/ 2 July 2008

I like the way you move

Seduced by power, Sukasha Singh is won over by Audi’s A4

Can I admit to being thoroughly confused? I know I’m not supposed to be. I know that because I have access to most cars on our roads, I should be able to choose a car in any segment without hesitation. But if you gave me R300 000 and told me to buy a luxury sedan it wouldn’t be such a clear-cut decision for me.

If you read my Honda Accord review, you will realise that the new Accord is an exceptional vehicle and one that I consider to be a sleeper hit, so it makes the decision that much more difficult because it’s not just the German heavyweights that would slug it out for my R300K. But let’s say we’re narrow-mindedly hellbent on a German car, because this story could go on forever if we didn’t put some limitations on it.

Let me then eliminate another contender: the BMW 3-Series. In the middle of the range and most certainly towards the top of the range (with the 335i sedan), the 3-Series is undoubtedly worthy of praise, but I’m considering entry-level models and those at the bottom of the 3-Series range are rather dull. The 335i coupé might very well rank as one of my favourite cars of all time, but the 320i and 323i lack the dynamism of the previous 3-Series.

So it’s down to the Mercedes-Benz C180 and the recently launched Audi A4 1,8-litre.

The 1,8-litre Audi (with 118kW of power and 250NM torque) presented me with a rather uncomfortable situation as I had to almost threaten my driving partner with violence because he didn’t want to give me a chance to drive. Eventually my powers of persuasion triumphed (“if you don’t let me drive, I will stop navigating and we will get lost”). We swapped seats quickly and as I pulled off I immediately understood why he didn’t want to stop driving.

The A4 offers the most engaging drive in this segment. It accelerates smoothly, but it lets you get well into the red zone before you have to change gears and changing gears was a cinch as the transmission is as smooth as Vietnamese silk. The steering felt comfortably loose at low speeds and slightly firmer as the speedo needle dipped into illegal territory.

Lucky for us, Audi’s logistics people found mostly open roads and as I allowed the Teuton (CHK) to seduce me into driving at speeds at which I wouldn’t normally drive, the most apt song played on the Bang and Olufsen sound system: the Body Rockers’ I Like the Way You Move. Then again, in a car as enjoyable as the 1,8-litre and with the benefit of a state-of-the-art sound system, even a volatile windbag such as Julius Malema would’ve sounded good in stereo.

The new A4 certainly lives up to the ad campaign, which promises innovation in every part, with features such as the daytime running LED lights, adaptive cruise control, adaptive braking, the gearshift recommendation, dynamic chassis, Audi drive select and much more. While most of these clever innovations are optional extras, the standard features’ list includes ABS, ESP, six airbags, a multi-function steering, cruise control and much more. There are few cars as properly put together as Audi vehicles and the interior fit and finishings on the A4 are faultless.

There are only two engines in the range — the 1,8-litre petrol and the 2,0-litre TDi diesel, which come in manual, automatic and tiptronic — and they range in price from R269 000 to R320 000. More models will be added to the range towards the end of the year.

The 1,8-litre will undoubtedly be the top seller in the A4 range and those purchasing it will not be left wishing for the top-end models. Prospective buyers will have to scrutinise every detail of both the C180 and the A4 1,8-litre to figure out which suits them best because they are both exceptional entry-level options and that says a helluva lot about both these cars.