First Drive: Audi A4


SOME THINGS in life never change, and after more than 30 years it seems like the Audi A4 might be one of them. Thankfully things aren't always as they seem, and the game has moved on a bit.

Rather a lot actually, as the stats show. Since 2000, which accounts for the last four models including the new one, the A4 has gained power, torque and just a little weight, while shedding big numbers from its fuel consumption and CO2 output. It's even a little faster than it used to be.

It would be remiss to suggest that it's purely money that has greased the wheels of change. It's true that major investment has been made as a result of EU demands for greater efficiency, lower emissions and other vote-winning ideas that as a happy by-product tend to leave the average consumer with more spare cash.

But Audi is a company driven by the desire to be the best at building luxury cars for the masses. It has defined what it believes a great luxury car should be, and that's a set of rules that it's sticking to. That's partly why the A4 has barely seemed to change down the years, while actually changing an awful lot where it matters.

Subtle updates to the styling have simplified and sharpened the front end, moving away from the blockishness that has been a mainstay of German design over the last five years or so. It's prettier than the old one, even if it's not especially daring or racy.

The more significant changes are under the skin, with a series of impressive redeveloped and new engines. Company car drivers and their fleet managers are under more pressure than ever to reduce costs, so Audi has delivered a solution with CO2 output figures as low as 112g/km, and 65mpg potential fuel economy.

Six TDI turbo diesel options join two turbocharged petrols, with two of the diesels earning Audi’s special TDIe designation reserved for its most frugal cars. They are 134bhp and 175bhp units respectively, but there’s actually relatively little to choose between them on the road or even on paper, where the more powerful engine is almost as efficient as the entry-level one.

The most remarkable thing about these new diesels is how smooth they are, especially at low revs. Reducing cruising revs helps to boost fuel economy, and the new breed of common rail motors are happy to be driven down to just 1,000rpm, while still picking up smoothly.

While the 134bhp TDIe, likely to be the best seller, is happy to trundle about just over tickover using its long gearing, it does need a good handful of revs to extract the performance on offer. Fortunately the engine has no problem with that. It feels almost like a petrol in a way – and that’s high praise.

Then there’s the issue of noise. Inside the new A4, there isn’t really much of it. Even at motorway speeds, noise is staggeringly well hushed. Roar from the rear wheels is more obvious from the rear seats, but it won’t bother the driver.

Audi A4s have not been blessed with the best ride quality in recent years, partially thanks to very stiff chassis and bodies. The new one isn’t bad, but it does benefit from being fitted with the basic 17-inch wheels. The top-of-the-range model’s lowered sports suspension and 19-inch rims, although they look mighty fine, might be an issue on broken British roads.

Interior quality is as high as ever. It feels like some materials have been lightened over the generations, but it’s still extremely solid and stylish, and the doors shut with a deeply satisfying thunk. The exceptions are the various wood trim inserts that just don’t look quite right, and oddly the cheaper silver-grey textured plastic ones look much better.

There’s also a niggle with the manual seat back angle adjuster wheel, which has so much slack in it that you’d think it was faulty. It seems a very strange oversight but it’s one that shouldn’t bother potential buyers too much.

The A4 is a very fine car to drive. It has a long wheelbase which helps to make it feel stable at a cruise, and there is plenty of grip available from wide tyres on all models. It follows the pattern set by previous A4 models in that it’s very good at satisfying its owners without being what might be seen as overbearing.

It’s not what you’d call inspiring or breathtaking, but it’s not meant to be. It’s designed to be a fuss-free luxury compact executive car that people will be happy to see on their drive. An Audi is a car that doesn’t need any explanation. The A4 is a brand in itself and with better engines than ever, its appeal has redoubled.


Model: Audi A4 2.0 TDIe 136 SE, £26,555 on the road.

Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 134bhp and 236lb.ft.

Transmission: 6-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels.

Performance: Top speed 133mph, 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds.

Fuel economy: 65.7mpg.

CO2 rating: 112g/km.

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