Audi A4 review
The ever-popular Audi A4 is good to drive, spacious and well equipped with a wide range of engines, although the ride can be firm
The Audi A4 is a great all-rounder. It's a spacious, upmarket saloon that rivals the dynamic BMW 3 Series and desirable Mercedes C-Class. It's a very high quality product, and comes in saloon, Avant and Allroad guises, as well as high performance S4 and RS4 variants, which pack enough power to shame most sports cars. Unfortunately the A4 convertible was dropped in 2009, with the upmarket A5 Cabrio filling the void. Good standard equipment levels and a wide range of engines strengthen the A4's appeal – with the diesels giving the best mix of performance and efficiency. 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.
Our choice: 2.0 TDI (143) SE
Like a classic suit, the Audi A4 is smart and looks good whatever the occasion. Launched in 2008, the current A4 is yet to receive a thorough facelift, but constant updates ensure the compact exec remains up to date and at the top of its game. Optional LED daytime running lights add an extra dose of class to the front end, while S line and Black Edition models are for the real style seekers, with larger alloy wheels and a subtle bodykit. It's a desirable alternative to the BMW 3 Series and all models look sophisticated without being brash. There are also an A4 Avant estate and and Allroad 4x4 versions, which combine the saloon's great looks with an even more practical body.
The Audi A4 has been to finishing school and emerged with very grown up road manners. The steering is accurate, body roll is well controlled and wind, road and tyre noise are all kept to a minimum. That said, keen drivers will still prefer the more engaging BMW 3 Series. Both the economical TDIe and S line versions of the Audi A4 come fitted with sports suspension, and this makes for a hard and unforgiving ride - especially when combined with the larger alloy wheels. As a result, SE trim provides the best combination of comfort and agility, while four-wheel-drive quattro models give superior all-weather ability. As for engines, we would go for the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, which is both powerful and efficient. The 168bhp 1.8 TFSI is the best all-rounder in the petrol line-up, and promises CO2 emissions and claimed economy of 134g/km and 50mpg respectively.
With a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, six airbags, plus the benefit of traction and stability control (and even four-wheel drive on some models), the Audi A4 feels incredibly surefooted. To that list you can add anti-whiplash head restraints, a blindspot and lane-departure warning system along with Isofix child seat mounting points for the rear seats. The A4 is also well made, interior quality is second to none and build quality remains top notch. However, it did slip a disappointing 24 places in the 2012 Driver Power survey - but with and with no major recalls or problems, it should be a reliable car.
Spending time in an Audi A4 is a joy. The firm but supportive seats are highly adjustable and the dashboard boasts lovely metal trim and high quality soft-touch plastics. Rival makers could still learn a lot from the A4's interior. 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. Thanks to generous cabin dimensions, you'll be able to fit two tall passengers in the back, while the 480-litre boot is big for its class. The A4 saloon isn't as practical as the A4 Avant estate, but it does have split/fold rear seats, a remote-opening bootlid and useful options such as a load-through ski hatch in the middle of the back seats. Up front, there are deep door bins and lots of cubby holes.
All the engines in the A4 line-up make sense, but the diesel motors are your best bet for a decent mix of performance and economy. For business drivers the obvious choice is the 2.0 TDIe (136), which returns 65.7mpg and emits only 112g/km of CO2, but the more powerful 2.0 TDI (143) is nearly as economical (63mpg) and sits in the same company car tax bracket. What's more, it can be specified without the lowered suspension fitted to TDIe models, making it a better and more comfortable choice. Further up the range, the big engines are fast but thirsty and more expensive to tax. With strong residual values, stick to the lower spec cars and running costs should be surprisingly affordable.