"The A4 stays competitive in this class, with a stylish look and a range of hugely efficient engines."
The Audi A4 range offers a wide choice of petrol and diesel engines, along with a massive list of options and a selection of variable suspension set-ups. Whatever options you choose, you’ll get an excellent upmarket saloon that competes with the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series as a high-quality, all-round premium car. For comfort and economy, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel model with standard suspension is the best choice; for performance, the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol turbo S line is the one to choose. The A4 comes as a saloon, an Avant estate or a 4x4 Allroad estate, with additional S4 and RS4 performance models available as well. The convertible was dropped from the range in 2009 in favour of the more upmarket A5 Cabrio. All models come with lots of equipment and accessories as standard. Constant updates to the exterior means the A4 still looks smart and classy, and you only need to drive the latest model to understand why it's such a popular car. For the ultimate in style, S line and Black Edition models add larger alloy wheels and slick bodykits.
The current A4 is better to drive than ever, with changes to the suspension improving the handling and increasing the comfort, depending on which specification you go for. There's very little body roll in the corners, and wind, road and tyre noise is minimal on the inside. The steering is responsive and accurate, but it's not really exciting to drive, tending to leave the driver a bit isolated from the action. Certainly, a BMW 3 Series is more engaging for keen drivers. The best drive comes from the SE spec, while four-wheel-drive quattro models perform better in slippery conditions. The more economical TDIe and the performance-focused S Line are fitted with a stiff sports suspension that makes the ride much harsher. The best overall engine is the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, offering a great balance of performance and efficiency.
Once inside the A4's quiet, luxurious interior, it's easy to get comfy and cruise along the motorway. Unless that is you opt for the sportier S Line or efficient TDIe models, whose suspension set-ups mean a stiffer ride that quickly becomes frustrating over rough roads compared to the standard versions. And if you add large alloy wheels, the ride becomes even less forgiving. Two adults can comfortably sit in the back, with plenty of head and legroom. You also get three-zone climate control to keep everyone happy, while there are lots of soft-touch plastics for a truly high-quality feel.
There are rarely any complaints from A4 drivers, who tend to have complete confidence in the build quality and reliability of their Audis, which have traditionally performed well in owner polls. However, that didn’t stop the A4 from dropping down to 60th in the 2012 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. This latest model feels well screwed together, though, sporting solid switchgear and quality materials throughout the top-notch interior. All models come equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the back, anti-whiplash head restraints, blindspot and lane departure warning systems, traction and stability control, and six airbags as standard. The A4 also scored a maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. Finally, there have been no major recalls, so the A4 is a safe, reliable choice.
The A4 has a long and wide boot that offers 480 litres of storage so can carry a surprising amount of stuff. The split/fold rear seats easily fold down to free up even more space – and if you choose the Audi A4 Avant estate you get a lot more capacity. But even the saloon gets a remote-opening bootlid and a load-through ski hatch in the centre of the back seats. The spacious interior dimensions allow tall adults to fit in comfortably, with passengers likely to as comfy in the back seats as they are in the front. The front seats are supportive and fully adjustable, and there are loads of big door bins and cubby holes dotted around the inside to ensure the cabin is both a luxurious and practical place to be.
Value for money
The price may have gone up in late 2011, but so did the list of standard equipment that comes in an A4. Starting with the entry-level SE model, climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, fatigue detection, cruise control, three-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and rear parking sensors are now all included as standard. And if that's not enough for you, you can add further luxuries like leather seats and sat-nav for a little more cash. You can even buy the economical 2.0-litre TDIe model without the standard lowered suspension so you get a more comfortable ride. Audi's desirable badge will also keep resale values strong for used car deals.
While BMW is still the class leader for efficient running costs, the A4's diesel engines do offer a pretty appealing blend of performance and economy. The 136bhp 2.0-litre TDIe returns 65.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of only 112g/km, which is only £10 a year more in road tax than the BMW 316d ED. The other diesels in the range are also very frugal – the more powerful 143bhp 2.0-litre TDI still returns 63mpg and is in the same tax bracket at the TDIe. From there up, things get more expensive, but if you stick to the lower spec cars, running costs will be pleasingly low for such a premium car.