15 July 2020
8th Report: A4 continues to reveal hidden secrets
By Pete Tullin
Whenever I try to sum up my time with our long-term Audi A4 I can’t help but feel like a bit of a failure.
I pride myself on my forensic approach to analysing all things motorised and I seldom come across many cars that wouldn’t have benefitted from some additional component investment or a lengthier bout of development time.
As I’ve stated previously, the A4 has its imperfections, but given these shortcomings have such a negligible impact on its driving enjoyment or its day-to-day practicality, I’m left with very little scope for criticism.
Of course, if you spend enough time with a motor you inevitably learn more of its secrets, and given the extended period I’ve spent with the A4 during the pandemic I’ve happened upon a couple of things that I may not have otherwise noticed.
Things like the envelope-sized storage locker lid located to the right of the steering wheel, which I’d previously presumed was big enough to accommodate a mobile phone and some loose change, but have since discovered is an elbow-deep cavern, ideal for storing a litre-sized water bottle.
Speaking of bottles, this leads me to the mysterious case of the missing windscreen fluid filler cap. Imagining it would be a quick pit stop to check tyre pressures and extinguish the low windscreen washer fluid light, I found myself scratching my head and rooting around under the bonnet in a forlorn quest to locate the filler spout. Finally, after what seemed like about 20 minutes, and with a palpable sense of relief, I realise the little tinker was obscured by the elevated bonnet lid and squirrelled away in a rather unusual position, sited between the nearside wing and the engine bay’s firewall. Phew!
Given I’ve had so little to moan about – and trust me, I love a good moan – my focus has inevitably returned to what I consider to be the A4’s two major black spots. I’ve never lost sight of the high levels of road noise that filters into the cabin or the brutal stop-start operation, which irritates the life out of me every time the starter motor wallops the engine back into life. What’s more, I’ve become increasingly aware of another vexing aspect of this facet to peeve me.
Once everything is warmed through, the A4’s driveline will usually actively disconnect from the engine when heading downhill, which allows the car to freewheel as the engine revs fall to idle speeds. On some occasions, however, the engine will stop completely. This is all well and good in a quest to maximise efficiency from every drop of fuel, but I’d question the wisdom of this methodology as every time the starter motor kicks the engine back into life it causes the engine to rock on its mountings, which can be quite startling at motorway speeds. OK, so it’s not the end of the world, especially as it doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, it invariably catches me off guard, so much so that I inevitably end up checking the rear-view mirror to ensure I haven’t inadvertently run over some unfortunate furry mammal.
Ultimately, I probably would have preferred the additional practically of an Avant opposed to the A4’s saloon format. Mainly because of the substantial amount of goods and chattels I regularly haul about with me and because I always feel my old bones creaking whenever I have to bend over to slot my golf clubs into the boot.
Other than that, nothing has changed to alter my overall admiration of the A4. Its super-smooth 2.0-litre TSI petrol engine remains a high point, while the feeling of wellbeing provided by the supportive seats, excellent fit and finish, and Audi’s hallmark quality cabin materials all combine to make the A4 one of the finest business exec models currently available.
7th Report: Taking a shine to the A4
By Pete Tullin
For obvious reasons, I have spent very little time in our long-term Audi A4 of late. Like the rest of the country, I am only venturing out for essentials, but every time I do pop out I am reminded of how much pleasure there is to be derived simply from going for a drive. This is an especially pleasurable experience in our A4, which, the more I have driven, the more I have come to enjoy.
Certainly, it has its shortcomings, such as the higher than ideal levels of road noise it produces, the abruptness of its start-stop activations, and the dead throttle response, which sometimes occurs when the gearbox re-establishes its connection with the engine after a period of downhill freewheel coasting.
The one thing that really does annoy me though, is the imprecise nature of the right-angled gear selector, which can be particularly frustrating to operate, especially when trying to enact a
three-point turn. Attempting to coax the lever between drive and reverse without staring down at it to studiously ensure I haven’t inadvertently popped it into neutral or pulled it too vociferously through into ‘Sport’ mode, is all too much of faff for my liking.
Ok, I know I am being a bit picky now, and overall the A4 is a cracking motor.
