What is it?
It’s the diesel-sipping version of Audi’s recently relaunched mid-sized estate, the A4 Avant. ‘Ultra’ is Ingolstadt’s eco label, and there are two engines to choose from in the Ultra range: 148bhp and 187bhp versions of the familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel.
We’re driving the former, paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, although the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic alternative returns identical combined fuel economy and emissions figures of 70.6mpg and 104g/km of CO2. These aren’t quite the headline-grabbing stats of the saloon version (which gently exhales just 99g/km of CO2) but they’re still excellent, and the 187bhp version isn’t far behind at 68.9mpg and 106g/km.
You can buy the lowered-powered car in either SE or - as driven here - Sport spec, whereas the pokier variant comes only in Sport. Both achieve their commendable parsimony with the help of low-resistance tyres on 17in wheels and 20mm-lowered Sport suspension borrowed from the S line range.
What's it like?
If Audi has sacrificed any engine refinement in favour of fuel efficiency, it barely shows. Yes, there is a definite chug at idle, and the start-stop reignites the engine with a jiggly flourish, but at 1mph and above, the engine’s manners really impress. Going up through the gears, its note is muted and its timbre smooth. It gets louder at the top end, but not disruptively so, and at 1800rpm in sixth gear at 70mph there’s almost no noise.
Outright performance won’t satisfy everyone; the 148bhp car can manage no better than 9.2sec to 62mph. But in normal driving the engine’s conservative tune only really tells when you’re hoping for an in-gear overtake. It’ll pull comfortably from 1600rpm and strongly from 2250rpm, subject to a moment of lag, and while the relatively short-throw gearshift is happiest with gentle movements, it allows more aggressive changes, too. There’s next to no feel from the middle pedal, but the stoppers are at least effective and progressive.
The marriage between a low-powered, motorway-oriented powertrain and stiffened suspension isn’t a natural one, but on 50-profile tyres and 17in wheels the disruption to ride quality is limited to some tolerable bobbling at medium to high speeds (including on the motorway) and the urban ride, while firm, isn’t harsh.
There’s a pay-off in the decent body control, however, as the Ultra shows good composure across uneven country roads. It’s no scythe, though, as the numb steering - light in Dynamic mode and even lighter in Comfort - works through a dead central area before bringing the nose around and can feel inconsistently weighted through corners. But there’s scant torque steer, despite the Ultra models being front-drive only.
Elsewhere, it’s the familiar A4 Avant package, which is to say a comfortable front cabin with design, materials and quality that are peerless in its class, along with Audi’s proficient MMI infotainment system, which is supplemented by standard-fit integration for both Android and Apple phones for music, communication and sat-nav. Sport trim includes navigation with 3D mapping, as well as an upgraded sound system, sports seats and subtle exterior design touches. Our test car also wore £1150 leather and Alcantara upholstery, complementing the well-bolstered, manually adjustable seats nicely.
There’s more rear space than in the BMW 3 Series Touring or the Mercedes C-Class Estate, with enough room for two six-footers and one child to sit in comfort. The rear seats split 40/20/40 but don’t quite fold flat, while the standard-fit electric tailgate and motorised luggage cover give easy access to the wide, uniformly shaped boot that’s at least as big as those of its counterparts from Munich and Stuttgart.
Should I buy one?
It can’t challenge the BMW 3 Series Touring for handling, but that’s arguably less of a priority in this niche than practicality and fuel efficiency, both which the Audi offers in spades.
The Ultra is more economical than all Mercedes C-Class estates apart from the much more expensive hybrids, and matches the BMW 320d ED Plus Touring auto, which costs a good £3000 more and can't match the Audi’s engine refinement, although the A4’s equipment levels fall slightly short of its rivals.
Despite its marginal economy losses, however, the 187bhp Ultra - just £900 more expensive but 1.3sec quicker to 62mph - offers the more attractive formula.
Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra Sport
Location Berkshire; On sale Now; Price £31,500; Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, diesel; Power 148bhp at 3250-4200rpm; Torque 236lb ft at 1500-3250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1480kg; 0-62mph 9.2sec; Top speed 130mph; Economy 70.6mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 104g/km, 18%