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The Audi A4 zeroes in on efficiency, technology and quality - but is it enough to drive compact saloon buyers away from the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?

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If you require a long introduction to the Audi A4, you may want to read our last review before continuing on. Something about golf, perhaps – if you’re partial to 18 holes, you’ll probably be familiar with Audi’s best-selling product.

The A4 saloon, the estate-shaped Audi A4 Avant and the rebadged Audi A5 coupé are virtually omnipresent in the car parks of the nation’s clubhouses.

The A4’s lower, wider and more chunky-looking grille represents an otherwise formal-looking car’s best attempt at boldness

The model, specifically the saloon, has not only been the firm’s mainstay for more than four decades but is also one of the primary reasons why Audi has managed to force its way into a buyer reckoning that previously included only BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Its family name has changed since then. It was originally the Audi 80, a car that moved through four generations (each of them a showcase for the innovations that would later become common traits of the four rings) before it was superseded by the A4 in the mid-1990s. The brand didn’t need all of the second two decades to shift five million examples.

Its huge success and instant familiarity have meant that Audi doesn’t strain itself in straying far from the script.

As you’ll have probably noticed, the new, fifth-generation model pictured is a dead ringer for its predecessor, and the claims made for it – an increase in size, dynamism, efficiency, luxuriousness and technology – were all trumpeted the previous time around, too. The new Audi A4 saloon was swiftly followed by the Audi A4 AvantAudi A4 Allroad and Audi S4 models, with murmurings growing that a 500bhp RS4 will join the others in the near future.

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However, that does not make them insignificant. Much like Volkwagen’s approach to the Volkswagen Golf (software code notwithstanding), Audi tends to be incredibly diligent with its endless strategy of improvement – and, as we are about to find out, there is a tremendous amount going on beneath the skin, not least the kind of weight loss that might just make good the engineers’ long-standing promise to make the A4 more compelling to drive.

Either way, the car will sell big.



Audi A4 rear

Audi has conformed spectacularly to national stereotype with the new A4, giving us aerodynamic and material efficiency to the envy of all of its German compatriot manufacturers.

Using its new MLB Evo platform, it has switched to hybrid aluminium and steel construction and downsized engines in places, making certain versions 120kg lighter on kerb weight than their predecessors.

The Audi A4 has the lowest roofline of any compact executive, contributing to a drag coefficient as low as 0.23

The weight hasn’t only come out of the body-in-white. A relentless programme of weight saving has shed it throughout the car, from wiring to seats to suspension to steering.

The upshot is that the new entry-level 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol model is just 1320kg dry. Plenty of examples of the original A4, launched more than two decades ago, weighed more.

An equally unstinting focus on aerodynamics puts some A4 models at a drag coefficient of just 0.23.

Eight engines are currently on offer. There are four petrol variants, starting with the 148bhp 1.4-litre TFSI and continuing through to a pair of 2.0 TFSIs up to a 349bhp 3.0-litre V6 powering not only the S4, but Audi also the S5 and Audi SQ5. The diesel range is simpler and consists of a 2.0 TDI and a 3.0 V6 TDI. The smaller capacity oilburner is available in 148bhp and 187bhp guises with both variants also coming in fleet-friendly Ultra form.

There are also two outputs from the bigger V6 diesel engine - 215bhp and 268bhp respectively, both available with four-wheel drive. The 248bhp 2.0 TFSI and the 187bhp 2.0 TDI are both available with Audi's quattro system, alongside the S4 and the forthcoming RS4.

As for gearboxes, most are driven through either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, while the range-topping diesel, S4 and RS4 models are paired with an eight-speed torque converter unit.

Suspension is via aluminium-rich multi-link arrangements front and rear, chosen to allow softer bushing against longitudinal forces at the same time as firmer bushing against lateral ones (the same rationale is used by Jaguar for its Integral Link rear end).

Audi has also switched to monotube dampers for the A4 and offers four suspension configurations across the full model range: comfort and sport-tuned passive set-ups, as well as separate comfort and sport-biased adaptively damped configurations.