The cabin’s extravagant appointment never fails to impress, thanks to lashings of premium-quality facias and precisely executed brushed aluminium trim – and of course, the virtual cockpit displays always raise an ‘Oooh!’ from anyone encountering it for the first time. That said, after 9,000 or so miles, the driver’s door has developed an annoying vibration, which, try as I might, evades my best efforts to identify the exact source of the problem.
You could argue that the latest BMW 3 Series is a more engaging car to drive, but if you prefer a more cossetting experience, then you would do well to arrange a test drive of the latest A4 before signing on the dotted line, especially if you can find one in the same specification as ours.
Despite its Sport moniker, our car is fitted with a grand’s worth of comfort suspension and adaptive damping control – and it definitely is money well spent.
Its ability to soothe matters at low speeds and its capacity to waft along a dual carriageway with just the appropriate amount of easing vertical travel, then seamlessly apply a dab of additional support to keep the body flat as it turns into a corner, are truly impressive attributes.
If the A4’s chassis is right on the money, then the engine is the jewel in the crown. It is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine, which in essence has been around since Adam was a lad, but because it has years of development behind it and is married to the latest incarnation of Audi’s seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic, it is a supremely hushed and impressively refined powertrain.
Yes, you can rev it if you need to blow away some cobwebs, but to my mind, it is at its best when I utilise the full breadth of its muscular mid-range pulling power. By applying judicious amounts of throttle pressure and encouraging it to short-shift through the gears, it reacts in much the same way as a strong diesel engine. Not that it ever sounds like a diesel, as it is one of the quietest engines I have known. Of course, in some respects I wish it were a diesel, because at motorway speeds the fuel gauge has a tendency to fall far quicker than I like. Overall though, I am averaging around 40-odd mpg, so my fuel bills aren’t excessively punitive.
As is always the case when assessing any car, I inevitably end up asking myself two questions; is the car fit for purpose, and would I spend my own money on one? In the case of the A4, the answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
6th Report: When style clashes with substance
By Pete Tullin
There are few certainties in this life, but when it comes to Audis you can pretty much bank on getting a glamorous cabin environment. This is certainly true of our long-term test A4.
Replete with a dense dashboard moulding, plush carpeting, substantial door trims and precisely-operating switchgear – all tied together by flowing lines and punctuated by subtle mood lighting – the A4 is certainly not short of wow factor.
If anything, things look even more spectacular at night, with the augmented reality cockpit and the large central display screen vying for top billing against the glowing red, white and blue LED hues bouncing off the chromed climate control dials.
All this bling is not without its downside, however. Chances are you will never notice or take issue with the full glare of the dashboard lighting refracted into the upper tier of the windscreen unless you happen to look towards the heavens. However, a more significant distraction is created by the rotary lighting control and offside air-vent illumination, as these are reflected in the driver’s side window and blot out about 50% of the view that can normally be gleaned through the door-mounted mirror in daylight.
While I am on the subject of quibbles – it’s my job – I am one of those pedants who happens to think replacing the press button and rotary control simplicity of the previous-generation MMi infotainment system with a touchscreen is a retrograde step. I am often told, ‘we all know how to use touchscreens on our phones, so these systems are more intuitive’. My response to that is, ‘I am not driving a car when I’m scrutinising my phone, and if I were I would be a danger to myself and others; plus, I would likely end up with a big fat fine from PC Selby.’
Thankfully, the A4’s screen is one of the better items I have encountered. Its
high-definition screen and large icons make the various menus easy to identify, while every prod of the screen is defined by haptic and aural feedback via a defined pulse through the finger and a pronounced audible click. Pretty snappy!
5th Report: Back down to earth
By Pete Tullin
When editor Simon Harris suggested I take over the Audi A4 35TSI for the remainder of its tenure on the Business Car fleet, I have to admit, I felt pretty stoked.
I have driven more than my fair share of chubby-club motors over the last few years, and as much as I appreciate the commanding driving position and the ability to float over our dilapidated road surfaces with minimal impact on my aging bones, I have never been a fan of the dynamic tardiness associated with SUVs.
Consequently, the opportunity to move my derriere closer to terra firma, and pilot something that goes where I point it and responds to my right foot without pausing for breath… well, be still my beating heart.
