The Audi A4 is an improvement over the previous version, but isn't good enough to topple the BMW 3-series
What is it?
This is the latest version of Audi’s veteran, dyed-in-the-wool, business-friendly Audi A4. We drove the first of the eighth generation in Europe last year, but now the full range is in the UK ahead of its official on-sale date later this week (March 1st).
As generational gaps go, the disparity between seventh and eighth is faint. The exterior differences are limited to a reworked bumper and revised headlights, along with similarly minor changes inside, and equipment updates.
The real beef occurs in the engine bay where Audi has tweaked, toned and refined much of the range for efficiency gains. Along with the introduction of an overhauled 1.8 TFSI petrol motor, the most significant new entry is the higher-powered version of the 2.0-litre TDIe - expected to carry the carry the vast bulk of sales in its established 134bhp guise.
The 160bhp edition, driven here as an Avant (the 134bhp motor is saloon only) is intended to go toe-to-toe with the forthcoming 320d Efficient Dynamics as the increased output puts the A4 almost on par with its outright performance, even if can’t quite compete with the BMW’s prospective 109g/km CO2 emissions and 68.9mpg economy.
What’s it like?
With the latest addition to the range included, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI is now available as four distinct variants. The 141bhp and 174bhp are not badged TDIe because, apart from their marginal power advantage, they offer buyers the chance to spec bigger alloys - the efficiency-focused models come standard with 17-inch wheels and low resistance tyres only.
That’s a good thing because it gives the A4’s notoriously inflexible ride at least a modicum of elasticity over British tarmac. The Avant still reacts to minor, single-wheel deflections like all four had simultaneously hit a house brick, but at least the worst of the abrasive ricochet has been dialled away.
Along with it, unsurprisingly, goes some of the 134bhp engine’s hesitancy. The newer version is a second quicker to 62mph (8.3 versus 9.3 seconds – 8.7 seconds in the Avant) but it’s the increase in torque which stands out. With a 44lb ft advantage, the 160bhp car feels more limber and less strangled than its mechanical sibling, and requires fewer gear changes on the pithy six-speed manual to maintain a healthy pace.
It sounds good, too. One of the A4’s few standout attributes is its continued high level of refinement. The model keeps the husky diesel at a far greater distance than the latest 320d manages, but retains a surprisingly characterful turbine whine under heavy throttle. The engine also gets a new pendulum-type absorber in the flywheel which helps to reduce vibrations in the drivetrain at low revs.
Should I buy one?
Perhaps. If Audi’s marketing voodoo has you hankering after the A4 then there’s no reason why the 160bhp version - in the business-targeted SE Technik spec rather than the SE trim tested here - shouldn’t be high on your list. The 134bhp saloon may emit slightly less CO2 (112g/km versus 115g/km and 120g/km for the estate) and will therefore fall into a marginally cheaper company car tax band come April 1st, but the brawnier Avant is better looking, more practical and pleasantly quicker.
However, a new engine variant and a light dusting of largely inconsequential changes cannot paper over the A4’s shortcomings. In the driving stakes the model remains too firm to cosset properly, too detached to steer well and just too dull to ever really enjoy. Held up to the new 3-Series (and the current C-Class), the car struggles to make a convincing case for itself.
Nevertheless, there is a kicker. The new Touring is not likely to make its UK debut until the beginning of next year and the C220 CDI Estate is marginally more expensive and not quite as efficient, meaning the 160bhp 2.0 TDIe Avant might just have the nation’s load-lugging, fleet-conscious prestige buyers almost exclusively to itself.
Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDIe 163PS SE
Price: £28,130; Top speed: 134mph; 0-62mph: 8.7 seconds; Economy: 62.8mpg; CO2: 120g/km; Kerbweight: 1535kg; Engine type, cc: Four-cylinder turbodiesel, 1968cc; Power: 160bhp; Torque: 280lb ft; Gearbox: Six-speed manual