Audi A4 review - Engines, performance and drive
Not the sharpest to drive in its class, but the A4 is a leader in terms of long distance refinement
The fifth-generation Audi A4 moved to a new platform, adopting the VW Group’s MLB Evo architecture. The more advanced chassis is underpinned by multilink suspension at both the front and rear, and although this differs from the front-end systems on rivals like the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Giulia, the technology and components used are equally hi-tech and modern. The option of Adaptive Sport suspension for around £600 gives customers the ability to tailor the set-up.
The A4 is available with ‘quattro’ four wheel drive, which gives strong traction in slippery conditions. While some models offer it as standard, for the rest it’s worth thinking about whether or not you’ll actually need it, as it’s more expensive and harms fuel efficiency.
The compact executive class is filled with cars that either handle brilliantly, are beautifully refined, or a combination of the two. The A4 aims towards the more relaxed side: minimal wind noise and hushed engines mean that it’s a great long-distance cruiser. If you’re looking for fun, look elsewhere: the Alfa Romeo Giulia, BMW 3 Series and Jaguar XE are all superior in this regard.
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Both fixed and variable dampers are available on the A4. The variable dampers set in Auto are much more comfortable than fixed - and are an option worth having. Dynamic mode makes the car feel more aggressive and offers a sharper drive, but reduces comfort for minimal improvement in handling, so we’d leave that alone. It’s worth avoiding the large alloy wheels, too. On larger 19-inch rims, the A4 tends to fidget over bumps that the XE skips over more smoothly.
Active steering is available as an option but avoid it, as it doesn’t feel as natural as the normal setup. The standard steering option on the A4 works just fine and is the best on any A4 yet. It’s responsive and accurate but ultimately its isn’t as direct as the set-up in the Jaguar XE – which is one of the main reasons why the XE is better to drive overall.
On smooth surfaces the A4’s ride is taut yet begrudgingly absorbent, but on rougher roads the ride breaks down. It would be better on adaptive dampers; in S line spec the no-cost Comfort Dynamic passive system struggles to cope with faster bumps and jolts.
The steering isn’t as fast as an Alfa Romeo Giulia’s, but it’s nicely geared to the chassis, which delivers good grip and agility. It feels incredibly light though; great when driving in town, but might be unnerving for some at higher speeds. While it will change direction quickly, the A4 still feels a little flat compared with the Giulia, which is more alert and involving.
The A4 is available with three petrol engines badged 35 TFSI, 40 TFSI and 45 TFSI, and three diesels badged 30 TDI, 35 TDI and 40 TDI, with power outputs ranging from 134bhp to 242bhp. Revisions to the range in 2019 mean that many of the engines are now equipped with fuel saving mild-hybrid tech.
The diesels come in 134, 161 or 187bhp flavours. Each of the 2.0-litre engines are smooth and refined, delivering enough straight-line performance. The higher-powered model develops a healthy 400Nm of torque so delivers strong acceleration from low speeds. It’ll hit 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds.
Crucially the A4 majors in refinement, so even as you accelerate hard there is very little wind or engine noise. Engine response is good and a fuel economy of 47.9-48.7mpg, based on the WLTP testing cycle, means it’s fast and frugal.
Though the diesels are refined, the petrol models are smoother and quieter. And thanks to clever turbocharging, they deliver the torque in a smooth, linear fashion. When we tested the A4 40 TFSI with the 187bhp 2.0-litre engine, it sprinted from 0-60mph in an impressive 7.1 seconds. This was four tenths behind the Alfa Giulia 2.0 Turbo, but the smooth and snappy shifts of the S tronic gearbox meant the Audi closed the gap over the 30-70mph sprint through the gears, taking 6.1 seconds to the Alfa’s six seconds flat.
When you settle down to a cruise it’s incredibly refined, the transmission shuffling ratios sweetly unless you stamp on the throttle. The long gearing means that it’ll kick down under the lightest of loads at motorway speeds though, which can be annoying.
The petrol and diesel engines are combined with mild hybrid tech to help save fuel. This includes a 12-volt electrical system with a starter/generator unit which can recoup energy under deceleration which can then be deployed under acceleration. This helps to reduce load on the combustion engine, thus improving economy.
In this review
- 1Audi A4 reviewThe Audi A4 offers technology and quality when compared to its small executive saloon rivals
- 2Engines, performance and drive - currently readingNot the sharpest to drive in its class, but the A4 is a leader in terms of long distance refinement
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsEfficient but powerful engines deliver strong performance without sky-high running costs
- 4Interior, design and technologyThe A4 has the best interior in its class by some margin. It’s crammed with tech and beautifully crafted
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceThe A4 is on par with its rivals with a spacious boot and generous passenger space
- 6Reliability and SafetyA raft of safety tech ensures you’ll be safe on the road, but Audi slips down the Driver Power survey rankings