"The Audi A4 stays competitive in this class, with a stylish look and a range of hugely efficient engines."
Five million Audi A4s have been sold since it first launched in 1995. The current model debuted in 2007, so it's hardly the sprightliest Audi on the market, but it does offer a wide choice of petrol and diesel engines, plus a huge list of options and a selection of variable suspension set-ups that range from smooth and comfortable to pretty jarring. Whichever model and accessories you choose, though, the A4 is an excellent upmarket saloon that competes with the Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series as a high-quality, all-round premium car. If you want performance, we’d say that the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol turbo S line is the one to choose, but if comfort and economy are top of your list of priorities, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel model with standard suspension is by far the best choice. The A4 comes as a saloon, an Avant estate or a 4x4 Allroad estate, plus S4 and RS4 performance models being available as well. Audi dropped the A4 convertible back in 2009 to make space for the more upmarket A5 Cabrio. All models come with loads of equipment and accessories as standard. Almost constant updates to the exterior means the A4 may be older but still looks smart and classy, and you only need to drive the latest version to get a clear understanding why it's such a popular car. For the ultimate in Audi class, S line and Black Edition models add larger alloy wheels and slick body kits for that extra bling. The Audi A4 comes in four main specifications – entry-level SE, mid-range SE Technik, top-of-the-range S line, and the luxurious Black Edition.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Audi still can’t match BMW for class-leading efficiency and low running costs, but the A4's range of diesel engines do still offer an effective blend of economy and performance. The most cost-effective engine is the 136bhp 2.0-litre TDIe, which returns 65.7mpg, and emits only 112g/km, which adds up to a paltry £10 a year more in road tax than the rival BMW 316d ED. All the other diesels in the range also prove to be very frugal, with even the more powerful 143bhp 2.0-litre TDI still returning 63mpg, and keeping CO2 emission to 119g/km, which puts in the same tax bracket as the TDIe. Things do get a little more expensive from there, but if you stay at the lower end of the range then running costs should still prove to be quite low for such a premium car, with even the least efficient petrol engines still capable of low 40s fuel economy.
Interior & comfort
The A4 is an easy place to get comfortable, its luxurious and quiet interior proving very suited to long motorway cruises – which is good, seeing as Audis can be criticised for having firm rides. Certainly, if you opt for the sportier S Line or efficient TDIe models, then their stiffer suspension set-ups do mean a firmer ride that can quickly become frustrating when driving over rough roads, especially compared to the standard car set up. If you choose to add the larger alloy wheels, then the ride becomes even harder to take and feels like a price too far for superior handling. However, two larger adults can fit comfortably in the back, having plenty of head and legroom to make the most of. You also get three-zone climate control to allow everyone in the car to have their preferred environment (having a cool driving position while the back passengers are snug and cosy is easy in the A4), while the dashboard and controls are made of soft-touch plastics for a truly high-quality feel.
Practicality & boot space
The A4 offers a decent amount of practicality for a car in this class, but falls just short of the best in class. That shortfall isn’t because of interior quality, however, which is excellent and could teach other premium manufacturers a thing or two about how to make the driver and passengers feel spoiled and looked after. Its spacious dimensions offer plenty of room for tall adults to fit in comfortably, with most passengers likely to be as comfortable in the back seats as they are in the front. The seats in the front are supportive and fully adjustable, so a good driving position is easily found. The dashboard is made from soft-touch plastics and pleasing metal trim, and there are lots of deep door bins and roomy cubby holes dotted around the inside to help make sure that the A4 is both a luxurious and practical place to be. The boot is relatively long and wide, offering 480 litres of storage space, which is generous but not exceptional. The standard-fit split/fold rear seats easily fold down to free up even more space by boosting the capacity to 962 litres. But for real boot capacity, you’ll be better off looking at the Audi A4 Avant estate, where you get significantly greater space. But even the standard saloon does still get a remote-opening boot lid and a ski hatch in the centre of the back seats for loading small objects through or carrying long, thin bags.
Reliability & safety
The A4 has been tumbling down the list of top 100 cars in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey over the past couple of years. In 2011 it ranked as high as 36, before 2012 saw it drop to 60th and now in 2013 it has placed 76th. It was let down mainly by its braking and ride quality, but bear in mind that this model has been around since 2007 and its age will be as much of a factor as anything else. This is probably of interest because Audi drivers tend to be a fairly happy bunch, backed up by Audi's return to the manufacturers’ top 10 in the 2013 Driver Power, climbing back up five places to rank above nemesis BMW but still behind Mercedes in fifth. Generally build quality and reliability do still impress Audi owners, though, and the A4 does feel well screwed together, with solid controls and quality materials used throughout the excellent interior. All models come fitted with ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the back, anti-whiplash head restraints, blind spot and lane departure warning systems, electronic traction and stability control, and six airbags as standard equipment. No surprise then that the A4 secured the full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. Lastly, there have been no major recalls, so the A4 is likely to prove to be a safe, reliable choice.
Engines, drive & performance
The current A4 has been tweaked since its arrival back in 2007, with changes to the suspension settings both improved the handling and increased the comfort, which isn’t an easy trick of engineering. Of course, that balance does depend on which specification you choose. Whichever you go for, you’ll find very little body roll when driving through the corners, while wind, road and tyre noise is kept to a decent minimum on the inside. Even though it has accurate and responsive steering, the A4 really isn’t very exciting to drive, with a tendency to leave the driver feeling a bit detached from the action. A BMW 3 Series is certainly more engaging for drivers who feel the need for speed and engaging driving. The entry-level SE spec actually offers the best drive, but if you want the best performance across any conditions – including slippery roads – than the four-wheel-drive quattro models are the best to go for. The balance of the car shifts away from comfort in the more economical TDIe and performance-focused S Line versions, which are fitted with stiff sports suspension that does make the ride much harsher. Our overall recommendation is the 141bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel, which gives a great balance between performance and efficiency.
Price, value for money & options
Beginning with the entry-level SE model, you get three-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, fatigue detection, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and rear parking sensors all fitted as standard equipment. But if you need more accessories than that, you can add further luxuries like leather seats and sat-nav for a little more cash or climb up the spec range. You can even buy the economical 2.0-litre TDIe model minus the standard lowered suspension to make the ride more comfortable. While the A4's purchase price may have increased in late 2011, so did its list of standard equipment across the range. We’d also suggest caution when it comes to the options list, because you can easily spike the price with foolhardy additions. The A4 will also hold its resale value in the used car market well, however, thanks to the Audi badge proving to have strong second-hand desirability – and the lower-spec models tend to do better than the pricier models, too, so we’d recommend sticking to the lower end of the range.