The Audi A4 has become something of a soft target. Thanks to a certain breed of drivers, the compact exec is a car we love to hate – the modern equivalent of the BMW 3 Series in the 80s and 90s.
“Why buy an expensive A4 when the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Octavia are just as good?” say the critics. But the fact that Audi’s year-to-date sales are up 3.83% compared with the same period in 2015 proves that people are prepared to pay more for the Audi badge.
We’ve subjected an A4 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic to our Two Minute Road Test to find out if it’s worth the premium price.
Prices and deals
Audi A4 saloon prices start at £26,350, but very few buyers will opt for the entry-level model. In the more desirable 3.0 TDI quattro 218hp S tronic guise, the price jumps to £36,495 – £10,000 more than the poverty-spec A4.
There’s more: thanks to a few well-chosen options, the price of this Tango Red test car rockets to £45,825. That’s more than an Audi S5 Sportback. You could also build a rather lavish Skoda Superb L&K, fill your trolley with goodies from the options aisle, and still drive away from the dealer with some change in your pocket.
What are its rivals?
Given the fact we’re told that people have fallen out of love with the saloon car, there’s no shortage of competition for the Audi A4. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class and BMW 3 Series are the most obvious rivals, but you should also consider the Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Octavia and Jaguar XE.
What engine does it use?
Audi’s 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine is a peach and feels in a different league compared with the common-or-garden 2.0 TDI. Not only is it smoother and more refined, the accompanying soundtrack is more appealing.
You can order it in 218hp guise, as tested, or with an Autobahn-storming 272hp. With 218hp on tap, quattro all-wheel drive is an option, but opt for the more powerful version and it becomes standard equipment.
The A4 3.0 TDI will sprint to 62mph in a hot-hatch-terrorising 6.3 seconds, before going on to reach a top speed of 155mph.
Thanks to quattro permanent all-wheel drive, you can be sure that 0-62 time is accessible as and when you need it. You know, when leaving that 3 Series behind at the lights. Audi driver cliché klaxon.
Will I enjoy driving it?
You will enjoy driving it, but not for the same reason Steve in Sales enjoys driving his 3 Series. Although the A4 feels sharper than previous-generation models, the raison d’être of this saloon is to waft occupants from sales meeting to boardroom with as little fuss and effort as possible.
In this respect, it’s genuinely hard to find fault with it. The 3.0-litre diesel is quick, punchy and quiet; the S tronic transmission is smooth, if a little hesitant in town; and the sat nav and adaptive cruise control work together to provide what is, as near as dammit, a semi-autonomous car.
It even rides in a manner that will feel otherworldly to A4 S line drivers of old, although this particular car has 18-inch rims, rather than the optional 19-inch alloys. Seriously, tick the boxes marked ‘adaptive comfort suspension’, ‘heated seats’, ‘driver assistance pack’ and ‘Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system’ and even the M4 motorway will feel as relaxing as a deep bath surrounded by candles.
Fuel economy and running costs
In theory, the Audi A4 3.0 TDI will return 61.4mpg when riding on 18-inch rims, but as we know, theory and practice are about as close as Liam and Noel Gallagher. Something in the low to mid 40s is more realistic, although 55mpg-plus is achievable on a long run.
Stick the A4 in efficiency mode and it’s like the energy-saving mode on your computer: everything goes into an eco setting as it does its best to sip its drink like a teetotaller at a wine-tasting session.
CO2 emissions of 123g/km put the A4 3.0 TDI in tax band D, meaning nothing to pay in year one, and £110 for every year thereafter.
What’s the interior like?
Brilliant, nothing short of brilliant. Oh, there will be those who say the A4’s interior is dull and uninspiring, but to do so would be to miss the point. Everything, and we mean everything, has been honed to within an inch of perfection.
There’s no annoying touchscreen, just a series of perfectly positioned switches and buttons, along with a voice control system that doesn’t fire up Norwegian Wood on Spotify when you ask the sat nav to drive you to Northampton.
Is it comfortable?
