New Audi A4 Avant review (2016): Serious tech in a stylish, refined package
When you think of high-end German brands you’ll probably think of Mercedes and BMW before Audi, but that really shouldn’t be the case. For the last few years, Audi has worked hard to edge its way clear of the shadow of its rivals, packing in some serious technological innovations, as well as cutting edge styling, to set itself apart.
The result is the Audi A4 Avant. With a host of innovations on board, such as the Nvidia-powered Virtual Dashboard, great connectivity and styling Tony Stark would approve of, the A4 Avant is designed to put Audi firmly in the minds of consumers and business folk alike. So just how good is it? Read my review of the new Audi Avant A4 to find out.
This review will primarily focus on the tech elements of the Audi A4 Avant. For a review that also includes aspects of drivability, performance and more, check the write-up on our sister site, CarBuyer.
New Audi A4 Avant (2016) review
Apps and connectivity 4.5/5
Although this is a technology review, it’d be criminal to not briefly mention just how good the Audi A4 Avant looks. Sharp angles, bags of lovely details and almost predatory headlights – everything about the Audi A4 Avant screams quality and attention to detail in equal measure. The best part, though, is despite all the obvious design work that has gone in, the A4 isn’t ostentatious with it. It’s a great-looking car, but it doesn’t beg to be ogled.
Open the door and you’ll find that attitude is carried over to the interior. The inside of the Audi is an exercise in uncluttered, utilitarian aesthetics, and makes the interiors of other cars seem somewhat cluttered. Add in what Audi calls its Extended LED Interior Lighting Pack, and the A4 Avant can also bathe its passengers in a hue of their choosing. You can even attach a specific light setting to the Drive Select mode; in sport mode, the lights can be red while in comfort mode they can turn blue.
Despite the stylish lighting, the Audi’s interior is so simple, you’d be forgiven for expecting the A4 to have very little in the way of connectivity – but you’d be wrong.
Despite its sleek looks, the Audi’s interior packs in plenty of options. There are two USB sockets for your phone and thumb drives, and Audi also throws in a trusty 3.5mm AUX connection so you can play pretty much anything with an audio output.
At the same time, there’s a host of more unusual connections: a pair of SD card slots, and even a DVD drive for music CDs and DVDs – something you only see these days in the cars that go all-out for connectivity. It’s 2016, so the A4 obviously comes with Bluetooth too, and pairing my phone with the Audi was both simple and quick.
The Audi A4 Avant also performs well in the apps stakes. Once paired with your phone, the A4 can boot up Audi connect, a news and app aggregator that pipes through content from your smartphone to the dashboard in the car. There’s all the usual stuff like weather and fuel prices here; you can even access your Flickr photos, link to your Twitter account and browse the media on your phone.
Audi connect also offers the facility to turn the A4 into a moving Wi-Fi hotspot for up to eight devices, although the speed will depend on the phone you’re using to tether it to and the network it’s connected to. Like several other VW Group cars I’ve tested, the Audi also comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – and with the latter you have access to most Apple apps, Siri, and even third party music and radio services like Spotify and TuneIn Radio.
Display and UI and general performance 5/5
It’s best to just go ahead and say it now; the Audi A4 Avant costs £40,000 and doesn’t come with a touchscreen. And you know what? That’s okay because the Audi makes it work with a combination of a high-quality display, and controls that are both responsive and easy to master. I even found using CarPlay intuitive and easy to use, despite it being designed principally for touchscreen use.
The Audi I tested came with the £1,450 Technology Pack, and that meant it had some of the best gear Audi has to offer. Instead of a large screen set into the dashboard, the A4 Avant has a sleek, floating panel that looks almost stuck on, but the design just works. Measuring 8.3n across the diagonal and framed in aluminum, you’ll use this screen to access most of the car’s systems, and it looks great. Regardless of how bright it is in the cabin, the A4’s screen is easy to read and sharp, with good black level and clear graphics.
But the Audi has an advantage over many other cars I’ve tested, and it’s called Virtual Cockpit. Available as part of the £975 Light and Vision Pack, this system replaces your traditional analogue dials with a huge 12.3in screen and uses an nVidia Tegra 3 SoC (system on chip) to generate smooth, slick graphics. And it’s well worth the money.
