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Future Classic Friday: Audi A4

Published 14 June 2019

There aren’t many cars launched 25 years ago that don’t look out of place in modern traffic, but the original Audi A4 has a touch of timeless beauty about it. 

It was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, which is often the mark of a good design. The profile wasn’t dissimilar to the Audi 80 it replaced, but it was leaner and more dynamic, with a tapered rear end and flared wheelarches giving it far less of a slab-sided appearance. 

The exterior styling was the work of Polish designer Imre Hazanic, who also penned the original A6, but remains one of the least well-known stylists of his era. Like the A4 itself, subtly and modesty define the man.

Audi A4 (2)

Yet the impact of the car he styled was huge. Prior to the A4’s introduction, Audi was a small but well-regarded brand, with all of the build quality and engineering prowess of Volkswagen behind it, but little brand identity when compared to the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz. A quarter of a century later and the company is on top of the executive car market, has a multi-faceted product range and a reputation for amazing design. It was the A4 that kicked all that off.

In terms of its technology, it was fairly unassuming - at launch at least. VW Group four-cylinder engines of 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0-litre capacity were complemented by a brace of sweet V6s - 2.4 and 2.8-litre - while the higher end models also got Quattro all-wheel-drive. There was a 1.9-litre diesel as well, which was one of the best of its generation and gave the A4 a much-needed dose of fleet appeal. 

Audi A4 (3)

It went on sale in the UK in January 1995 and was an instant hit - the media praised its dynamics, but above all its sense of quality. Later that year, it became the first car in the VW Group portfolio to use both the 20v 1.8-litre engine and also a Tiptronic gearbox, both of which went on to feature in the company’s models for over a decade. 

Then, in 1996, the Avant came along and instantly became the most stylish estate car on the market, as well as being usefully more spacious than the BMW 3-Series Touring that was its most obvious rival. 

Sales increased year-on-year, right up until the model was succeeded by the next-generation A4 in 2001, by which point the Audi was regarded as one of the best compact execs on the market. It wasn’t as sharp as the E46 generation 3-Series, but it was a comfortable and well-made car which, with the right engine and trim combination, was a very desirable thing indeed.

But the best thing about the A4 is that it still looks sensational today - the cabin is smart and well laid-out and the exterior styling has a timeless elegance. 

Audi A4 (4)

Right now, the A4 is the cheapest it’ll ever be. Its inherent quality means that it has survived better than many of its contemporaries, and that means that supply still exceeds demand, meaning you can pick up a good one for well under a grand. But that won’t last forever, and as the wheat starts to stand out from the chaff, the prices of good ones will start to go up. 

It’s a car that will definitely become a classic, albeit a subtly appreciated one. And if you fancy one, then now’s the time to seek out a good one while they’re still out there…

Comments

Pawel    on 19 June 2019

"The exterior styling was the work of Polish designer Imre Hazanic." His surname should be spelled Hasanic and he's from Yugoslavia.

Edited by Pawel on 19/06/2019 at 13:15

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