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The compact executive segment is one of the darlings of the Malaysian automotive landscape. Dwelling in this segment are such desirable cars as the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-series, Lexus IS and the Audi A4; all cars that appeal to a wide market and a number of car manufacturers rely on this segment to keep sales figures healthy.

And almost all the cars in this segment are impressive in their own distinct way. Take the C-Class for example, besides looking like a smaller S-Class, which is not a bad thing, it also comes packed with world-class technology and a gorgeous interior. But on the other end of the spectrum, because the appeal and the demand for cars of this segment is so intense, lots of people do not mind forking out big money for cars that offer very little – market skimming they call it. But not in the C-Class, it has the looks to match its performance, and the interior comforts to match the basic DNA of the brand – comfort and technology.

BMW does a fairly decent job with the 3-Series too, though Mercedes does it better, and Lexus is somehow still playing catch up with its IS. And Audi, well they have done a brilliant job with the new A4, again.

The new Audi A4 is not new to Malaysia. It was first introduced last year and the full range has been introduced in stages. We got to drive both the entry-level A4 1.4 TFSI as well as the top of the line 2.0 TFSI Quattro some time ago during a media test drive to Janda Baik along one of Malaysia’s most popular roads for hard driving – the Karak highway.

To be brutally honest, I approached the media drive with some dread as after some years of attending media drives, all of them have somehow come to be the same. Jaded you might say, or perhaps it is the same old companies engaged to organise these drives, thus limiting creativity, but I will go so far as to say that the drive was one of the best half day local drives. Partly because there were fresh ideas like the loose convoy without someone constantly serving orders over the walkies, and coffee was served by a team operating in what looked like an Airstream caravan turned into a mobile coffee shop. This was parked at a rest and service area along the Karak Highway towards Janda Baik, our destination for lunch. Once there we were hosted at a recently completed bungalow situated in what seemed like the middle of a jungle. The building was the recipient of an architectural award, which made it unique and beautiful at the same time.

Unique and beautiful are of course the key words here, because that is exactly what the new Audis are all about.

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I first got into the 1.4 TFSI, and even though it may be the “entry-level” model for the A4, it is already quite a decent car. From the outside the 1.4 TFSI gets the usual toys like the xenon LED headlights, and distinguishing this model from the more expensive variants are the 17 inch wheels, while the top of the line 2.0 TFSI Quattro variant gets 18 inch wheels.

Move inside and you are greeted by a well-built, high quality cabin that is functional but not exactly thrilling like that of a Mercedes C-Class. It is a good looking interior with leather clad seats and aluminum ellipse dash and door inserts, and the high quality materials are definitely a plus point. Comfort is top notch too as is the overall living space. Cars of this segment are generally small, and tall-ish people tend to knock their knees on the centre console and find it difficult to find that sweet sitting position, but in this A4, there was little of such drama.

The toys you get for a supposedly entry level model is quite impressive too – the seven inch MMI Radio Plus infotainment system looks and feels exclusive and is easy to use and the three-zone climate control system helps with overall comfort as well. There is also an electronic hand brake with the ultra convenient auto hold function. The gear knob now looks and feels like it came off the top end Audi A8, and the meter panel is a good balance between digital and analogue, which is refreshing as more and more car makers are shifting towards fully digital displays, a feature this writer is yet to come to terms with.

Driving the Audi A4 1.4 TFSI is a pleasant experience. The 1.4-litre engine uses an exhaust turbocharger and Audi’s valve lift system to produce 150hp and 250Nm of torque. Of course, that is not a lot of power and as such the car does feel a little lethargic, but put that aside and focus on the comfort aspect of this Audi and you will not be left disappointed. The seven-speed S tronic gearbox is a smooth shifter and the suspension is on the soft-ish side as well. Which means that the car feels like its wafting in corners and is not very planted, giving you very little confidence when driving the car hard. But on straight roads, it soaks up bumps better than sponge bob soaks insults.

But the other car we drove had fun as its middle name – the Audi 2.0 TFSI Quattro. From the outside, the range topping model is distinguished by the bigger 18-inch wheels, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights, a matte grey radiator grille with chrome inserts, an insert in the rear bumper with honeycomb design, and also a rear diffuser.

