We spend a month with Audi’s heritage-fleet A4 DTM. How does it stack up as a daily-driver – and versus the related Mk5 Volkswagen Golf GTI?
Six months of not only switching from petrol to diesel, but downsizing also. Are we mad?
How do you follow up a cult car like the Audi RS2, that mid-90s icon built by Porsche that created an estate car that ate TVRs for breakfast? By doing the same again. Only this time, with even more.
Cue the 1999 Audi RS4, the Avant wagon that boasted a power output which, even today, seems ridiculous: 381hp from a Cosworth-developed 2.7-litre biturbo V6. Monster tyres were needed to deploy it, which needed monster wheelarches to house them. Chuck in grilles and gills aplenty, a stonking set of 18-inch alloys and one of the first deployments of dazzling-bright xenon headlights, and you may just have yourself a new cult monster. A decade and a half later, we find out if it should now seek sanctuary.
What are its rivals?
The Audi RS4 Avant was without rival. That was the whole point. “Make an ultra-fast estate?” snorted BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The very thought!
Probably the closest rivals, then, were the Mercedes-Benz ML 55 AMG and BMW x5 4.8iS, two V8 SUV heavyweights that, like the Audi, blended practicality with performance stupidity. Although if the RS4 was an indy king, they were like your overweight dad getting his jig on in comparison.
What engine does it use?
Audi handed over the 2.7-litre V6 to Cosworth Technology to thoroughly overhaul: an easy decision, given how it at the time owned Cosworth. Cue a thorough makeover that packed in a ludicrous amount of exotica for the time: proof of just how jewel-like is the fact it boasts a ridiculous 116hp more than the Audi S4 motor it’s derived from.
No flappy paddle DSG gearboxes in those days: instead, Audi beefed up its six-speed manual and quattro drivetrain, which boasted a fairly rudimentary 50:50 torque split.
What’s it like to drive?
Breathe easy: it’s still addictive. Still fast. Still an event. So much power back in the late 90s was mind-warping. The power race means it’s less so today – but the drama this heavily-boosted engine serves up means it’s still exciting. Smooth, rorty and pure, it’s a motor that feels just like it is: a regular V6 with two stonking great turbos bolted on. The disconnected, sensationless surge of modern motors? This is the antithesis.
Soft-by-modern-standards suspension adds to the drama, because it rolls a bit in corners, sits down at the rear under power. Exit a roundabout, set it up to reach peak boost as you hit the exit, and the feeling is comparable to taking off in a fast jet. It’s hugely thrilling and special, so much so it’s easy to forgive the slow, old-fashioned arm-twirling steering and concrete-damper ride that until recently was an Audi speciality.
Reliability and running costs
Drive it like this and it drinks fuel like a race car. I did an MPG Marathon in one back in the day: after two days of bumbling, I got 27mpg. Reunited with it today, I got half that.
The RS4 also suffered the unusual issue of bent wheels when new – seems the alloy wasn’t stiff enough to shake off the immense forces its powertrain could generate. Shouldn’t be an issue now, but worth a check, as is evidence of a full history. This is basically a motorsport engine and reliability will go out the window, as will all your money, if maintenance has been skimped.
Could I drive it every day?
The ride will, at first, frighten you but, with miles, you learn to drive around the worst bumps and enjoy the trace of suppleness in the suspension itself to help make things not too pummelling. Stirring the snickety gearlever keeps the engine on boil and you’ve also got that old school but granite-solid Audi interior to enjoy.
The deeply bucketed seats are painful to get in and out but hug you warmly once you’re in (and give you a towering driving position, so high are they set). But it’s the stuff that made the RS4 so cool when new that mean you really can drive it everyday: five seats, practical boot, all the Audi integrity that made the first A4 such a worry to the BMW 3 Series engineers.
How much should I pay?
You can pay as little as £13,000 for an Audi RS4, or as much as £30,000. The most expensive ones are truly immaculate, the cheapest ones are high mileage but hopefully honest. Personally, we’d go for sub-£20k one, as they’ll be in strong condition but not so perfect and low mileage that you’ll be terrified to drive them.
What should I look out for?
Bent wheels, full service history, crash damage, dented panels, torn seats and signs that it has been nicked. All the usual things, but with an added degree of care: Audi only made around 6,000 original RS4 and, while enthusiasts bought most of them, some were also purchased by people who should really have been in a TDI.
Frankly, we’d only buy from either a specialist or a committed enthusiast. The mere mention of Cosworth engines and ludicrous power from 2.7 litres means we’d be uneasy with going for a cheap one – and we’d not likely enjoy the best of what the RS4 has to offer either.
Should I buy one?
For an old-school twist on modern daftly-fast family cars, you should certainly give it a go. But really, this is a car that should be reserved for enthusiasts, those willing to treat it carefully and maintain it religiously. It’s crazy-fast but it somehow feels wrong to wring its neck and use it as you imagine Audi intended: if anything, it’s a little too specialist for that.
But if you want a really fast example of a car that shows what Audi could do just before it discovered today’s ultra-sophistication and perfection, snap one up before someone else spoils it. It’ll be a lovely possession to treasure.
There were two versions of the V6 engine. The earlier 2000 one was coded ASJ, and was Euro 2 emissions compliant. Later 2000-2001 motors were EU3, and were coded AZR.
At 390 litres with the seats up, the RS4 Avant’s boot is 90 litres smaller than today’s Audi A4 saloon.