Our test car was a 187bhp 2.0 TDI in S line trim, on which a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is an option. It also had passively damped sports suspension and standard-fit passive power steering (variable-ratio dynamic steering is an option). Although it’s available with quattro permanent four-wheel drive, we tested it in front-drive form.


Audi A4 interior

When the previous A4 came along, its interior raised the bar on perceived quality among compact premium saloons, but since then Audi’s rivals have had time to respond.

As a result, you wouldn’t say the new A4 blows all of its rivals into the weeds on apparent cabin quality in the way that the previous one did. And yet this is undeniably an interior of deeply impressive integrity, masterfully designed and executed to look and feel clean, modern and uncluttered. It’s reserved rather than in any way eccentric, and slightly lacking in warmth, maybe, but the quality is outstanding from carpet level upwards.

In the auto, the broad-topped gear selector doubles as a wrist support nearer the driver

The car’s very minor growth spurts have made extra room in both rows of seating. According to our tape measure, the back ones offer competitive leg room but slightly disappointing head room for larger adults.

The boot, at 480 litres, is identical on claimed size to that of a Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series, and bigger than a Jaguar XE’s – and its expandability has been bolstered by the addition of 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. The Avant comes with 505 litres of boot space which is more than its closest rivals - the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate and BMW 3 Series Touring - but is on par with them when its rear seats are folded flat.

Occupant space in the front is good, and so is the driving position. Our S line test car came with comfortable manually adjusted sports seats with extendable cushions, plenty of base height and angle adjustment, and lots of leg room. 

As standard, the car is fitted with analogue instruments and a typical trip computer-style central screen, but they can optionally be swapped for the same 12.3in Virtual Cockpit TFT instrument cluster as the one offered in the TT. Unlike in the Audi TT, it can be partnered with a head-up display and a central 7.0in infotainment screen.

The flexibility of what information you choose to be displayed in which location gives the A4’s driver the ultimate in configurability: two widescreen high-resolution navigations maps displayed simultaneously, for example, in case you want to be guided in bird’s-eye and north-up modes at the same time.

Even the most ardent critic of Audi would find it difficult not to be impressed by the technological sophistication of the A4’s interior and the substance and tactile appeal of its fittings, right down to the sculptural indicator stalks. 

There are four core trim levels to choose from when speccing your Audi A4. Entry-level SE models come with xenon headlights, 17in alloy wheels, an acoustic glazed windscreen, cruise control, parking sensors, keyless ignition and various semi-autonomous braking systems as standard. Inside there is tri-zone climate control, manually adjustable front seats and Audi's MMI infotainment system, complete with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, smartphone integration, DAB radio and a 7.0in colour display.

Upgrade to Sport and the A4 is kitted out with sportier attire, heated front sports seats, interior ambient LED lighting, sat nav and a 10-speaker audio system, while S line models get a more aggressive bodykit, sports suspension, 18in alloy wheels, LED head and rear lights and a leather and Alcantara upholstery. Topping the range is the Black Edition trim, which adorns the A4 with 19in alloy wheels, tinted rear windows and lots of gloss black interior and exterior trim.

Those opting for an S4 will gain all the standard equipment found on an S line A4, plus an Audi Sport-designed bodykit, suspension, braking system and alloy wheels, front super sports seats with massaging function, a Nappa leather upholstery and an upgraded Audi MMI infotainment system with a touch control panel and an 8.3in display.

The RS4 is only available in Avant estate form and is available in two trims. The standard car comes with 19in alloys, a RS-specific Virtual Cockpit, massaging Super Sport front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery, ambient interior LED lighting, and a beefy bodykit, while the Carbon Edition adds 20in alloy wheels, red brake calipers, a sports exhaust system, Matrix LED headlights, an aluminium styling pack, rear privacy glass and lots of gloss black exterior trim. 

Our test car had Audi’s top-level infotainment systems fitted: MMI Navigation Plus with a free-standing 8.3in central screen; MMI Touch, which turns the top of the MMI controller knob into a touch-sensitive pad; the configurable LCD instruments of Virtual Cockpit; and a colour head-up display.

