Agility on wheels

Fast, fun, wide - just the way Botchi Santos likes it
Mar 10, 2009

The new Audi A4's been out for a while, looking very similar to its predecessor, albeit longer and wider - giving it class leading interior cabin space.

Audi obviously went through great lengths to distance itself from the opposition, judging from the features the A4 sports on the inside. The steering wheel adjusts for both reach and rake, and the seat has a 12-way electronic power adjustment, ensuring that a driver of any size will find a comfortable driving position.

I personally feel that Audis have the best interior quality, materials used and workmanship. It just feels classy inside, like a proper first-class lounge instead of a bus stop with some seats. Mercs tend to come across as cheesy, BMW's seem too gone down in quality, perhaps chasing after fatter margins from its cars?

The A4's rear legroom further accentuates the air of classiness and tranquility. The smooth, supple ride further relaxes its occupants, helped by the smallish and admittedly knock-kneed 16' alloy wheels. All Audis look better with big, bad and butch 18' or even 19' alloy wheels.

Top Gear Philippines recently took the 2.0 TDI and the 1.8 TFSI to the Subic International Raceway (SIR) where champion race driver Kookie Ramirez helped show us the A4's handling characteristics on the brutal and broken tarmac surface.

Hairpins, a short straight and a slalom section proved that despite the A4's size and heft, there's lots of body control available, and the 4-cylinder engines have more than enough grunt to propel the junior-executive sedan down the SIR's many challenging corners.

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Despite being a predominantly horsepower track, when set-up properly, SIR can be very technical and you have only a few laps to acclimatize yourself out there. Thankfully, the A4 survived our assault on the race track. Kudos to the multi-link suspension fore and aft, and the ventilated disc brakes didn't give even any hint of fade.

Audi has kept the weight quite low. The FWD manual petrol weighs 1410kg, while the diesel weighs 1460kg (manual) and 1495kg (Multitronic CVT). Extensive use of aluminum alloy especially in areas of unsprung weight helps give the A4 the agility sorely missing in its predecessors. Sadly, there's still that slightly numb on-center feel from the A4 at top dead center steering position. Pile on the lock and there's some feel brimming through, but nowhere near as delicate and talkative as a BMW's.

Personally, I'd go for the A4 2.0 TDI with Multitronic CVT transmission in Avant (that's estate or station wagon in Audi-speak) guise, plus the all-important 18- or 19-inch alloy wheels. Fast enough, fun enough, loads of utility.

Out on the open road, the A4 proved the perfect highway companion when it blitzed the SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway) at 110-120kph with short bursts up to 180-190kph - pretty good for a big old exec-sedan with four motoring journalists on-board.

Back on EDSA, the traffic jam was causing stress on board but the A4's climate control system is just so first rate, I'm falling asleep, glad that Gino Rufino of Hotwire decided to do the return trip to Manila from Subic.

At the Carrera-M Café, we're pleasantly surprised to find out that the A4 we drove (petrol going to Subic, TDI coming back) did 12.3 km/liter and 15 km/liter, respectively. And that's with traffic and blasts to 180-190kph!

The A4 is indeed smooth and serene - a very brave and bold alternative to the usual Mercs and BMW's.

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