Climbing aboard for the first time and setting up my preferred driving position couldn’t have been simpler, thanks to the A4’s vast range of seat and steering wheel adjustments – although, like every German exec, the A4 is blighted by a protruding transmission tunnel, which has a certain fondness for my left kneecap.
This may seem like a bit of an anomaly, given our A4 is a front-wheel drive model, but because the A4’s engine is laid out North-to-South rather than the more typical transverse arrangement favoured by most front axle-driven cars, a large transmission tunnel is required to accommodate the gearbox housing.
Speaking of drivelines, I can’t begin to stress just how smooth and quiet the A4’s 2.0-litre engine is. With barely a murmur when idling, and delivering creamy, linear power when revved, it is an absolute pearler. Despite its relatively modest 150hp, it whisks the A4 along at a healthy lick, thanks in no small part to its progressive turbocharged torque delivery.
Unfortunately, this ultra-refinement contrasts somewhat starkly with the amount of road noise that filters into the A4’s cabin as well as the jolting abruptness of the stop-start function, which shakes the car quite abruptly as it fires the engine back to life post emissions-saving pause.
Overall though, my early impressions of the A4 are extremely positive and I am certainly looking forward to spending the next few months exploring its attributes in far greater depth.
4th Report: The sound of silence
By Simon Harris
Since our last report, the A4 has made a visit to Audi hospital, courtesy of the Peterborough retailer.
You might remember I had complained about a repetitive, high-pitched noise from under the bonnet, which was less bothersome for the cabin occupants than for anyone outside the car (the A4’s interior is certainly well-insulated!).
Fearful of complaints from neighbours and breaching environmental health regulations for noise, finally a mutually agreeable appointment time was made for the car to be inspected.
Peterborough Audi’s diagnosis was relatively quick, pinpointing the noise to a tight spot on a tensioner for the ribbed belt, and they allowed me to take the car away for a weekend while replacement parts were ordered, and return it to them for the work to be done.
I was given the option of borrowing a courtesy car, but could manage my travel around the problem, so declined.
Both tensioner and belt were replaced under warranty, and since then the A4 has been purring away without incident. Peterborough Audi also had the car valeted both times it was left with them (for diagnosis and later for repair), which all helps with the premium experience.
Although I wonder whether the cleansing is done before the work to ensure the pristine workshops (have you seen them these days?) aren’t soiled by dirty cars.
The A4 got quickly back into its stride, and once again proved why it is a popular choice as a company car.
Our Sport derivative offers a less intense drive than an S Line on larger wheels and with firmer, lower suspension as standard, but it is a perfect all-rounder, agile enough to enjoy driving it on country roads, spacious enough to carry a family and their weekly shopping, or holiday luggage, and accomplished on those long motorway runs for meetings.
3rd Report: No poor relation
By Simon Harris
A recent stint in our BMW 320d (my first chance behind the wheel of our 2019 New Company Car of the Year) allowed me to evaluate one of the class benchmark models that the Audi A4 is aiming to beat.
Thinking of the latest versions of all the premium-badge saloons in this sector, perhaps the only one I have missed out on has been the Lexus IS 300h.
But it means I have tried the 2019 iterations of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Jaguar XE (2020 model year), and the new Volvo S60, as well as the Audi A4.
The BMW and Volvo have an advantage in terms of their point in the life cycle, with the opportunity for the manufacturer to change the car from the ground up.
With the Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Audi, nothing fundamental changes, although they contain some important updates.
The BMW 3 Series won the premium car category in the recent Business Car Awards, and you, our readers, voted it the overall winner of new cars introduced in 2019.
However, the more time I spend in the Audi A4, the more I feel it is not so far behind, despite being half a life cycle out of sync with the BMW.
Perhaps the 3 Series is more rewarding to drive with its rear-wheel drive balance and more even weight distribution over the front and rear axles, but the front-wheel drive A4 doesn’t feel much less enjoyable when tackling a series of bends.
One irritant we reported on last month that hasn’t yet been resolved is the persistent squeaking from under the bonnet, which is particularly noticeable when the engine is cold.
