Audi's new A4, to debut next June, is a sportier, scaled-down A6
Targeting the junior executive Audi A4 1.8T

THE junior executive car market is hot. Mercedes-Benz is struggling to keep up with worldwide demand for the C-Class, which is the second best-selling car in Germany behind the Volkswagen Golf, knocking the BMW 3 Series off its perch.

The new S60 from Volvo has just been launched. And Volkswagen has freshened up the Passat with a facelift.

Audi intends to remain in the fray, with a revamped A4 scheduled for an unveiling later this year. Life! brings you early details of the year-2001 A4.

The car replaces a model that has performed well in a market where factors like sportiness, interior luxury, and a smorgasbord of electronic gadgetry are vital ingredients for popularity.

At first glance, it seems conservative in appearance, but bolder design lines and more aggressively-flared wheel arches reveal themselves upon careful scrutiny. The styling is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the overall effect is that of a scaled-down, sportier A6. There will be a total of 16 shades of exterior paint for customers to choose from to go with the new looks.

The new A4 has been fattened up in step with the latest trend for longer wheelbases and more interior space. There is marginally more headroom and legroom than before.

Its overall length is almost 70 mm greater than its predecessor's, and the cabin has been stretched both in length and width. Boot space has increased by over 50 litres to a 445-litre capacity, while the trunk floor has been smoothed flat to ease loading.

However, the extra roominess and size do not come at a weight penalty. In fact, the A4 has shed kilogrammes, due to increased use of aluminium for major components. For example, the four-link front suspension is now made of aluminium, making the car 8.5 kg lighter than before.

A new feature called Sideguards have been added as a standard safety item. Sideguards are side airbags which extend from the car's A-pillar to the rear compartment in order to give better protection in times of side impact.

Sensors built into the car ascertain collision severity and deploy the airbags accordingly. A revised footwell area with collapsible foot pedal design also means a reduction of injury to the driver's legs during a crash.

Other passive safety standards include the latest Electronic Stability Program (ESP), as well as the brake assist, which increases brake pressure automatically during emergency braking.

Replacing conventional automatic gearboxes in the front-wheel drive variants of the new A4 is Audi's Multitronic transmission. It is a Continuously Variable Transmission similar to the transmissions of the Mitsubishi Lancer and Honda Civic. Audi claims the Multitronic is the first CVT in the world capable of handling torque loads of up to 310 Nm.

Three petrol engine types are offered. The entry level A4 comes with a new 2-litre in-line four-cylinder with 130 bhp and 195 Nm of torque. At the top of the range is a 3-litre V6 variant, which packs 92 bhp more than the former, with up to 300 Nm of turning force at 3200 rpm. According to Audi, the new engine shares very few parts with its 2.8-litre predecessor.

In between the two, there is also an A4 1.8T, powered by the familiar 1.8-litre turbo carried over from the last A4, with 150 bhp and a peak torque of 210 Nm at a very accessible 1750 rpm. Standstill to 100 kmh timings are quoted at 9.9 seconds, 6.9 seconds and 8.9 seconds respectively for the above models.

Local Audi agent, Premium Automobiles, has yet to confirm which models will be imported here, but the 1.8-litre model is almost certain to be the first choice for our market.

But if Audi is serious about competing directly with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, which between them offer engines from 1.9 to 3.2-litres in size, expect the 3-litre V6 to be offered here as well.

We will have to wait and see, however. The new A4 is slated to make its debut in Singapore next June.