,990, while a BMW 320i is $74,300; both are superior cars, with proper gearboxes and rear-drive.
Don’t like the slightly pretentious image of those two? Fair enough. Might I suggest a Volkswagen Passat? You can buy any model you want and still get a huge chunk of change from $70,000. A Passat won’t quite have the interior quality of the A4, but it’s not far off and it’ll arguably be an even more interesting and satisfying car.
If the A4 TFSI has achieved one thing, it’s to highlight how much choice there is among premium cars at this price point. And how important it is to save your money, so that you can buy an A4 with the excellent S tronic transmission and quattro.