Audi A4 review
The Audi A4 is a stylish and well-equipped alternative to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class
The Audi A4 is a great all-rounder that has proved itself to be hugely popular, with more than five million sold since 1995. This fourth-generation model is a spacious and stylish alternative to compact executives like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, offering generous levels of equipment, a great quality interior and a wide range of petrol and diesel engines. Sporty S line and efficient TDIe versions have a firm ride, but with strong residual values, the Audi A4 is a brilliant car for both business and private buyers. It was given a subtle facelift in 2011, with new LED headlights, a reshaped grille and revised taillights, as well as a simplified, more intuitive MMI infotainment system. The other big change was the introduction of a new ultra-efficient 134bhp 2.0 TDIe model, which claims 65.7mpg and emits just 112g/km of CO2. As well as a four-door saloon, the A4 is available as a more practical Avant estate and a rugged Allroad model, which gets four-wheel drive and a raised ride height. High-performance S4 and RS4 models are also offered, but the A4 is now longer available as a convertible – that has since been replaced by the A5 Cabriolet. An all-new A4 is expected to go on sale in 2014, with a dramatic new look and a lower weight to help boost economy and dynamics.
Our choice: A4 2.0 TDI (143) SE
The Audi A4 is a very desirable car, with sleek looks and the best interior of any car in its class. It was given a subtle facelift in 2011, but you could be forgiven for not noticing the changes. The bonnet, front bumper and grille have all been reshaped, but the most obvious change was the new headlamps. Optional LED daytime running lights add an extra dose of class to the front end, while S line and Black Edition models come with larger alloy wheels and a subtle bodykit. The high-quality interior was essentially carried over almost entirely unchanged, but it does now benefit from a simplified MMI infotainment system, which is now much more intuitive. Bluetooth, cruise and climate control and rear parking sensors are all included as standard even on entry-level models. But if you upgrade to SE Technik trim for £1,100 extra, you’ll benefit from leather seats and a DVD-based sat-nav.
The Audi A4 is great to drive. Although it lacks the engagement of the BMW 3 Series, the steering is accurate, body roll is well controlled and wind, road and tyre noise are all kept to a minimum. The efficient TDIe and S line versions come fitted with sports suspension, which makes for a hard and unforgiving ride - especially when combined with bigger alloy wheels. As a result, we would recommend sticking to SE trim as it provides the best combination of comfort and agility, while four-wheel-drive quattro models deliver impressive all-weather ability. As for engines, we would go for the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, which is both powerful and efficient. Petrol buyers should consider the168bhp 1.8 TFSI, as it’s a great all-rounder and promises CO2 emissions and claimed economy of 134g/km and 50mpg respectively.
Audi has a strong reputation for reliability, which is backed up by its 10th-place finish in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey – that’s far ahead of arch-rival BMW in 15th. It picked up plenty of good scores, but it’s too biggest problems seem to be disappointing practicality and levels of in-car technology. The A4 itself finished 76th in the Top 100, though, having dropped 16 places. It had one of the highest ratings for build quality, but was let down by its higher than expected running costs and harsh ride – the latter suggesting that owners also think that the S line models are a bit too uncomfortable. Everything feels very well made, plus the interior quality is second to none. As for safety, the A4 has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. With traction and stability control fitted as standard across the range, and even four-wheel drive on some cars, the Audi A4 certainly feels surefooted. There’s also six airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, a blindspot and lane-departure warning system, along with Isofix child seat mounting points for the rear seats.
Rival makers could still learn a lot from the A4's interior. The firm but supportive seats offer lots of adjustment, and the dashboard boasts lovely metal trim and high quality soft-touch plastics. Another tick in the box is the amount of standard equipment – even SE trim includes three-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, a 10-speaker stereo, cruise control and rear parking sensors. Plus, thanks to generous interior dimensions, you'll be able to fit two tall passengers in the back. The 480-litre boot is big for its class, but if you do need more space, the A4 Avant manages 1,430 litres. But even the saloon has split-folding rear seats, a remote-opening bootlid and useful options such as a load-through ski hatch in the middle of the back seats. Other useful storage includes deep door bind and lots of cubby holes. If you’re planning on heading off road, the A4 Allroad model comes equipped with four-wheel drive and 37mm higher suspension than the standard car - although it’s still 20 millimetres lower than the rugged Q5.
All the engines in the A4 line-up are efficient, but it’s the diesels that deliver the best mix of performance and economy. For business drivers the obvious choice is the 2.0 TDIe 136, which has an official fuel consumption figure of 65.7mpg and emits only 112g/km of CO2. The more powerful 2.0 TDI 143 offers almost identical figures, though, with average mpg of 63 and emissions that mean it falls into the same company car tax bracket as the lower powered engine. What's more, it can be specified without the lowered suspension fitted to TDIe models, which makes it a better and more comfortable choice. Further up the range, the big engines are fast but thirsty and more expensive to tax. The 3.0 V6 TFSI with quattro can only manage 35.0mpg and emits 190g/km, while the range-topping RS4 Avant can only do 26.4mpg and emits a hefty 249g/km. As for other ownership costs, we would recommend sticking to the lower spec cars as they offer the best residual values in this class.