Long-term tests

Long-term test review: Audi A4 saloon

Final report: we bid fond farewell to the A4, Audi’s best-ever family saloon

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The latest Audi A4 is certainly the most impressive yet. In fact, it’s possibly the best family-sized car the manufacturer has ever made. It drives very nicely indeed, looks great, feels well built and, with the right options, comes loaded with tech. It’s only a shame there isn’t more visual flamboyance.

Mileage: 4,520Economy: 32.3mpg

We Brits love a premium badge. In fact, we rarely buy a mid-sized saloon without one. It’s cars such as the Audi A4 that saw off similarly dimensioned saloons and hatches like the Renault Laguna, and have stolen buyers away from the Ford Mondeo and Peugeot 508.

One reason is we love to own something a little more upmarket than our peers. It’s the one-upmanship in the railway station car park or golf club. We still love ‘premium’ – even if low interest rates mean models such as the A4 are tantalisingly obtainable via PCP deals. At the moment, it’s possible to park an A4 on your drive for a mere £319 a month with a £5,000 deposit, or £299 a month on a contract hire deal. Premium cars at attainable prices.

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If ever a car encapsulated ‘premium’ design, it’s the A4. It looks wide from the front, long and sleek from the rear, and has strong LED graphics in the tail-lights. It’s the same inside. For the past couple of decades, Audi has led the field in cabin fit and finish. The latest car adds beautiful switches into the mix. Its ventilation controls require the lightest of touches to present options on the screen above, and a slightly firmer press to activate the function. The nicest controls fitted to a car today? Quite possibly.

I’m a Virtual Cockpit convert. The more I’ve used it, the easier and more logical it gets. Why wouldn’t you put your nav in a more natural place and use a larger screen?

The seats are comfortable and visibility is superb, making for an excellent long-distance cruiser – and that’s exactly how a car such as this should excel. It’s aided by the £600 optional adaptive sports suspension with damping control, which works with Drive Select to firm or soften the ride.

Comfortable as it is, however, the A4 isn’t the most exciting compact exec to drive. It lacks the BMW 3 Series’ balance, although it thrills more than a Mercedes C-Class and is quieter than a Jaguar XE. But think of it as an elegant, comfortable car, rather than a sports saloon, and it’s more than a match for them.

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Perhaps the biggest risk when we ordered our A4 was choosing petrol over diesel. The latter is almost the default choice in such cars, yet our 2.0-litre TFSI is exceptionally quiet and smooth. It lacks a diesel’s sudden surge of torque, but above 4,000rpm there’s plenty of urge. Would I choose it again? Possibly, although average economy of 32.3mpg certainly clips its appeal.

Now my time with the Audi is over, I can confidently say the A4 is very good –but not quite perfect. The low roof proved a niggle when lifting my daughter into the rear, and while the boot is big, it’s not as practical as in a large hatch. Finally, the Pre-Sense auto braking was sometimes over-eager, jamming the brakes on unnecessarily, and causing other cars to take avoiding action.

Audi A4: third report

Audi A4 saloon is transformed by adaptive springs

Mileage: 3,783Economy: 34.4mpg

Choosing an Audi A4 used to be a complicated process. The chances are you’d be tempted by a sporty S line model, but then you’d have to remember to switch the sports suspension for the standard comfort set-up when ordering to avoid the resulting bone-shaking ride.

With the latest A4, that’s not the case, thanks to the availability of two optional adaptive suspension configurations. Both the Adaptive Comfort and Adaptive Sport systems cost £600 on our S line version.

It’s the latter fitted here, and it’s really rather good, suiting the car’s sporting pretentions well. Like the S line’s standard sport suspension, the ride height is 20mm lower, but the damping characteristics can also be tweaked electronically through  the car’s Drive Select system.

The usual comfort, dynamic, efficiency and automatic settings are available, while individual mode lets the driver tweak the steering weight, throttle response, gearshift points and the firmness of the damping independently. I’ve found dynamic steering, comfort suspension and throttle, and the gearbox in automatic to be the sweet spot, aside from rare occasions where a B-road warrants the full sport mode treatment.

Used Audi A4 buyers guide

When the situation crops up, the A4 impresses with solid body control. Despite the lack of quattro four-wheel drive, our car has plenty of front-end grip and stability. It doesn’t thrill like a rear-drive BMW 3 Series, but with decent steering there’s just enough in the way of driver involvement.

The sportier £225 flat-bottomed steering wheel helps, too, and is just the right size for the A4. It makes the whole package feel that little bit more agile. The fact that this A4 has a 2.0-litre petrol engine and not one of the diesels has raised eyebrows. But over the last 3,783 miles, one thing has become perfectly clear: if you’re looking for absolute refinement, this is the engine to choose. The four-cylinder turbo unit is both quiet and smooth, even when approaching the 6,000rpm red line.

Power delivery is progressive and the twin-clutch S tronic automatic box is keen to shuffle up the gears to improve fuel economy, but never to the point that it needs to kick down to pick up the pace. Once you push past 4,000rpm, the A4 feels like it has more urge than its 187bhp and 320Nm might suggest.

It’s difficult to see beyond the engine’s running costs, though. CO2 emissions of 119g/km on our S line’s 18-inch wheels are by no means a disgrace, but we’ve been unable to get anywhere near Audi’s official claim of 53.3mpg, achieving a test average of 34.4mpg over a mix of roads.

