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What is it like to drive an Audi A4 in 2021?

Last month, South Africa’s motoring media gathered on the Sandton City rooftop for Audi’s performance day – essentially a launch for 15 new models. We got them all at once thanks partly to delays incurred during the wasteland that was 2020, but also because the brand wanted to put an exclamation mark on its coup attempt to take over marketing share in the high-end premium sector.

The entire parking lot was rented out to showcase just what this new Audi world offered. There was a drag lane set up – complete with a set of starting lights – where R8s could be raced. 

Around the corner, the saloon cars were being driven at medium speed over annoying shopping mall bumps, demonstrating the bliss of modern suspension systems. The new RS and S Q-range meanwhile were pitted against light 4×4 obstacles. All-in-all, a rather fun time.

But, one suspects, there might have been a jealous cousin lurking in a dark corner somewhere, watching the frivolity unfold.

The A4 used to be a favourite of this family. Armed with its subtle charm, it once bullishy went toe-to-toe with its German rivals, winning more than its fair share of tussles with the BMW three-series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Today its role in the range is a little more understated. The world has moved on from its obsession with sedans while the current A4 generation finds itself in the twilight of its lifespan. There are murmurs of big plans afoot: The A4 will reportedly be a focal point of the growing e-tron range in 2023 with the RS model, in particular, getting an intriguing all-electric treatment. 

For now, the car has had to make do with a recent facelift. After testing the vehicle it became apparent it is really more of a couple of dabs of lipstick and a lashing of mascara. The noticeable changes include some futuristic grooves added on the body, complemented by sprinkles of chrome finishings.

Touching down in South Africa at the end of 2020, it is, for all intents and purposes, the A4 as you’ve always known it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.

As a luxury sedan that attempts to veer away from luxury prices, there is little to dislike here. From the outside-in everything is neatly finished. The boxed-up looks are by no means exciting, yet there is an undeniable elegance to them. The interior is similarly what you might expect from a well-presented German car: clean leather, soft finishings and practicality. Audi also has the advantage of being able to slip in its widely-respected infotainment setup.

On the road, reliable is again the key word. There’s not much fun to be had on a straight line or around a bend, but again that’s not quite the point. The A4 behaves itself impeccably, going precisely where you tell it; completing most journeys in unfussy comfort.

How fast you get there will depend on what engine you opt for. We had the 35 TFSI advanced line model which would suit most needs, and recommended over the more expensive 40 TFSI. The 110 kilowatt / 270 newton meter product does lack a touch of oomph on occasion but that’s more than made up for by the potential savings in the tank – rarely does the A4 stray terribly far from the quoted 6.1 litres per 100km fuel consumption.

The car itself will set you back R685 500. Do remember, however, that if you want the smartphone-linked Audi Connect – which was first made available in South Africa with this car – you will have to pull another R20k in change out of your pocket for the technology package.

Ultimately, the A4 doesn’t let down the pack … but it doesn’t stand out either. One perspective is you could make do with this instead of the posher A6. Another is that you could just jump straight inside a Q3 instead. As a family car it has everything you might want.

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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