Audi A4 Technik

Peerless image and impeccable quality mark out fleet favourite.

Buyers wanting a cool, classy and sophisticated prestige saloon need look no further than the Audi A4. It’s two years old now, but still sets the benchmark for style and quality in the compact executive sector.

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Take a look at the rakish four-door, and it’s not difficult to understand its appeal. Beautifully proportioned with a bold grille and muscular flanks, the Audi looks like a premium product. The car in our picture is a range-topping S line that features lowered suspension for a sportier stance and 18-inch alloys.

We tested a Technik-spec model – which is designed for the company car market – and it looks virtually identical, apart from the fitting of smaller 17-inch wheels. However, you’ll pay an eye-watering £1,105 for the head-turning LED headlamps.

Whichever A4 you go for, you’ll get the same excellent interior. Faultless build quality and a clearly laid-out dashboard are the main highlights, while aluminium inlays for the doors and instrument panel, slick switchgear and attractively designed dials help to lift the

A4’s cabin ambience above its rivals. A combination of a low-slung driving position and high-set centre console helps create a racy feel from behind the wheel. Better still, Technik trim comes with leather seats, an iPod connection, sat-nav and useful rear parking sensors as standard.

Space for passengers in the back is on a par with the BMW, while the 480-litre load bay is the largest here. Fold the standard split/fold rear bench flat, and carrying capacity rises to a healthy 962 litres.

Under the A4’s bonnet is the smooth and torquey 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine used across the VW Group range. In our performance tests, it propelled the car from 0-60mph in 8.8 seconds, which is nine-tenths slower than the 320d. It also trailed its rival during our in-gear assessments.

Away from the track, though, the differences in pace are harder to detect. This is largely because of the powerplant’s keen-revving nature, and the precise action of the six-speed manual gearbox.

Along a twisty back road, the A4 instantly feels more composed than the Volvo. The front wheel-drive chassis grips hard, helping to create a feeling of agility. Decent body control sees the car shrug off mid-corner bumps, while the ride is remarkably supple.

The trouble is, the Audi doesn’t deliver much in the way of driver involvement. And while the steering is direct, it doesn’t inspire as much confidence as that of the 3-Series – it’s not as weighty and doesn’t provide as much feedback. Many owners will also find they catch the side of their shoe on the footrest when they depress the clutch pedal.

Even so, the A4 is a great long-distance cruiser, as the cabin is well insulated against noise. Only the Volvo is a more refined companion for extended periods behind the wheel. Take a look at the figures and the Audi makes a lot of sense as a company car.

A smooth stop/start system, low-rolling-resistance tyres and a host of other eco-friendly tweaks help keep CO2 emissions down to 134g/km. Combine this with the £27,815 price tag, and the A4 steals a march on rivals as the cheapest choice for user choosers.

Even private buyers will have something to smile about, with annual road tax costing £110. And residual values are likely to be the strongest of our trio. The icing on the cake is the excellent 38.8mpg fuel economy the car returned over our varied test route.

So, the Audi is a real contender. We knew all about its classy and distinctive looks, quality cabin and long list of standard kit, but the impressive pace and capable driving dynamics add an extra dose of desirability. Factor in low running costs and practicality, and the A4 looks a winner.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: Don’t underestimate the classy Audi A4. Until recently, it was our champion in this sector, while the new business-focused Technik specification adds genuine desirability.

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