Audi A4: second report

Shift from original Audi A4 to hi-tech current model is like moving from a flick book to virtual reality

Mileage: 2,861Economy: 33.0mpg

More than two decades have passed since the launch of the original Audi A4. The design has evolved slowly since then, but while today’s car features a bigger grille and more elegant rear, see a Mk1 A4 on the road and there’s no doubt you’re looking at one of Audi’s most popular nameplates ever.

Climb inside and the changes are even greater. While the first and latest A4s share an elegant look, it’s clear they’re from opposite ends of the evolutionary spectrum. A highlight of the original was the LCD driver information display that looked a little like a digital watch.

Now today’s Virtual Cockpit is among the most advanced systems of its type on sale. To compare the original A4 with the latest model is like jumping from a child’s flick book to a virtual reality headset.

The Virtual Cockpit fitted to our A4 comes as part of the £975 Light and Vision Pack, although it’s also available as a £450 standalone option. The huge 12.3-inch colour screen provides a host of information, and does it with clarity and class. By allowing the driver to increase or reduce the size of the speedometer and rev counter, it’s easier to see the information that’s most useful for the moment. It really comes into its own when setting the navigation to full screen, making it safe and simple to glance down and check the map. Thankfully, the graphics glitch we reported in the first report hasn’t repeated itself, either.

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You can have the same information on the dash screen, which is upgraded from seven inches to 8.3 inches as part of the £1,450 Tech Pack, but it’s not nearly as easy on the eye.

Another feature of that Technology Pack is handwriting recognition, which lets you write characters on the touch-sensitive MMI wheel, although it is a bit fiddly. This car also gets fantastic LED headlamps as part of the Light and Vision Pack, which make that £975 price tag easier to swallow.

The Matrix LED system provides a crisp white glow, plus there’s the obligatory signature daytime running light strip. What’s particularly clever is that it can dip or deactivate individual LEDs when it detects another car, or even when the sat-nav deems it necessary, like in a built-up area, so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers. It’s superb.

There’s no on/off switching you get from conventional high beam functions. The units almost imperceptibly shift their beams around different areas of the road, but the A4’s party piece is to brightly illuminate the road’s verges on full beam without blinding drivers coming the other way.

But for all this, the indicators are the most recognisable feature of the Light and Vision Pack. They ‘sweep’ from inside to out, which Audi says helps drivers quickly identify which way a car is turning, improving safety. However, judging by the attention they seem to get, I wonder if they’re a slightly unnecessary distraction.

Another option that could be dismissed as superfluous is the £450 rear privacy glass, but I’ve found that it does help keep the sun off the youngest member of the Milne family, while the acoustic glazing improves refinement.

Audi A4: first report

Classy, tech-laden new Audi A4 compact executive joins our fleet

Mileage: 682Economy: 34.4mpg

Two years ago, I covered nearly 6,000 miles in an Audi A3 saloon, a car that I found so roundly talented, I questioned why anyone would spend more on an A4. If that was the case then, it certainly isn’t any more, because the new A4 has been improved in almost every measurable way.

That’s especially true of the way it drives. Usually, we’d recommend deleting the firm suspension you get as standard on S line models in favour of the softer standard set-up, but our car features the optional adaptive sport suspension with damping control. The £600 extra electronically regulates the damping and works in tandem with the car’s Audi Drive Select system, allowing the driver to also configure throttle response, steering weighting and gearshift points.

It’s a large amount of cash to lay down on something we’ve not yet sampled. But soon after sales executive Christoph Rousseau handed over the keys to our A4 at the vast, impressive West London Audi dealership in Brentford, Middlesex, I discovered it’s well worth the cost. The result is an A4 S line that rides and handles better than any before it. And while it can’t match the thrills offered by an equivalent BMW 3 Series, it’s as least as comfortable. On my kind of journeys, that’s what counts.

We also took the slightly unusual step of choosing a 2.0-litre TFSI engine over a diesel. Unsurprisingly there’s a fuel penalty for doing so – our average so far is just 34.4mpg against an official average of 53.3mpg. Still, thanks to the more efficient seven-speed S tronic automatic box, CO2 emissions stand at just 119g/km, although it’s worth noting that figure is for models with 18-inch wheels. Choose 19s, and the car will move up to the next VED band.

The engine is exceptionally refined, even when worked hard, but it rarely feels as quick as its claimed 7.3-second 0-62mph sprint time suggests.

Not that you’ll notice, as you’ll be spending more time taking in the range of advanced technology fitted to our car. Christoph took us through all of the features, some of which aren’t entirely obvious straight away. One is the handwriting recognition function on the MMI wheel, and the fact that the S tronic gear selector doubles as a wrist support. Clever stuff. Christoph also demonstrated the myriad settings for the smart Virtual Cockpit, which can be customised with all manner of different views, and the damping settings which are operated through the Drive Select buttons.

Despite all of the technology, you don’t feel intimidated when you slide behind the wheel of the A4. Equipment like the Virtual Cockpit works with rather than against you, and it’s mostly very intuitive to operate.

The exceptions are the smartphone connectivity options, including Android Auto. Sadly, my 18-month-old phone is too dated to use most of the functions, so I’m waiting for an upgrade to use more than just Bluetooth and audio streaming.

But for all that, the A4 is my family car first and foremost. Fortunately the boot is a decent size – identical to that of the 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, at 480 litres, but larger than the Jaguar XE’s 455-litre space – and the bootlid gives good access.

The Audi isn’t quite as spacious in the rear, with slightly less legroom than its rivals. And like the XE, the A4 is low-slung, meaning it’s not that easy to lift my daughter into her rear-facing child seat. But that’ll be made easier once we convert it to forward facing in the coming months.

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