Audi A4 review
Audi's popular A4 is a stylish and well specced alternative to BMW's 3 Series
Ever since it arrived almost 20 years ago, the Audi A4 has proven to be a popular compact executive car, with over five million sold since its was introduced to the UK in 1995. In addition to the saloon models, Audi also offers the A4 as a more practical Avant estate and a rugged Allroad model. The Allroad is similar to Volvo's XC70 and gets a raised ride height and quattro four-wheel drive technology for mild off-road ability.
The latest generation of the A4, which shares its platform with Audi's sportier A5 coupe and convertible models, was launched in 2008, and received a facelift mid-way through 2011. The updates included new shaped head-lamps and LED running lights, a reshaped grille and revised taillights to fit it with Audi's new look. The main upgrade to the interior was a more intuitive MMI infotainment system.
Audi offers the A4 with a choice of four petrol engines - the 1.8 TFSi, 2.0 TFSi units are available on all SE, SE Technik, Black Edition, and sportier S Line models, while the petrol 3.0 V6 is available solely on the Black Edition. The ultra versions add various efficiency tweaks to give optimum fuel economy.
Buyers of the high performance S4 and RS 4 Avant quattro models will find their cars powered by a 3.0 V6 and 4.2 V8 respectively. It is also worth noting the Audi RS 4 is only available in Avant guise.
Similarly, Audi's ultra efficient 2.0 TDIe diesel unit which offers a combined cycle of 65.7mpg and just 112g/km of C02 is available on all A4 models bar the S4 and RS 4. Buyers also get a choice of a further three versions of the 2.0-litre TDi diesel (with 134bhp, 148bhp and 174bhp) and a 3.0 V6 diesel.
An all-new Audi A4 will go on sale in 2014, with a sharper new look, and a lower weight to help improve its dynamics and economy.
Our choice: A4 2.0 TDI (143) SE
Whether in saloon or Avant guise, the A4 is a very desirable car with sleek looks, and as expected from Audi, it has the best interior of the compact executive class.
The subtle 2011 changes included a reshaped bonnet, front bumper and grille, but the most obvious change was the A4's new LED headlamps. S Line and Black Edition models were given larger alloy wheels, and a subtle, more aggressive bodykit.
The latest A4's rock solid interior has remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 2008, but Audi's 2011 tweaks gave it a simplified and more intuitive MMI infotainment system.
From the entry-level SE model upwards, all A4s get Bluetooth, cruise control, climate control and rear parking sensors as standard. Upgrading to the higher spec A4 Technik costs around £1,000 but buyers benefit from leather seats and a DVD-based navigation system.
Audi has worked hard to make the A4 great to drive, but it still lacks the engagement of the compact executive class-leading BMW 3 Series. The A4's steering is accurate, wind, road and tyre noise are all kept to a minimum, and body roll is well controlled.
The S Line and the efficient TDIe A4s come fitted with a stiffer sports suspension which makes for a hard and unforgiving ride, especially when specced with bigger alloys.
We, then, would recommend sticking to the base SE trim, as it provides the best combination of comfort and agility.
Similarly, our choice of diesel engine would be Audi's powerful and efficient 2.0-litre TDi 136 diesel, whereas our preferred petrol engine for the A4 would be the 1.8 TFSI. In addition to having an impressive 168bhp, it has a combined economy of 50mpg and CO2 emissions of 134g/km.
As expected, any A4 with Audi's legendary four-wheel-drive quattro system delivers impressive all-weather ability.
All of the engines that Audi offers in the A4 are efficient, but it's the diesels that offer the best mix of performance and economy.
For business drivers, the obvious choice is the ultra efficient 2.0 TDIe which has an official combined cycle of 65.7mpg, and emits only 112g/km of CO2.
The more powerful 2.0 TDI 150 offers almost identical figures to the less powerful engine, and thanks to an average combined economy of 63mpg and similarly low emissions, it falls into the same company car tax bracket as the lower powered engine.
TDIe model owners can also spec their A4 without the stiffer sports suspension, which makes it a better and more comfortable choice.
The A4's bigger 3.0 diesel and petrol engines are much faster, but thirsty and more expensive to take. The 3.0 V6 TFSI with quattro can only manage a combined cycle of 35.0mpg and emits 190g/km of C02. The range topping RS 4 Avant has a combined economy 26.4 mpg 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 the compact executive class.
As with all other Audis, the A4 boasts outstanding interior build quality. The firm but supportive seats offer lots of adjustment and the dashboard boasts tasteful aluminium trim and high quality soft-touch plastics.
Audi has also been generous with the A4's standard equipment, with base SE trim cars receiving three-zone climate control, a 10-speaker stereo, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and rear parking sensors.
Thanks to its generous interior dimensions, two tall passengers can fit comfortable in the back of the A4 and the 480-litre boot on the saloon model is big for its class. If, however, more space is needed, the A4 Avant increases boot space to 1,430 litres.
Another trump card for the A4, is the saloon's split-folding rear seats, a remote opening boot lid and useful options for the interior include a load-through ski hatch in the middle of the back seats.
Audi has always had a strong reputation for reliability, and this is reflected in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. In terms of manufacturers, Audi finished an impressive 10th overall, far ahead of its arch rival, BMW.
However, despite the car's impressive reliability, the biggest complaints from A4 owners are about its disappointing interior practicality and in-car technology. In our 2013 Driver Power survey, the A4 finished 76th in the Top 100, having dropped 16 places compared to the previous year.
Customers reported that the A4 was let down by higher than expected running costs and a harsh ride. S Line models are also a bit too uncomfortable due to the sports suspension, but overall, the compact executive Audi feels very well bolted together.
As for safety, the A4 has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating. Cars equipped with Audi's quattro system feel even more surefooted than the front-wheel drive variants. Traction and stability control come fitted as standard across the A4 range as do six airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints, a blindspot, and a lane-departure warning system. Rear seats also get Isofix child seat mounting points.