29.4.2016Audi A4 saloon review
The A4 is clearly part of the Audi range, with the company's evolutionary styling seemingly moving forward at a glacial pace. This does the designers a bit of a disservice though since there is quite a difference between the old and new A4 when you look carefully, and Audi's executive saloon is certainly a nicely styled car. Next Green Car takes a look at the A4 to see how it performs in one of the most important markets around, pitching the Audi against the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Jaguar XE, and Mercedes C Class.
Review by Chris Lilly
On test was the A4's green champion - badged ultra in recognition of its range-leading efficiency figures. The A4 2.0 TDI ultra SE offers 150hp and 320 Nm of torque from its 2.0 litre turbo diesel engine. This is good for a top speed of 130mph, and is able to dispatch the 0-62mph time in 8.9 seconds en route. So frugal it may be, but that doesn't mean the A4 is sluggish. In the real-world the engine performs very well, with plenty of torque from a low rev-range to pull the car forward when you press the throttle. At motorway cruising speeds, the A4 seems to be running along on only a few revs above idle, which is one reason for its 'ultra' badge. This does mean that if you want to pick up the pace with anything other than gentle acceleration, you will need to drop a cog or two. Stir the six-speed manual gearbox a little though, and the Audi responds with enthusiasm if you keep the turbo on song. Surprisingly rapid progress can be made - at the cost of maximum fuel economy - and the A4 offers a flexible driving experience with a practical balance between efficiency and performance.
The A4 has traditionally been a little lost when trying to define its handling characteristics. It neither competes with BMW and Jaguar's sportiness nor with Mercedes' plushness, and the best comparison was to describe it as a more sorted Lexus. In short, it lacked a true identity. The new A4 though is a genuinely excellent all-rounder, complementing the engine in offering a good combination of comfortable and assured handling. The ultra model tested benefits from Audi's sports suspension fitted as standard, primarily to reduce the ride height and improve efficiency. The happy bonus is that it also makes the handling taught and, although the non-sports suspension hasn't been tested, I suspect I'd find it a little too soft by the feel of the sports set-up. The steering isn't pin-sharp, but does have plenty of grip considering that it's front wheel drive - no quattro available on ultra models for efficiency reasons - and you can easily place the car exactly where you want it in a corner. There is less feedback than compared to the likes of Jaguar's XF, but then these attributes make for a more relaxed drive on the motorway - an environment the A4 is likely to find itself a lot. At slower speeds in town, the sports suspension could be seen as a little stiff by some - not me - though the A4 doesn't crash over poor road surfaces. Helping this is a light steering set-up which hinders enjoyment a little on a twisty B-road, but is of greater use while threading the Audi through town and parking.
As mentioned at the start of this review, the A4 at first glance looks very similar to the previous model. However, look a little longer and you'll see there a number of changes that have taken place. By tweaking here and redesigning there, Audi has polished a decent but bland looking car into a nicely understated and stylish machine. The sharper grille, narrower and more angular headlights, and geometric Bauhaus-style design, combine to offer one of the best looking cars in a class full of stylish models. Inside, the A4 is a practical car, boasting class-equalling or leading levels of space across the board. Two tall adults or three children can fit with comfort in the rear, and boot space is good too. The load area is practical but the normal saloon issue of a high lip and relatively narrow opening restricts access a little. However, it's not likely to be a problem for the vast majority of the time, and it's a good sized space once you get through the opening.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
This is a real area of strength for Audi, and the A4 is no different, helping move the game along a little further again for the German manufacturer. The cabin is excellent - well designed, comfortable, ergonomic, well equipped, and made with high quality materials. Settling on a perfect driving position is easy thanks to a wide range of adjustments possible, and those seats will keep you comfortable even on long journeys. The whole cabin looks extremely good, though it isn't a case of style over substance. Shortcut switches for regularly used functions are easy to reach, while the dial and key features buttons are sited well on the transmission tunnel. Audi's infotainment system is easy to use, uses a clear screen, and integrates with the company's excellent Virtual Cockpit instrument display that allows the driver to customise dials and other information in the binnacle ahead of them. The fit and finish of all those controls feels first class too, with a nice blend of soft touch materials set off by the metallic trim, and build quality that feels bombproof.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox sees the Audi A4's emissions figure creep in under the 100 g/km CO2 threshold at 99 g/km. This makes a difference when it comes to tax rates - both VED and Company Car Tax - saving buyers money. The A4 in this trim sits in VED Band A so it will cost nothing at all to tax, while a BIK rate of 19 % is as low as you'll find in this class without having an electrified powertrain. In terms of fuel economy, the official combined figure from Audi is 74 MPG. As always, that's almost impossible to achieve in real world driving conditions, though I managed to get an average of 61.3 MPG on longer motorway runs, and mid-50's MPG with more emphasis on town or with sportier driving.
Although Audi is rightly famed for its quattro four-wheel drive system, the A4 tested - and a good number of the range in total - puts its power just through the front wheels, helping to reduce emissions and boost fuel economy. The A4's styling has been designed to incorporate improved aerodynamics too, with elements including a controllable cool-air inlet behind the front grille smoothing off air-flow when possible. Predictive Efficiency Assistance is available too, which uses a combination of systems such as adaptive cruise control and satellite navigation to improve the car's efficiency. The system will warn of the road conditions ahead, and can coast on short bursts with the adaptive cruise control on, reducing fuel consumption. The A4 is also able to gradually slow the car down when coming up to a junction that must be tackled while the adaptive cruise control is on. For example, coming up to a roundabout at the end of a dual carriageway, the car knows it can't take the junction at normal motorway speeds, so around a mile to half a mile out, will ease off the throttle, improving efficiency. Stop & Go is common enough in many models now, but will also help with emissions by cutting the engine when stationary. Low rolling resistance tyres are itted on ultra models as standard too. Finally, the engines on offer have had fuel consumption cut by up to 21 per cent despite a power increase of up to 25 per cent, compared to the previous model's offerings. According to our calculations, the tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 35.
As you would expect from a compact executive model, the A4 comes will equipped even at entry level trim. All models get the likes of climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, alloy wheels, Audi Drive Select, Keyless Go, and 7-inch colour screen infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB, and DAB radio. Only leather seats are the obvious element missing, which would be wanted by most buyers, though of course they are available as an optional extra. Different trim packs are offered to boost equipment levels without having to step up the trim ladder. Technology packs like 'Comfort & Sound' and 'Vision' include elements such as electric front seats and Bang & Olafson 3D sound system on the former, and the Virtual Cockpit display and Head-up display for the latter. Other options include a wireless phone charging pad, parking assist, and digital TVs in the rear, amongst many other features.
Competition is fierce in the compact executive saloon market, but the Audi A4 more than holds its ground. It would be right towards the top of my exec saloon list, with an agonised decision likely as to whether I would pick the Audi or its Jaguar XE rival. If daily long distance runs were part of my commute, I would pick the Audi for its more relaxing driving experience, supported ably by the A4's styling, cabin, and efficiency. It's the type of car that you can't help but be impressed by.
Model tested: Audi A4 2.0 TDI ultra SE
Body-style: Four-door saloon
Engine / CO2: 2.0 litre TDI diesel / 99 g/km
Trim grades: SE, Sport, S Line
On-road price: From £26,350. Price as tested £29,600
Warranty: Three years / 60,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 4 Stars