Having all of them means spending on options packs — and a premium stereo would be a further addition — but it’s well worth the outlay if you can afford it. Having so much screen real estate to display navigation and entertainment info is a boon, and it’s all presented at very crisp resolution and very responsively indeed thanks to plenty of Nvidia graphical processing power.

MMI Navigation Plus brings with it 10GB of flash music storage and a 4G wireless hotspot that’ll support up to eight devices, with three years of mobile data subscription. Audi’s MMI Connect also does smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android-based operating systems, and the optional Audi Phone Box system does wireless charging via the Qi standard, which can be made compatible with most popular phones via a case.


2.0-litre Audi A4 diesel engine

The A4 has plainly been designed and engineered for high-mileage business users with a healthy disdain for compromise – those who want a car that’s as quick to get to outside lane speeds as anything else for the money but is also quiet, smooth, easy to operate and economical with it.

At least in some ways, they’ll find what they’re looking for here. All A4s get intelligent switchable engine mounts and an acoustic noise-filtering windscreen as standard, and our test example added acoustic glazing for its side and rear windows, too.

It’s easy to keep the A4 tight to the apex without having to be too light on the throttle mid-corner

It was pleasantly mechanically refined, suppressing engine noise very well and ending up a noticeable 2dB quieter than an equivalent Mercedes-Benz C-Class at both idle and at maximum revs in third gear.

However, cruising at 30mph and 50mph, the Mercedes registered less noise, a difference attributable to the gently rumbling distant coarseness of the Audi’s low-profile Hankook tyres, S line 19in alloy wheels and passive sports suspension. On smaller rims and differently tuned chassis settings, the A4 may well deliver the cruising manners many owners will expect, but it evidently won’t do so unconditionally.

The 2.0-litre engine is responsive, flexible and fairly free-revving – more impressively so at low revs than high, with the S tronic gearbox shifting up earlier than a BMW 2.0-litre diesel would.

In fact, the manners and quirks of the A4’s dual-clutch gearbox define a great deal of its motive character. In regular drive mode, it seems to reach for ever-higher ratios earlier than a torque converter would, boosting fuel economy, you’d expect, but ultimately giving itself more to do in kickdown.

If you’re used to the elastic feel of the initial torque multiplication you get with a conventional auto, the S tronic may feel slightly ponderous on step-off and, again, overly keen to shuffle ratios. But in Sport mode, it shifts more decisively and intuitively for overtaking. It also coasts very effectively to conserve momentum and boost your fuel economy return.


Audi A4 cornering

Most German saloons of the A4’s ilk have, for a long time and for obvious reasons, shared a predilection for autobahn-speed stability, often conferred by weighty, slightly inert steering that’s gently geared around the dead-ahead. Even in S line trim and with 19in wheels and sports suspension fitted, the new A4 does, too. It feels in many ways like a car tuned to make big speeds effortless and stress-free.

And so, you may argue, it probably should. It’ll certainly be a well-judged handling compromise for the majority of A4 owners. What’s disappointing is that the car isn’t a more poised, involving thing to drive in what may be assumed to be one of its more enthusiast-targeted specifications. Front drive or otherwise, the car’s sports chassis could have been made a deal more agile, incisive and composed without risking too much. Instead, this feels like a firmer, slightly grippier but no better-balanced take on an absolutely predictable Audi driving experience: ever secure but a bit inconsistent and flavourless.

19in and 8.5in wide alloys are biggest you can get on the A4, while adaptive sports suspension would lower the ride height more

The power steering starts out overly light at low speeds and slow just off centre, doing nothing to hook you in. Pick up speed and the rack finds some weight, but only belatedly, after initial turn-in. It never feels natural or communicative. Lateral grip levels are quite high when you probe deep enough into the handling mix to unearth them, but they’re balanced conservatively always to give way at the front wheels first.

The ride is comfortable enough, but as well as being a bit noisy, it’s also quite reactive, becoming gently pitching and unsympathetically damped over only averagely high-frequency intrusions. Even deceleration strips taken at sensible speeds make it jostle. In a simple sense, it feels firm and closely connected to the road surface, just as the Audi marketing department probably wanted it to feel. But it doesn’t feel poised or at one with that road surface in any meaningful way.

