Audi A4 2021 first drive review: Audi says happy new year with happy 'new' car
Audi A4, and most of the rivals it competes against, have had the arduous task of balancing two equally important factors for owners - a vehicle that is engaging to drive and yet is plush enough to plonk in the back seats in. Smart looks are a bonus and a cabin loaded with features provide additional bragging rights. The A4, on most counts here, has walked the tightrope with the finesse of a trapeze artist while looking quite a dapper while at it.
As the Audi A4 2021 gets ready for its debut in India, how much have things changed and how many of these changes are for the better? I got a test drive unit in the last few days of last year to find out if Audi's big present for year 2021 is capable of carrying forward A4's popularity in the luxury sedan segment and if it can indeed keep rivals mostly at bay.
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(Also see | More pics of 2021 Audi A4 luxury sedan)
And it was quite a revelation indeed. Let's begin with the experience behind the wheel and behind the front seats.
Drive or be driven, A4 checks most boxes in bold font
The 2021 A4 is a facelift and we will come to the face and the lift in just a bit. Under the hood though is the debut of the 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor in this car and it belts out 190 hp and has a tantalizing 320 Nm of torque. For those who may still be wondering, no, this Audi too has no diesel on offer.
Get inside and get it to the drive mode and it is amply clear - yet again - that here is a sedan with the ambitions of being even more sporty than what the numbers would suggest. There is a nice humdinger aura around the A4 as it makes its way forward on city roads, the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox working in tandem with the TFSI engine to deliver a constant stream of momentum.
And once the city skylines begin to fade, the promise of a more sporty drive begins to permeate.
Now the A4 has never really been the sportiest executive sedan around and the latest model isn't too keen on going down this road either. But in the interest of offering something to he or she who may choose to drive it around, it does offer a bit more bang - Audi claims the new A4 can fire to 100 kmph in just a fraction over seven seconds and it is a claim with weight.
That A4 can sprint a bit is quite evident in the right drive mode but what it doesn't lose out on while trying to be an Usain Bolt is its ability to also be Mo Farah. But does it really bolt to be called Bolt? Not quite. The sedan does have a sense of purpose around it but it won't really win many drag races because it continues to prioritize balance over sheer speed thrills. Traction control on or off, it swerves ever so slightly when the pedal is slammed from standstill on a straight line, realizing a micro-millisecond later what it is being asked to do - run and run as hell.
Ideally, I would have liked a bit more feedback from the steering wheel at high speeds because it mostly remains rather muted once one picks up pace. It is well-weighted but lacks a bit of character.
No such complaints on the quality of the drive though as I remained firmly in the seats even when taking a sharp turn or a sudden U, with body roll to a minimum. The suspension is also typically Audi and the A4 gobbles speed breakers while letting in some of the bigger road craters at moderate speeds. And while suspension set ups in cars in this segment usually tend to be on the slightly softer side, the A4 could have ever so slightly gone a bit more towards the middle line.
Jump to the back seats though and it is a fine ride back home.
The rear seats are generous, plush and offer decent amount of space - for two. The space for legs and knees is commendable even if a tall driver is at the front, but the under-thigh support is just about adequate. The head room too is decent and the recline degree is such that even though you won't be sitting uncomfortably upright, you will get breezy view of the surroundings. More on the cabin a bit later though.
For now, the style statement.
A4 gets botox treatment. And it works
The A4 is an executive luxury sedan and it is just great how the car has blended its stately looks with a profile that also appeals to those looking for something appealing. The 2021 A4 gets a number of visual updates but all of the changes appear to continue to enhance its bold-not-brazen exterior character.
The single-frame front grille is absolutely new - it gets a chrome boundary line and chrome horizontal slats - and is now wider than before, underlined by a reworked grille. The LED head light unit is also sleeker than in the preceding model and now integrates the pattern turn lights. There is a bit more chrome on the fog lamp enclosing while the bonnet now gets two stretched out character lines on either side and is more sculpted - almost curvaceous - than before.
