Audi A4 B7 2005 Pre-Launch Road Test

Mon, 13 Sep 2004

Bit of a scoop, this. By chance I lucked into a cancellation for first drive of the 2005 Audi A4 B7, before even its official launch at the Paris Motor Show.

I had to rush to get this on site, so please excuse any missing bits.

As you can see from the photos, the A4 has been completely facelifted. And this isn’t simply window-dressing, because under the bonnets are four new engines: an all new quad chain cam 255bhp 3.2 FSI V6 petrol; the new 200bhp 2.0T FSI petrol engine shared with the Golf V; the quad chain cam 204bhp 3.0 TDI V6 shared with the A6; and the 140bhp 2.0 TDI shared with the Golf V, A3, Touran and Altea. This last engine is likely to be by far the most popular throughout Europe and the UK.

Underneath there are plenty of improvements, too. The new transmissions allow the longitudinal engines to be set a bit further back, aiding weight distribution. And the mainly alloy, four-link-per-wheel suspension has been redesigned using lessons learned on the S4 and the new A6 to give both a better ride quality and a sportier feel to the car, especially to front wheel drive models. The more powerful 2.0T FSI, 3.2 V6 and 3.0TDI have new speed-dependent servotronic steering. And the bigger brakes have a self-drying function triggered by the wiper’s rain sensor.

The interior hasn’t been neglected either. Though difficult to improve on it has been, with standard aluminium inlays (or optional walnut, or fine grain birch wood in grey or beige), three new cloth trims, leather and Alcantara combinations and two exclusive grades of leather. There are two levels of optional satnav: the basic one giving voice instructions and displaying by pictogram in the centre of the instrument cluster and the other by voice, pictogram and a 6.5 inch colour display is DVD covering the whole of Western Europe, with faster access. The car is pre-prepared for E/E network phones and the Bluetooth interface guarantees future compatibility. All very classy.

And, of course, increased secondary safety has been a primary consideration. In addition to large front airbags, there are thorax/pelvic side bags in the seats and ‘sideguard’ a unique system of side airbags covering the entire window area, which remain inflated for several seconds following an impact. The front passenger airbag can be deactivated by a turn of the key.

Okay, driving impressions. Time constraints meant we only got to try two cars, but they are both important models: the 140bhp 2.0 TDI which is likely to account for around 70% of all Audi A4 sales, and the 3.2V6 FSI 7-speed Multitronic, both front wheel drive.

The 140bhp 2.0 TDI suits the car better than some other models in the VAG line-up. It still has a narrow power band, so you need more revs than idle speed to get out of a side turning, then the torque comes in very rapidly, peaking at about 1,750rpm and staying at peak torque to 2,500rpm before tailing off. Meanwhile, power comes in even later with 90% available at 2,500rpm, rising to its maximum at 4,000rpm. After that it’s all over and the engine is really at its best between 2,000 and 3,000rpm.

So it needs its six gears. In real road conditions it rows along in the same punchy, powerful and satisfying way as the Mk V Golf and A3 with the same engine. The cable gearchange is a bit notchier, but not enough to be obstructive.

The main improvement is to the car’s road manners. Instead of being the A4's Achilles heel, ride quality is now very good. And the car grips and turns in without the pendulum effect sometimes experienced in the previous generation car. It’s much more balanced, and that makes it better to drive on all types of road in all conditions. It’s the sensible private buy or user chosen company car.

The 3.2V6 FSI Multitronic most definitely isn’t. Yet, unlike the previous 3.0V6 Multitronic, this one is coming to Britain and it’s probably the best automatic available anywhere to drive. The steering wheel paddleshifts now offer seven selectable ratios, right paddle to upshift; left paddle to change down. And it works like a dream. As soon as you go for it, you get the ratio you want. And combined with the impressive 255bhp of the engine, that means serious performance on a twisty road.

Leave it to its own devices and it’s just as good. It doesn’t start mucking about changing ratio half way round a corner like most conventional autoboxes still do. And if you want instant, fierce acceleration, you get it instantly. On de-restricted German autobahns it would pull 200kph at the drop of a hat, then keep accelerating to 230kph before traffic ahead dictated caution.

Now and again I get to drive a car I can’t afford, but I’m instantly very happy with. The new A4 3.2FSI Multitronic was one of those cars.
And though I didn't drive the TDI 140 Multitronic, I'd guess that this box would iron out the all or nothing power delivery of the TDI 140 without affecting economy. So in the real world the new A4 TDI 140 Multitronic has to be the A4 to go for.

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