BERLIN - Audi's next-generation A4 is built on an all-new front-wheel-drive platform - but there is nothing radical about the car's styling.
'We deliberately chose an un-fashionable design because we want to make sure the A4 attracts as many people as possible - and does so for as long as possible,' says Audi Chairman Franz-Josef Paefgen. 'Very fashionable designs tend to go out of fashion all too quickly.
'The A4 is an all-new car,' he says. 'It's proof that with a clever concept and excellent components you can create more than just the sum of the parts.'
Paefgen says he expects the new A4 to be more successful than the outgoing model, which accounted for one-third of Audi's revenues in 1999.
The new lower-luxury A4 looks a little like a scaled-down version of Audi's medium-luxury A6. In fact, the A4's new platform is closely related to the slightly bigger A6. Both the A4 and A6 have a four-link front axle construction, and they also feature many common components.
But Audi says the A4 is an all-new car, and is based on a platform not yet used by any of Volkswagen group's other brands. The current Passat is based on the old A4 platform.
Audi conducted extensive research with existing A4 owners to find out how to improve the next-generation model.
All they wanted was more roominess and better ride comfort, says Paefgen.
As a result, the new A4's wheelbase has been stretched by 35mm, to 2650mm. Overall, the car is 67mm longer and 33mm wider than the outgoing model.
The rear suspension has been revised, and the subframe strengthened. There is also extensive use of aluminum suspension components.
Inside, rear-seat legroom has been improved by 41mm. Audi claims the new A4 is the roomiest car in its class.
Powering the A4 will be a range of four- and six-cylinder engines. At the top end of the range, Audi will offer a new 3.0-liter, V-6 engine with five valves per cylinder, delivering 220hp. Also new is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with five valves per cylinder, delivering 130hp.
Audi will offer the A4 with five- and six-speed manual transmissions. A continuously variable -or 'multitronic' - transmission will also be available as an option.
Audi says it road-tested the new A4 over almost 6 million kilometers and invested about 5 million hours in its development.
The new A4 is a direct descendent of the Audi 80 that was launched in 1972. Since then a total of 6.5 million A4/80 models have been sold.
Sales of the new A4 start in Europe at the end of the year.