My test unit sat on 17-inch alloy wheels but there is an option to get a larger 18-inch set as well. With either option though, the A4 looks smart from the side and, somehow, has a more stretched out appearance. There are body lines on the side doors and the windows are decently large and enclosed in a chrome casing.
Interestingly, the door handles now pull slightly upwards rather than outright straight out. One major grouch here though is that the doors have to be almost slammed with a sense of impunity because a congenial push is going to set the (door ajar) alarms ringing - literally. This is the most annoying when seated inside and pulling the doors in.
Out and over to the rear is where the re-designed tail lights are at and the slight curve up over the boot lid, the chrome exhaust tips and the grey skid plate all add to a very attractive posterior.
Classic cabin chronicles
The cabin of the new A4 is actually where the bulk of the updates are at. Step inside to see how the car has stepped away from its predecessor.
The standalone 10.1-inch main infotainment unit is just what I want to see in every Audi car - yes, including the Q2 which has a toy-like 8-inch-screen - because it is just so a) vivid, b) responsive and c) great to look at. Frankly, I really don't mind that there is no second screen for air-conditioning because the physical dials just below the touchscreen work well to ensure the three-zone climate control is simple enough to set and forget.
Between the AC dials are a number of switches for functions such as selecting drive modes, auto ignition cut off, traction control, park assist and for proximity sensors. And still below is a 12V charging socket and a USB point. There is a storage space for a phone here but one can also make use of wireless charging in the space under the central armrest.
The center console itself is done well in black and piano black finish and while it can be a dust magnet, it looks really premium if well maintained. The gear unit is well within reach - not something I can say about the drive select button - and has the two cup holders as well as space to secure the car key.
Knick-knacks aside, the cabin is actually defined by the soft-touch materials all around - from the dash to the side doors, and the nicely cushioned seats come with high-quality stitching. It is just so important for a premium car to look and feel premium, and thankfully, Audi has not cut corners in this regard. Obviously, the front seats can be electronically controlled for position, recline and support, while the steering wheel can be manually adjusted for rake and reach.
The A4 also gets a regular-sized sunroof which can be electronically controlled to allow more light to flow in to mix and match with the beige upholstery in this review car unit.
The same sense of pleasing aesthetics continues over at the rear with the same level of premium quality on the side doors and seat cushioning. The floor hump is quite high which means the third person in the middle is going to struggle but three is often a crowd anyway. Two at the back won't have anything much - except perhaps the lack of any AV unit - to complain about.
If packing in additional luggage emerges as a concern though, don't fret. The rear seats fold down in 60:40 split for additional options in a near-flatbed layout. Just that these have to be done from within the cabin and there is no switch in the trunk which also misses out on a 12v charging point and instead, gets four luggage hook and a shopping bag hook to keep things in place.
To buy or not to buy
The A4 from Audi has been a stellar performer for a number of reasons. It has pleasing visual aesthetics, a spacious cabin that is also premium and a drive attribute that is a nice balance between stately and sporty. Now, the 2.0 litre engine and the seven-speed automatic gearbox only go to add to the abilities of the A4. Add to it enhanced looks and updated cabin and there is no reason why Audi's latest in 2021 shouldn't make a whole lot of sense.
The only two points of note is a) pricing and b) rivals. The competing field is one that is packed with very capable performers as well, each making a solid claim to find a place in your garage. The much-acclaimed Mercedes-Benz C-Class, although slightly aged, and 3 Series from BMW have their own sets of strengths while the Jaguar XE is easily the most youthful of the lot, at least to drive. Then there is the new Volvo S60 that is ready for a March launch with the promise of more spunk in drive and the same mile-long list of safety highlights.
If Audi prices the A4 well, somewhere in the region of a starting tag of ₹42 lakh (ex showroom), it could once again become a disruptive force in its segment.