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Audi’s new B9 and old B8 saloons are side by side for the first time in Singapore – we compare the two A4s, which are eight years apart.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Audi’s new B9 and old B8 saloons are side by side for the first time in Singapore – we compare the two A4s, which are eight years apart.

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NEW AUDI A4 1.4 versus OLD AUDI A4 1.8.

AUDI’S B8-generation A4 was unveiled in 2007, and hung around for eight years while BMW’s 3 Series, Mercedes’ C-Class and upstart competitors from Lexus (IS) and Infiniti (Q50), arrived all shiny and new.

About time, in other words, for the Audi A4 to be shiny and new once again.

Unlike its rear-drive rivals, the A4 continues to have its front wheels driven, with quattro fourwheel- drive available for higherspec/ cost versions.

Nevertheless, over the four previous generations of A4, sufficient numbers of buyers have prioritised unassuming luxury over smoking rear tyres to make the A4 the best-selling model in Audi’s stable.

In case you didn’t pay attention to the commercials, the latest B9-generation A4 has emerged from Ingolstadt bristling with new technology that includes an aluminium-intensive platform and a fantastic (but not standard-fit) virtual instrument display.

Like the endless parade of Calvin Klein models, however, Audi has stuck to a chiselled, handsome and anonymous appearance. You would need to squint to distinguish the new A4 from its predecessor.

Of the newcomer’s extra 23mm in length, 12mm has gone to the wheelbase, benefitting the rear passengers who now have enough clearance for their knees to journey to Malaysia without risking cramps.

More striking is the automaker’s success in creating an interior that is clean and irresistibly modern.

Thumb the starter button and the cockpit illuminates in cold but expensive-looking white light. Our base-trim test car comes without the newfangled Virtual Cockpit, but all displays remain sharp and intuitive.

On the centre console, Audi’s metallic, programmable touchsensitive buttons instantly put the BMW 3 Series’ inconsistently aligned plastic numbers to shame, while a horizontal theme sees the air-con slats extend across the entire width of the dashboard in a confident, squarejawed aesthetic.

With an overall feel that recalls expensive coffee machines and stereo systems of the Bang & Olufsen variety, the A4’s interior is diametrically opposite in philosophy to the sensual Mercedes C-Class’, yet it’s every bit as accomplished in quality.

One word comes to mind when I think about the driving experience behind the wheel of any Audi, including this new A4 saloon: stoic. 

Chuck the car about exuberantly and its initial frontend bite is strong, while its attitude across the rest of the corner is unflappable.

It’s clear this is an automobile engineered to tackle Germany’s unrestricted autobahns – there’s rarely any nervousness and the vehicle tracks like a locomotive.

Push it beyond the limits of good sense for even the most permissive expressway on-ramp in Singapore and, of course, it will eventually understeer.

No worries – just lift your right foot off the throttle pedal and the A4 will obediently tuck in its nose, without careening body roll or threats to spit you backwards into the concrete barriers.

Over time you learn, to the benefit of comforting confidence, that this is a German machine that will follow your instructions – uncomplainingly and always. 

What is ultimately missing, however, against its reardriven peers from BMW and, in particular, Jaguar, is that last dusting of dynamic sparkle.

Unapologetically, the A4 remains front-driven and comes without that satisfying on-limit sense of grip being balanced front and rear.

Not that the A4 actively discourages hooligan behaviour, or it cannot keep up, but it’s a bit like Keanu Reeves. He can act capably, just not with pronounced outward passion.

Still, the car’s nonchalance and immense ability mean it demands less concentration from the driver than an equivalent BMW.

Instead, you’re left to nurse your tired bones, after a long day at work, in the silken hush of the A4’s serene disposition.

If there is less involvement on offer when the red mist descends and the mood takes you, I suspect that is a trade-off most Singaporean drivers will take.

What of the old A4? The barely evolved appearance should have given it away. The under-skin rework may have been thorough, but there has been no great reimagination of the A4 formula.

Eight years is a long time for Audi’s famously fastidious engineers to diligently apply Vorsprung durch Technik towards refining the model’s core virtues.

And so it proves with the most predictable comparison test result ever: The new B9 A4 is clearly better in all areas you expect it to be, and less bad in those that were the B8’s flaws.

This means the old A4 goes down the road with a similar attitude – that of businesslike competence and professionally detached tranquillity.

Inevitably, it handles road imperfections and its own weight less deftly than its successor, with less sophistication to its ride at the same time.

Noticeable judder over high-frequency irregularities on the asphalt also reverberates through the structure – this never happens in the more fluently mature B9.

This behaviour is likely the result of a cursory attempt by the B8 to keep dynamic pace with the 3 Series, but it comes without much benefit to overall agility.

At speed, sufficient security is evident, but the older A4 is noticeably heavier on its feet/ tyres and doesn’t exude the same level of poise.

Inside, the cabin is outfitted with pixelated displays that still employ skeumorphism in their graphics, a design concept popularised by Apple but since rendered obsolete by Google.

The dashboard is also busier than the new model’s and employs a snug theme more consistent with dash designs from a decade prior.

Aspects like these reveal the age of the older A4. But at its debut in 2007, it was so ahead of its time in material quality that it was a rude shock to the executive car establishment. To this day, the interior’s level of luxury remains.

Audi has created a new A4 with notable improvements, and it’s an excellent ambassador for the ambitious brand.

Audi’s important newcomer will certainly appeal to droves of lawyers and sharp-suited businessmen, and anyone looking for a high-quality, well-engineered motoring experience in a continental saloon.

Those still driving the old A4 need not be despondent, though. Like a good pair of leather shoes, it’ll continue to take you to and from the office in quiet comfort for years to come.

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New A4’s cabin is neater, a little roomier and a lot classier, but old A4’s cabin (bottom) is still solid and well-appointed.

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ENGINE 1395cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged.

MAX POWER 150bhp at 5000-6000rpm.

MAX TORQUE 250Nm at 1500-3500rpm.

POWER TO WEIGHT 109.1bhp per tonne.

GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select.

0-100KM/H 8.5 seconds.

TOP SPEED 210km/h.

CONSUMPTION 19.2km/L (combined) CO2.

EMISSION 119g/km.

PRICE INCL. COE $154,750 (after $10k CEVS rebate).

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ENGINE 1798cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged.

MAX POWER 170bhp at 3800-6200rpm.

MAX TORQUE 320Nm at 1400-3700rpm.

POWER TO WEIGHT 110bhp per tonne.

GEARBOX CVT with 8-speed override.

0-100KM/H 8.3 seconds.

TOP SPEED 225km/h.

CONSUMPTION 17.2km/L (combined).

CO2 EMISSION 134g/km.

PRICE INCL. COE Not applicable.

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New A4 (top) feels lighter on its feet/tyres, rides more smoothly and is better in corners.

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