I’ve never been a huge fan of four-wheel drive in anything other than big SUVs.
I can see the appeal if you live somewhere that regularly gets snow, but for the conditions generally found in the south of England, I’ve always felt that I’d rather have the extra fun that comes with rear-wheel drive or the lower running costs of front-wheel drive.
I didn’t give it a second thought, then, when the decision was made to specify our long-term Audi A4 as a non-quattro car. Why wouldn’t we have the extra 5.9mpg and the accompanying 10g/km reduction in CO2 emissions that drops it two company car tax bands?
Throughout my first six months with the A4, nothing came along to cause me to reconsider; I just got on with enjoying the effortless performance and superb refinement provided by its 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, and never found the car wanting for traction.
However, when it's cold I’ve started to find it hard to pull out of busy junctions without spinning the front wheels.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; a full 215bhp is quite a lot to send to the front end of any car, but particularly one without a clever diff to help it transfer its power to the road. And the S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox doesn’t help, because its tendency to be slow to respond from a standstill can make it hard to judge how much throttle is needed.
You could go for the 2.0-litre diesel model, which has a more manageable 187bhp, but then you’d be missing out on one of the great executive car engines. So on reflection, the A4 is one car where I really would be tempted to specify four-wheel drive and put up with the slightly higher running costs.
At £1430, the premium for quattro isn’t huge. And you still get more than 60mpg on the combined cycle, meaning you can expect around 40mpg from it in the real world.
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From London to Blackpool
As an Autocar reviewer, swapping from vehicle to vehicle is part of my job, and I rarely get to stay in any one car for an extended period.
I’m not complaining about having a cornucopia of cars to drive, but it can be nice to get off the treadmill and just ‘live’ with something for a bit. Certain models make this more desirable than others, but when I needed wheels for a week in Wales (and a spur-of-the-moment blast to Blackpool) with my friend Ellen and her daughter Georgi, I was happy to bag the long-term Audi A4 for the trip.
Its velvety 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine supplies the sort of effortless speed that makes all the difference when you have the best part of 1000 miles to cover. And yet without really trying to drive economically, we averaged 55mpg on the motorway.
The rolling refinement at 70mph was just as impressive, with the A4 suppressing road noise and vibration better than most rival compact execs. Indeed, few large executive saloons are as smooth or quiet; the only reason we had to raise our voices was to make ourselves heard over the excellent Bang & Olufsen stereo.
Being a style-conscious teenager, Georgi loved the swishness of the cabin and the array of gadgets, including the Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and wireless phone charging dock. However, most of the features she picked out cost extra, and I doubt she would have been so impressed with a bog-standard A4.
Ellen, meanwhile, was happy lounging in the rear, but she was sitting behind Georgi; if a fourth person had been forced to sit behind my 6ft frame, they would probably have been less cheerful.
To sum up, the A4 was all things to all men – or one man and two women. But the fact that the right options have been ticked was key.
AUDI A4 3.0 TDI 218 SPORT S TRONIC
Price £34,700 Price as tested £41,450 Economy 48.2mpg Faults None Expenses Tyre inflation 50p Last seen 9.11.16
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