Although I had to wait two weeks for a convenient appointment at my local Audi dealer, I ended up cancelling because work got in the way. It is rescheduled and we should have news in the next issue.
2nd Report: Twitter ye not
By Simon Harris
The tiniest of problems has arisen with our A4, and it is perhaps testament to the leaps forward in noise suppression technology that I lived with it for a few weeks without the inclination to resolve it.
A high-pitched noise, not dissimilar to a bird chirping, occurs in the engine bay. It is probably more noticeable when cold, and when the engine is warm and at low revs – maybe a steady 65-70mph on the motorway in seventh gear – it disappears.
I have used a number of remedies to make the noise inaudible, including Spotify, Apple Music and the radio, and wouldn’t have given it much more thought if a colleague hadn’t pointed out how loud the noise was from outside the car.
This is where Audi’s noise, vibration and harshness experts have excelled, because after parking the car and lifting up the bonnet with the engine running, I agreed it needed attention.
The twittering is coming from one of the moving components in the pulley assembly around the fan belt, so we will book an appointment with an Audi Centre to see if they can rectify the problem, which, despite its volume, would still appear to be extremely minor.
We are getting used to some of the A4’s functions – which have been enhanced compared with the pre-update model we ran earlier in the year – including more detailed map imagery in the navigation system, which can, of course, be displayed directly in front of the driver in the instrument binnacle.
Zooming in close gives the impression of being able to spy on activity in the gardens of nearby properties, were it not the case that the pictures were really taken too far away (and some time ago).
Not that the car’s presence in the vicinity would have been particularly stealthy given the noise. Next time we update you, we hope to have been enjoying the experience of driving in silence once again.
1st Report: Plus ça change . . .
By Simon Harris
Yes, this is a new Audi A4 (I am sure many of you would guess by looking), but our test car falls within a narrow window in the production cycle.
It is a 2.0 TFSI in mid-grade Sport specification. A reasonable assumption for a variant suited to a company car driver with an aversion to diesel.
However, it is a 2019 model year car in the recently facelifted iteration, of which there are relatively few. These cars arrived in the UK in August ahead of the 2020 model year introduction just a few weeks later.
While it is ostensibly the same as the model you could take delivery of now, there are some specification quirks that are no longer available in the latest versions.
Its 18in, five-spoke ‘star’ design alloy wheels are no longer available on UK Sport models, as are the (optional on our car) S-Line high LED lights, and tow bar preparation.
We also have comfort suspension with damping control, which is now only offered on the high-end Vorsprung grade.
The Audi phonebox, with wireless charging, is a £260 option on our car, but for the 2020 model year it is only available as part of the ‘comfort and sound pack’.
So there is a lot of detail to wade through to understand why this particular variant isn’t quite like the cars available to order now.
One key factor that is particularly important to you and your drivers is that the 2020 model year cars are fitted with low-rolling-resistance tyres, bringing the CO2 emissions figure down from 135g/km on our 35 TFSI Sport S-tronic, to 127g/km.
That brings down the BIK tax band to 29% from 31%, with lower monthly payments for drivers and lower national insurance contributions for employers.
So we will treat this A4 as if we were driving a 2020 model year car. The 35 TFSI badge on the boot refers to its position in the range rather than any specific engine size or power output.
Its 2.0-litre turbocharged engine produces 150hp, while if you choose a 35 TDI it means 163hp and a 2.0-litre diesel engine. Confusing, isn’t it?
There are some changes to the interior, including the addition of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit configurable instrument display as standard across the range.
Previously it would have been an option on some models costing the thick end of £500. Plus, the rotary controller from the centre console found in previous versions, which selected functions on the dashboard screen, is gone.
In its place is a small storage cubby, while the dashboard screen (now called Audi Touchscreen MMI) is larger. Some people will prefer the intuitiveness of a touchscreen, although it is more difficult to use when driving, and potentially hazardous.
In fact some functions are prohibited on the move, even preventing front-seat passengers using them.
I had got used to the rotary controller in the A4 I had been running up to the delivery of this car. But so far, overall, I am not unhappy with the change and, 2,000 miles in, the petrol engine is in its element on motorway cruises, regularly showing an indicated 50mpg-plus on the trip computer.