If anything, the short-travel, restless ride and muted, initially unresponsive steering detract slightly from the sense of stability it engenders at times. A more feelsome and precise wheel and a softer but more absorptive chassis would doubtless make it easier to place the car on typical British roads, although they may not be as well suited to a tightening autobahn exit slipway.

The A4 demands very little investment from its driver to take it close to the limit of its handling ability. Its light, sympathetically geared steering ensures a smooth and stable entry to any given corner, and it has good mid-corner stability, although the firm suspension does make the car feel keener to react to steering inputs once it’s turned in.

The usual over-assisted Audi brake pedal plays its part to help you down to the most sensible apex speed, and traction is fairly strong on exit, provided the road’s surface is smooth. Where it’s bumpy, steering kickback and body control can be pronounced enough to set off the electronic stability control and make your onward line untidy.

The car’s shortness of suspension travel and lack of progressiveness in its damping make vertical body control a bit crude through hard-charged compressions. Audi’s preference for compression rather than rebound damping also allows the body to float quite a lot over crests.


Audi A4 review hero front

Pull a punch here on tax-defining CO2 emissions or with what influences residual value and the whole show comes crashing down. But the A4 looks typically impressive on paper, being competitive on price and equipment, and like most of its rivals, the diesel range is underpinned by a sub-100g/km offering, in saloon format at least.

Audi will feel rightly confident that its headline fuel economy figure of 74.3mpg combined – a rival for BMW’s most frugal 320d – will put it in good stead on the company car balance sheet.

A4’s residual values are predictably strong, particularly over a longer lease period

That is a key goal of the higher-powered diesel model we’ve tested, too. Buyers have to be somewhat careful, working their way through the small maze of tyre options, the crux being that on 17in wheels the A4 proves marginally superior to the similarly powerful Jaguar XE at 103g/km and still very impressive at 111g/km on 18s and 113g/km on 19s.

Real-world economy looks promising, with 68.9mpg quoted on the smallest wheels and 65.7mpg at worst. But the A4 struggled to reproduce anything close to either figure in our hands, clocking up a 44.8mpg average for our True MPG testers, whereas we’ve seen much closer to 50mpg from the 320d. Here, Audi’s 19in S line rims were at work, don’t forget, taking the edge off cruising efficiency. But we can’t help thinking that they shouldn’t have taken that much of an edge off.

Our advice would be to avoid the sports-sprung Ultra models and opt for the 2.0-litre TDI 150 S line, with a manual box and passive comfort suspension. The addition of metallic paint, twin-leather upholstery, acoustic glazing, Virtual Cockpit and the technology pack (consisting of MMI navigation plus, 3-year subscription to Audi Connect and wireless phone charging pod) would add the finishing touches to the car.



4 star Audi A4

Classy, demure and very technologically savvy, the new Audi A4 is a better car in all of the ways that Audi owners would have requested.

It feels like it has been created by a company that has already discovered what its expanding customer base wants and needs only to tweak a winning formula at the margins to keep the orders rolling in.

An even smarter, better way to travel than before, but still ordinary to drive

The car’s dynamic character hardly departs at all from the previous A4’s in making high-speed stability and ease of operation clear priorities over driver involvement, and that will always condemn it somewhat in this magazine’s estimation.

We’d also warn prospective buyers that real-world fuel economy could be an unusually long way off advertised claims and that rival saloons are markedly more dynamically compatible with British roads.

But those who don’t care about such reservations will very much approve of the bubble of high-quality, tech-laden, chrome-accented calm they find in the A4 and continue to consider its obvious substance and sophistication the ultimate expression of everyday premium motoring.

Even so, the Audi A4 still falls short of the Jaguar XE and the BMW 3 Series, which both excel due to their driver appeal, while the Mercedes-Benz C-Class which provides as much practicality as the Audi in saloon and estate forms but is comfier all round.


Audi A4 First drives