Inside the top of the line A4 you are once again greeted by high quality materials, but the overall design is still simple, but you do get a lot more features though. There is the three-zone climate control air-conditioning, but instead of plain leather you get a mix of leather and alcantara upholstery. The front seats have been updated to electronic sports semi-bucket seats with memory function for the driver’s seat. There are also manual blinds for the rear windows. The steering wheel is now of the S line sport 3-spoke variant and comes with shifter pedals which already scored mega points with this writer. The dash and door inserts are of the same brushed aluminum material.

The interior of the 2.0 TFSI Quattro is immediately distinguishable from the 1.4 TFSI. The seven-inch MMI screen is now bigger at 8.3-inches, and the switchgear is updated as well. Other than that, interior features are largely the same as the 1.4 TFSI, like the six channel amplifier with 10 loudspeakers and a 180 watt total output with bluetooth and audio streaming.

But the real party pack here is the drivetrain. At RM314,900, the 2.0 TFSI Quattro is approximately RM96,000 dearer than the 1.4 TFSI, but what that gives you is a car that goes as well as it looks. This car is powered by a 2.0-litre engine that also utilises an exhaust turbocharger as well as Audi’s valvelift system to produce 252hp and 370Nm of torque. It does the dash to 100km/h in just 5.8 seconds, and has a electronically governed top speed of 250km/h. However, this car sends all of its power to all four wheels instead of just the two up front.

Both Audi’s come with the Drive Select System that gives five different driving modes. Select Dynamic mode and the behavior of the car is at its sportiest – it holds on to gears a lot longer, the engine is livelier, throttle sharper and the steering heavier. This model comes with Audi’s adaptive comfort suspension with damping control and the electromechanical power steering, in a nutshell, the suspension gets harder for better control, or softer for more comfort, depending on which mode you are in. Likewise, the assisted steering wheel too gets lighter or heavier depending on the mode, but there were times we found it to be too light in corners with some hair raising moments when it suddenly reacted to accidental mid-corner steering input.

Driving the Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Quattro is as fun of an experience as losing your virginity – intense, wild, and yet somehow, very natural. The powertrain is undoubtedly on the wild side, and it is at its wildest in Dynamic mode. The handling is intense as power shifts between the front and rear wheels, with some moments of understeer in between. We even caught the system napping when during a section of the test drive along the Karak highway, a momentary loss of grip caused the rear to almost snap loose, of course the system and its millions of calculations every millisecond caught up with the moment and immediately transferred power away from that wheel. The Quattro system is able to transfer up to 85% of engine power between the front and the rear wheels, giving the car some immense talent in corners, even more than the C-Class or the 3-Series.

Shift to comfort or efficiency mode and the car tiptoes along effortlessly and in near perfect comfort. The 245/40 profile tyres don’t do a very good job at keeping road noise out of the cabin, but I have experienced worse. Automatic mode is the best, to let the car decide on its own character can be handy, for when you need to suddenly swerve away from an obstacle and you want complete control with little body roll, and when you are just cruising along the highway and forget to switch modes.

Both these Audis offer a good package of comfort and convenience but only one offers a lot of fun. The 1.4 TFSI is a good overall package that offers good range on a full tank and an impressive, high-quality interior with top notch features. It may not be as talented as its top spec model, but it has its charms, and at RM218,900, it is quite a good buy.

The 2.0 TFSI Quattro is expensive, but offers a lot more bang for the buck. That powertrain and near pin point accurate handling makes this car wildly fun, and it has the ability to switch characters should you wish to slow down and smell the flowers, a lovely car and one of the best, if not the best for the money!

Specifications:

Audi A4 1.4 TFSI
Price: RM218,900
Engine: 4-cylinder, direct injection exhaust turbo, Audi valvelift system
Horsepower: 150hp @ 5000rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1500rpm
Acceleration 0-100km/h: 8.5 seconds
Top speed: 210 km/h

Audi A4 2.0 TFSI Quattro
Price: RM314,900
Engine: 4-cylinder, direct injection, exhaust turbo, Audi valve lift system
Horsepower: 252hp @ 5000rpm
Torque: 370Nm @ 1600rpm
Acceleration 0-100km/h: 5.8 seconds
Top speed: 250km/h

[Keshy Dhillon]

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