There is still only one winner in the battle for supremacy in the compact premium saloon class and that’s BMW, whose 3-series outsells Audi’s A4 and the Mercedes-Benz’s C-class. But the A4 has gradually made up ground on the 3-series, and Audi believes the current version, codenamed B8, is good enough to take another bite out of BMW’s lead.

This time Audi has the increased firepower with a platform shared the A5 coupé, and whose running gear has been revised to improve the car’s dynamic performance – and there’s now an arsenal of optional features not previously seen on the A4.

These include adjustable settings for steering, throttle and suspension, lane assistance, a blind spot monitor, comfort-cooled front seats, active steering, Bang and Olufsen sound systems and three-zone climate control, as well as other Audi perennials such as quattro all-wheel drive.

This A4 saloon and estate models are also bigger, roomier, more aerodynamic and cleaner.

The engine range's centre of gravity is the 2.0-litre TDI, nowadays with common-rail injection instead of the VW Group's old pumpe düse system, plus balancer shafts. It comes in several guises ranging from 134bhp up to 175. There are 1.8 and 2.0-litre TFSI petrol units, with 168 or 208bhp or, shorn of a turbo (but not the 'T'), 118bhp for the entry 1.8.The feisty 3.0-litre V6 for the S4 makes 328bhp, while 3.0-litre diesel V6s produce either 201 or 237bhp.

Higher-spec engines either can or must be had with quattro four-wheel drive, while Multitronic CVT/eight-speed autos go with lower-power diesels of either capacity. Otherwise it's dual-clutchers or six-speed manuals.

Top 5 Compact execs

  • BMW 3-series
    The 3-series remains strong in the areas it has always excelled but now it's more rounded than ever

    BMW 3-series

    1
  • Mercedes-Benz C-class
    The C-class shares a lot of its looks with the new S-class, furthering its desirability

    Mercedes-Benz C-class

    2
  • The Audi A4 saloon is bigger, roomier and more aerodynamic than its predecessor

    Audi A4

    3
  • The CC offers a handsome alternative to the staid Passat

    Volkswagen CC

    4
  • Volvo S60
    The Volvo S60 is offered with an impressive new D4 diesel engine

    Volvo S60

    5

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