photoIn the past eight years, the Audi A4 has had to tackle more competition, including the likes of the Volvo S60 and Jaguar XE, while traditional rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-class have leapt a generation ahead with all-new models. So when Audi finally launches the all-new A4 in September, it won’t come a day too soon.

But will it be good enough to leapfrog its rivals?

There is no doubt that Audi’s latest sedan looks more striking from the front, but it’s still an all-too-familiar design that comes across as a facelift rather than something completely new. We have to admit that the new A4 looks a tad underwhelming. This could be because the bar in the compact luxury sedan segment has been raised dramatically.

But though it may wear the same understated look as before, there’s no denying that the A4 has well-balanced proportions and a well-sculpted body.

A lot of serious engineering has gone into the A4, which, despite being longer and wider, is now 120kg lighter than before. More significantly, it’s even lighter than the equivalently configured BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-class and Jaguar XE.

You can’t get a better cabin either, especially if it’s sheer quality you’re looking for. While the Mercedes C-class’ cabin design may be more exciting when it comes to craftsmanship, the A4 takes things to another level. There are soft-touch materials everywhere, and all the knobs and buttons rotate or click with a nice solidity.

The highlight, however, is Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit, which alone will be a huge selling point for the A4 over rivals whose infotainment and navigation systems look outdated in comparison. The Virtual Cockpit replaces the conventional instrument cluster with a massive and highly configurable high-definition screen. There’s also the regular 7-inch, dash-mounted screen that now gets a touch interface. Audi’s own multimedia interface now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. This essentially replicates your smartphone functions on the dash-mounted display.

The increase in dimensions has translated into more passenger room. The front seats are generous, and there’s ample headroom and legroom at the rear. Boot space on the A4 is 480 litres. However, if you’re looking primarily for chauffeur-driven comfort and back-seat space, you will be better off in a Toyota Camry or a Skoda Superb.

Internationally, the A4 comes with a wide range of engines, but India is likely to get a more powerful 190hp version of the 2.0-litre diesel that has just been introduced in the Superb. As is normal practice, Audi will offer the A4 with only automatic transmission.

In first impressions from behind the wheels, the A4 scores big on refinement. Engine, road and wind noise are well-contained. It’s only when you accelerate hard that you hear a murmur from under the hood. But compared to the coarser-sounding BMW 320d and Mercedes C 250d, the Audi 2.0 TDI feels distinctly quieter.

The A4’s power delivery is smooth and progressive, which allows it to build speed deceptively fast. There’s a nice, even surge of torque with a gentle prod of the throttle pedal—this makes the new A4 a far more relaxed car to drive. This is most obvious on highways, where the excellent straight-line stability gives you the confidence to hold high speeds all day long. Ride comfort is superb, thanks to a supple suspension that manages to round off sharp-edged bumps quite nicely.

What comes as a pleasant surprise is the A4’s steering—it is quicker and more responsive than before. However, when you push the car hard, it doesn’t engage the driver as much as a BMW 3 Series. Where the 3 Series or Jaguar XE will have you grinning from ear to ear, the A4 will, at best, put a smile on your face.

No doubt, the A4 could have done with a more imaginative design, but Audi has developed a car that widens the appeal for its core audience. It’s superbly built and comes with more class and sophistication. Looking at the way Audi has aggressively priced its new launches, you can expect the base A4 to be priced competitively under 40 lakh when it goes on sale.

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