Audi B8 Platform Refresh

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We recently trekked to Colorado to sample Audi’s updated “B segment” offerings – the A4, A5 and new for USA A4 allroad. There are some interesting changes we’ll be talking about here, inside and out, some subtle, some not.

The A4 is the bread and butter model for Audi in the USA, with this car making up the largest percentage of sales per model for the USA. Before Audi launched the A4 in 1996, Audi was the quirky brand languishing as a perennial also-ran amongst Mercedes Benz and BMW in the luxury import segment. It’s not that the cars weren’t great, because they were, but the casual Euro shopper didn’t necessarily gravitate towards the brand with the 4 rings, unless he or she lived in the snow belt. This all changed with the 1996 A4, which was such a dramatic departure from Audis before it that it was actually taking buyers away from the other German brands.

Fast forward 16 years, and Audi is strongly at the head of the market, duking it out with BMW for ultimate sales numbers. Part of this is brand recognition; part of it is that the cars are just phenomenally good, and people who cross-shop other brands with Audi buy the Audi, because the other brand cars do not compare. Every evolution of the A4 since the B5 platform in 1996 has added flavor to the recipe that made the early cars so attractive to buyers, without taking anything away from what made them attractive to long time Audi buyers.

The current platform B8 A4 was a bit of a departure from the previous B7 A4, which was more buttoned down, more starched, more upright. Sharing much of its design with fraternal twin sister the A5 coupe, the B8 A4 was more elegant, more upscale looking than any B sedan or Avant before. Originally launched in 2008, the B8 A4 has been very well received by European car buyers.

As with every generation of Audi before, midway through the lifecycle of the model, the design is refreshed and oftentimes new technology is added when it’s available. We’ll hit on some of the key points, and go into depth on some of the more significant changes, and give a brief review on the new for USA A4 allroad.

Exterior Enhancements –

Most obvious to the casual observer would be the new headlight, grille and taillight designs. These mimic the design styling of the A6/A7 and A8, to keep the family resemblance. The A5 and A4 variants each have different styling queues such as unique arrangements of their LED running lights and grilles, but are nearly identical beneath the skin.  Each also received subtle changes to the sheet metal, to accommodate the new tail lights, and slight sharpening of several body character lines, again, to freshen up the look, and help the A4 and A5 variants stay current with the familial look.

Mechanical Enhancements –

The biggest mechanical enhancement for the whole B5 line is the new Crown Gear center differential. This was first fitted to the RS5 with great results, and it does make a noticeable change to the driving dynamic on the full B5 range. Very basically the crown gear is a more compact, lighter and more tunable differential than the outgoing TORSEN differential, though both are very similar in principle in that they are fully mechanical, with no engagement required.

The only other major mechanical change to the B5 range is that the S5 coupe loses its V8 engine, instead being fitted with the 333hp 3 liter supercharged V6 engine, which was already fitted to the S4 sedan, and S5 cabriolet. The largest driving force behind this change is CO2 and fuel economy, and the S5 buyer no longer has to pay gas guzzler tax thanks to the 3.0TFSI engine.

In the USA, we are fortunate to continue have the option of 2 transmission choices in the S models. As before, the 6 speed manual gearbox is the standard transmission, with the S-tronic 7 speed dual clutch transmission being optional. Either is an excellent choice, but for drivers who absolutely prefer a manual, Audi is happy to provide the option.

Last but not least is the all new electro-mechanical steering system on all B Segment models. Thsi system saves weight over the hydraulic system, as well as reducing static power draw from the engine thanks to the lack of a hydraulic pump. We found the steering feel to be very good, very natural.

Interior Enhancements-

Audi made slight changes to the MMI controls, removing a few extra buttons and combining features at a single button, and also moving functions to menus within the MMI system. The reduced clutter is noticeable on the center console.

Thanks to the upgrades to the CAN BUS system within the car, Audi was able to fit the new style steering wheel from the A8/A6/A7 siblings, which is a very nice upgrade. The S models receive the flat bottomed 3 spoke sport wheel (S-tronic models with shifting paddles as well), the optional sport package on the A4/A5/A4 allroad models sees the cars fitted with a full round 3 spoke wheel, and the standard models are fitted with the very nice 4 spoke wheel.

Technological Enhancements

The B segment is the latest Audi platform to be fitted with the latest and greatest MMI system, including one of our favorite bits of infotainment tech, Audi Connect. This system not only allows the car to go out to the internet to fetch Google Earth maps, it also creates a WIFI hotspot for up to 5 devices, for on the go web surfing. The voice commands are updated, though the B segment vehicles do not receive any kind of touch pad a-la the A6/A7/A8 models, instead, it retains the MMI main control dial mounted joystick.

Avant Switcheroo

Long time Avant owners will lament the departure of the A4 Avant from the lineup. Sad but true, Audi of America made the decision to discontinue the A4 Avant due to dwindling sales numbers for that model. It’s true that the Q5 is probably claiming a large chunk of those buyers, nevertheless, the A4 Avant is a wonderful car, and we’ll miss it.

Meanwhile, Allroad owners may rejoice at that nameplate returning to the lineup, albeit a completely new version for our market. What is essentially an A4 Avant on taller suspension and tires, and fitted with attractive lower body cladding, the A4 Allroad takes what makes the A4 Avant great (sporty handling with room for lots of stuff) and adds a touch of offroad ruggedness to complete the package.

We’re certain that the A4 Allroad will attract A4 Avant buyers, who can choose to have the car painted in solid colors, and former Allroad buyers, who will love the ruggedly handsome look and extra ground clearance.

Overall Impression

We feel that with these minor changes, Audi successfully brought the B segment car, first introduced back in 2007 with the A5, fully up to speed with the rest of the lineup without ruining what makes the cars beautiful. In fact, we found that the A4 and S4 looked better than before, thanks to the restyled taillights and body creases.

We’ll have more reviews on each model in the near future, stay tuned.

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