When it comes to entry-level executive cars, what you see on paper isn't necessarily what the maker wants you to get. The big news for the new Audi A4 PI (that's Product Improvement, or facelift if you like) range is that you can now buy one for less than $70,000. It's got a 1.8-litre engine, Multitronic transmission and front-drive, but still: that's a lot of premium car for the money.
It's a great price point to attract buyer attention, although realistically people in this market segment don't necessarily go for lowest common denominator stuff. That's reflected in the A4 TFSI test car Audi New Zealand is sending around to journalists: $69,990 is the starting point.
But ours is an Avant wagon, which adds $4000 to the tally. It also has the S-line package, with nicer wheels, upgraded trim and sports suspension, so that's another $6410. Grand total: $80,400. Which is a long way from $69,990, but probably pretty typical of what goes out the showroom door.
The new engine is a beauty. The 1.8-litre is smaller in capacity than the powerplant it replaces, but makes the same 320Nm torque, boasts 7kW more power with 125kW and is 18 per cent more fuel efficient. Combined consumption is now 6.9 litres per 100km for the Avant.
Whether this entry-level car delivers the kind of driving experience you expect from an Audi will depend on your priorities. If Audi means style, quality and refinement to you, then yes: this is money well spent.
If you buy into the sporty side of the brand, then perhaps not. It's not quattro for a start: only the front wheels are driven, whereas rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus are rear-drive. The transmission is Multitronic, which is Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) by another name. It's an excellent example of the technology and extremely fuel-efficient, but it does not make for an engaging drive. It does try: CVT is gearless of course, but if you select Sport mode it will step through some pretend ratios to try to add a bit of excitement to the drive. It's nothing like the fabulous dual-clutch gearboxes used in Quattro A4s.
One advantage of the linear way in which Multitronic delivers power is that the engine is never allowed to overwhelm the front wheels. This car is a very smooth drive.
One disadvantage is that CVT transmissions do not like hill starts or parking on inclines. Combine the sluggish low-speed responses of Multitronic with the stop-start system and you have a recipe for frustration in city driving. You can switch off the stop-start system, of course. But even then, Multitronic still has some parking issues.
It's entry-level, but the A4 TFSI is hardly sparse. Even without the fancy S-line package, you get full leather upholstery, three-zone climate air and rear parking radar. The options list is incredible of course, so you can personalise at will. Which is exactly what they want you to do.
* BMW 320i sedan $74,300 (new-generation Touring not yet available)
* Mercedes-Benz C200 BlueEfficiency estate $72,900
* Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium wagon AWD $51,490