The face-lifted B8 A4 was launched earlier this year in April, with significant visual enhancements and efficiency gains, but with price still intact: starting from RM235k for the base model. I’m going to jump straight to the conclusion here, but I have to say this – the 1.8T A4, despite being ‘just’ an entry-level model, is a very competent package. Allow me to elaborate…

As we always do, let’s start first with stats in the power department. Although the 1.8-litre turbo engine is maintained, it has been tweaked to produce an additional 10hp/70Nm, bringing total outputs to 170hp/320Nm respectively. Despite the hike in power, Audi claims the 1.8T returns an impressive 21 percent improvement in efficiency. The 1.8 TFSI mill is mated to an 8-speed continuously variable Multitronic transmission that sends all the power to the front wheels, completing the sprint in 8.3 seconds. As you might expect, there’s a slight lag when you pedal the throttle, and while the Zerotohundred numbers are nothing too impressive, there’s good shove for overtaking, especially past 2,000rpm.

There’s a slew of new innovations in the 1.8 TFSI mill that work together to increase efficiency and power. This includes a weight shaving up 3.5kg along with technical changes that include a new cylinder head that gets two injectors (direct and indirect) per cylinder. These work variably at different speeds and this helps to lower emissions (134g/km)) and improve efficiency (5.8litres/100km). Shifts are smooth, almost seamless with the engine keeping revs low, and peak horsepower and torque arrive from 3,800rpm – 6,200rpm and 1,400rpm – 3,700rpm respectively.

Also worth mentioning is the auto start/stop system; I’ve experienced this before in other cars before, and it was clear that the one used for the A4 was smoother during restarts. For me at least, it is still a slightly unpleasant experience, so I’m glad Audi decided to include a switch to turn this feature off.

While the performance seems almost sedate, it was the ride and handling of the 1.8T that really surprised me. Audi drive select comes as standard and offers four dynamic modes: comfort, auto, dynamic, and efficiency – each with varying suspension, throttle, and gearbox settings. Ride quality is good irrespective of mode; the suspension soaks up bumps of varying sizes impressively. At speed over undulations, there’s a little float, but never enough to ruffle feathers. The steering is now electronically assisted (as compared to hydraulics before) and feels light, weighing up at speed, providing quick, direct inputs.

Driven at the very limits, you’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty of grip from the 245/45 R17 rubbers. This sort of sticky performance is expected from Audi’s Quattro models, and is a pleasant surprise in the 1.8T. Left in dynamic driving mode, the ESP system initiates slight braking on the front wheels in moments of slip; although you won’t feel it, this actually works to improve handling and reduce understeer. This helps to make the 1.8T A4 livelier in corners, but with a reassuring surefootedness – to get a feel of this, just watch the video below.

The rest of the car exudes a solid sense of German engineering and build. Although the face-lift is subtle, there are several external cues that immediately set the A4 apart from its predecessor. While the rest of the world is catching up with DRLs, Audi has evolved and has moved to integrate single strip DRLs into headlamp and tail-lamps in their design. For lack of better words, these look awesome. The bumpers have also received slight tweaks, with redesigned air inlets, fog lights, with overall cleaner lines. An S-line exterior package is an option of course but will cost an additional RM25k.

Similar subtle enhancements have been made to the interior: new gearlever and steering wheel, upgraded materials and dashes of high-gloss inlays and chrome help to liven up cabin ambiance. Audi’s MMI infotainment system has been updated as well; it now features four (instead of eight) buttons, and takes almost no effort to comprehend. Further customization is possible of course, with choices of Fine Nappa upholstery and several choices of wood grain inlays. However, I found no faults with the basic package and, for me at least, is the benchmark interior to beat. It helps of course that I’d been driving a Lamborghini Gallardo MLE a little while back, which shares switchgear components with Audi, but that’s a story for another day.

Standard equipment – tech, safety, or otherwise, is substantial: a total of eight airbags, stability control (ESP), traction control (ASR), diff lock (EDL), anti-lock (ABS), and brake assist (BA). The MMI system has a six CD changer, SD card reader, Bluetooth, iPod/USB connectivity and ten 180 Watts speakers, although I do wish GPS navigation was included as standard. Other creature comforts include automatic lights, wipers, cruise control, electric seats, three-zone automatic air conditioning, and vehicle immobilization.

In truth, there’s very little that I don’t like about the face-lifted B8 A4 (except maybe for the fact that it looks too much like the A6). Aesthetically, I think the A4 slots in between BMW’s 3-series and Merc’s C-class. Step inside however, and the A4 trumps both easily. As a whole, the A4 carries plenty of refinement – cabin noise is minimal, there’s ample legroom in the rear, and comfortable, pliant suspension. It won’t be the gutsiest car out on open roads, but engine and transmission work in a very refined manner; enough shove as long as it isn’t in efficiency mode.

The Audi A4 has been blessed with good looks, effortless style, feels expensive, carries decent oomph, and impressive driving dynamics. Even in 1.8 TFSI guise, it is a thoroughly competent package, with a good list of refinements, but yet maintaining the old sticker price. Decent rival for the Beemers and Mercs out there? I certainly think so.