In practice, I found this to be one of the most impressive driver-focused systems on the market, simply because it’s so clear, smooth and reliable – exactly what you need from an in-car system in fact. And as well as music track names and car settings, the Virtual Cockpit is also able to display your satnav map, with both dials shrinking out of the way to clear space for it.
It’s clear, responsive and reliable, a description that can be applied to the entire Audi UI. From the main menu to the car’s radio interface, everything did what I wanted, when I wanted it to, and that’s something that can’t be understated. When you’re somewhere alien, or if you’re at the lights and not sure which turning to take next, the last thing you need is to be faced with a frozen screen or a confusing menu, but that never happened with the Audi. After a few hours driving, I found myself checking everything from the weather to changing songs at the lights, without worrying about how much time I had. That’s important.
Because the A4 doesn’t have a touchscreen, the controls Audi gives you are crucial, and I found these to be more than up to the task. The main control is a large circular dial which you can twirl, nudge and push down to select items, and it’s flanked by four shortcut keys and a back and home button.
Although this sounds like it might be a touch fiddly, it’s actually very easy to use and get to grips with, allowing me to zip through the A4’s screens and menus without having to glance at the controls.
Throw in the compact but usable steering based controls, and as a package, the A4 is among the most intuitive cars I’ve ever driven. When it’s up against such competition as the Tesla Model S and the BMW 7-Series, that’s saying something.
Sat nav and audio
Being intuitive is useless without the performance to back it up, however, and it’ll come as no surprise that this VW Group car delivers. The sat nav does everything you’d expect. Multi-route planning is here, and so is a comprehensive POI search, which you can conduct while en route to another destination.
What’s more, the Audi is also able to pull information from Wikipedia about certain POIs, and although that isn’t an essential feature, it’s one I was glad to see.
Like the VW Golf GTE and the Passat, the Audi A4 also had a highly effective voice-driven search system. However, while the standard dashboard display was good, the Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system edged it ahead of many of the other cars I’ve driven.
As for audio, the Audi also performed well – but not spectacularly. At standard volumes, the Audi produced a composed and pleasant sound, with plenty of controlled, tight bass that never got too loose or boomy. Crank things up, however, and the Audi’s calm resolve falls apart. Highs tend to get a touch harsh, and the A4 is let down by buzzing in the cabin. The Audi does include one nice touch, though; it uses Gracenote to deliver music data and album art directly to the dashboard, even if you’re playing music over Bluetooth from an Android phone.
Driving and parking assistance
Driving the Audi is as comfortable and refined an experience as you’d expect, and the car we came with the Parking Assistant Pack Advanced – a £1,675 option. It was also equipped as standard with cruise control and blind spot detection. While most cars have the latter, the Audi’s solution is particularly neat; a light on the inside of the wing mirror flashes every time a car is in the blind spot zone. The Audi also comes with AEB (autonomous emergency braking) as a last resort.
When you finish driving, the Audi will also park itself. After pressing a button on the dash, the Audi quickly scans and identifies your parking space using ultrasonic sensors (it works with both parallel parking and perpendicular bays). While it was no better or worse than many other parking systems I’ve tried, it got the job done quickly and efficiently. The Audi has a Park Out function, too, but it only leaves the space you’re in; it’s up to you to get the car straightened up when you’re out on the road.
If you’d prefer to park the A4 yourself, the Audi has you well covered. There are both front and rear parking sensors, and these work together with one of the most comprehensive camera systems I’ve seen. These can show the front and rear of the car, the front and rear corners, and it can stitch all these views together to display a top-down, 360-view as well.
Audi might not be the most obvious choice when it comes to a high-end German car, but it really ought to be. After several years living in the shadow of its more illustrious rivals, Audi has emerged with one of the best put-together packages on the road today.
If you want fresh, yet understated styling, and all the practicality of a VW car with a greater sense of occasion, then the Audi A4 Avant, or one of its siblings, is a great choice. Combine that sophistication with useful tech like Apple CarPlay and Audi connect and the A4 is one of the best all-round cars around.
For another perspective of the Audi A4, head over to our sister site Auto Express