The A4’s predecessor, the Audi 80, was comfortable. Small wheels, large tyre sidewalls, supple suspension and the most relaxing seats south of Sweden meant that Audi 80 drivers were the most chilled out people on the road.
Over time, things changed. The UK’s obsession with big rims, sports suspension and the S line badge meant that the A4 was as comfortable as rollerskating down a corrugated iron roof.
In the new A4, things are different. In comfort mode and on 18-inch alloys, the ride quality is almost perfect. You’ll need the Allroad for the most comfortable A4, but that’s a different story. The black leather/Alcantara seats (a £450 option) are both supportive and comfortable, while the diesel engine is so quiet and refined, you’d swear it was in a different county.
Is it practical?
If you opted for the A4 saloon, practicality probably isn’t high on your list of priorities – the A4 Avant is there for dog duties and family trips to the seaside. But that’s not to say the saloon is small.
The remote-control boot lid opens to reveal 480 litres of luggage space, which extends to 965 litres with the rear seats folded down. The A4 isn’t exactly loaded with generously-sized door pockets and storage bins, but is more than adequate for the salesperson on the go.
Tell me about the tech
Where do we start? Tick the right boxes and the A4 will do everything except brush your teeth and remind you to put the bins out before going to bed. Crucially, it does so with typical German efficiency.
The matrix LED headlights are so intelligent, they know when you’ve entered a village with streetlights or when a car with only one headlight is travelling in the opposite direction. They’re also brighter than the sun, creating a blanket of daylight over the English countryside. Birds break into a dawn chorus when this car drives by.
Knowing how much you hate traffic jams, the A4 will take over at speeds of up to 37mph, while the adaptive cruise control is so clever, you can use it on A- and B-roads without so much as a dab on the brake pedal.
Oh, and the Virtual Cockpit – you might think it’s a bit ‘look at me’, but spend some time with the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and all other dashboards seem a bit 2015.
What about safety?
Assuming the various assistance packs haven’t kept you out of trouble, you’ll be pleased to discover – if not entirely surprised – that the A4 scored a maximum five-star rating when tested by Euro NCAP in 2015.
Opt for the driver assistance pack to activate other safety nets, such as turn assist, pre-sense alert and a collision avoidance assistant. The pre-sense alert is a little on the cautious side, occasionally warning you of dangers that aren’t there. Not great for those of a nervous disposition, but at least you know it works.
Which version should I go for?
We’d wholeheartedly endorse a decision to upgrade from the 2.0-litre TDI to the 3.0-litre V6. On paper, the difference between 218hp and 190hp (in the higher-powered 2.0 TDI) might not seem like a great deal, but it’s the way the V6 delivers the power that counts.
As for spec, that’s a matter for debate. Needless to say, with a raft of different options and accessories, it won’t be difficult to find your ideal A4. Put it this way: we wouldn’t change a thing about this particular A4, except, maybe, the £45,825 price tag.
What’s the used alternative?
At launch, the current A4 was criticised for being too evolutionary, offering little over the outgoing model. But while the styling is hardly a quantum leap forward, it’s what’s under the skin that counts.
Not that this renders the previous generation A4 obsolete. It’s the obvious used alternative, although you might want to consider a 3 Series, C-Class or Passat.
Should I buy one?
In the same way it’s hard to find fault with the Audi A4, it’s also extremely difficult not to recommend one. That an Audi has become the default choice for so many drivers is testament, not only to the engineering, but also to the power of the brand.
Driving an Audi A4 won’t mark you out as a free-thinker or a new radical – there’s a Volvo or Lexus for such people – but it’s hard to knock anyone who chooses the obvious route. Whether you can live with becoming a cliché is for you to decide.
The first Audi A4 rolled off the production line in 1994. It was an evolution of the outgoing Audi 80 and nearly 1.7 million were built before it was replaced in 2001.
You might remember the advert in which an obnoxious city trader is seen test-driving an A4, before returning it to the dealer with a parting shot of “Nah, it’s not really my style, know what I mean?” Different times.