The Audi A4 has been worrying the BMW 3 Series for 21 years now. From being a compact executive sector outsider, Audi now does battle with BMW and Mercedes-Benz to dominate the market for this type of car. These three brands alone sell four in every five compact execs globally.
The all-new Audi A4 is, rarely, just that: entirely all-new. It’s built on the new VW Group MLB evo platform – currently, only the new Q7 SUV also uses it – and follows the typical Audi story of being technologically leading-edge in every possible way.
Audi’s making a particularly big noise about its onboard tech. No car has this much connectivity as standard, it says, and the plethora of options brings in features that were standout in the A8 limousine sector just a year or two ago.
In base guise, it’s the lightest car in this sector. But the longest, widest and with the longest wheelbase, too – despite being all-steel, not part-aluminium (why is your aluminium so heavy, Jaguar?). It has an engine range that’s up to 25% more powerful and 21% less thirsty, and Benefit In Kind tax figures are down across the board.
With easily the best Cd aerodynamic drag factor in the sector (just 0.23 – thank features such as the ultra-crisp, ultra-hard-to-make bootlid edge pressing), you’d be forgiven for thinking the looks are all-new as well. As we’ve established though, they’re not.
The image above: can you split it from the old A4 at a glance? Audi’s evolutionary styling strikes again, which is why some are perhaps not as excited about the A4 as they should be. We are, though – because our early drive suggested Audi might well have a very good car indeed on its hands.
In a sector buoyed by a heavily revised 3 Series, all-new XE and the ever-present allure of Mercedes-Benz’s pretty C-Class, the Audi has a stern challenge on its hands. Fresh from docking in the UK and ahead of deliveries beginning on November 21, we tried out the volume 2.0-litre TDI on British roads to see just how good the new car is.
2015 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE: On the road
All-new platform, same familiar Audi feel – but with significant advances across the board. We tested the new A4 in volume 2.0-litre TDI SE guise, with sensibly-sized wheels and non-sport suspension. Unlike the older A4, there’s little to fault here, but a lot to like.
Rolling refinement is outstanding. The A4’s premium, luxury feel on the move is the first thing that strikes you, from the very low levels of road noise to the way bumps are absorbed without audible bangs. It’s a supple car too, with longer-travel suspension blotting out the lumps readily felt in the old one.
It’s stable at speed and the steering is accurate and settled, although if you up the speed on more undulating roads you’ll find the suspension becomes a bit choppier. It’s not as taut as a 3 Series though, or as wallowy as a C-Class can be, and it’s a good deal more able than its rather stolid predecessor.
The A4 isn’t much more exciting to steer through bends, though. As ever, Audi trades BMW and Jaguar-like thrills here for confident sophistication. The steering lacks feedback, it’s not the crispest on turn-in and you’re aware of body-roll when you start to get more energetic.
The 2.0-litre TDI engine, tested here in 150hp Ultra guise, is exceptionally quiet and smooth. Spinning sweetly, it lacks the clatter found in varying degrees in its rivals (the 3 Series is best, the C-Class is worst) and is mated to a vastly improved snick-snack gearchange.
It’s a familiar engine but this is perhaps its best installation yet. It ultimately lacks big-power shove at speed, but responds swiftly enough in town and maintains speed without fuss on the motorway. The 190hp gives you more, but you won’t feel short-changed here if you’re chasing low Benefit In Kind payments.
If you want dynamic involvement, go for a 3 or XE; what the A4 now does extremely well is out-Mercedes the C-Class for luxury car comfort. The ride has made a big step forward but it’s the sheer refinement throughout that really sets it apart. The A4 really will raise eyebrows here – and will make owners really feel like they’re getting a premium product.
2015 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE: On the inside
Audis are renowned for their superb interiors. But even by the brand’s standards, the new A4 is exceptional. Quality and craftsmanship easily surpass everything else in the sector; it’s better than many executive cars, not to mention some luxury models – that’s how good it is.
Meticulously assembled, the interior is more open-plan than the claustrophobic old car, with the slimline new dash taking cues from the TT’s wing-style design. You can have the TT’s virtual instrument cluster as an option, too. Audi’s really sweated over the choice of materials, from the full-length trim running across the dash to the brushed metal-effect plastic on the centre console.
Whether you look, touch and feel, there are treats. Buttons click nicely. Column stalks feel good. The dials are clear and the screen between them is super-high resolution. Audi’s MMI infotainment system has never been so easy to use. And the three-zone climate control system (standard on all models) has the digital clarity and tactility of an Apple Watch.
Connectivity is a major USP. All new A4s get Audi smartphone interface, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto platforms. We tried CarPlay and it worked exceptionally well – it’s a fantastically appealing addition that may alone convince some to sign on the dotted line.
Because the smartphone interface links into your mobile’s mapping system, Audi doesn’t include sat nav on the standard SE. It doesn’t need to, it says, and we’d agree. Other extras are xenon headlights, rear parking sensors and cruise control – oh, and the 17-inch wheels Brits now consider a bare minimum.
In the rear, Audi matches the firm and supportively comfortable front seats with nicer chairs than any of its rivals. There’s plentiful space, too – enough for an adult to sit behind another. The boot is 480 litres and well-shaped. Needless to say, it’s trimmed in high-quality materials. Here and in other areas, Jaguar could learn a lot from Audi’s approach.
2015 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE: Running costs
Take that, BMW! Like Jaguar, Audi sells a 2.0-litre TDI A4 that dips under the 100g/km CO2 mark without resorting to EfficientDynamics trickery or limited trim options. You can even have it with 17-inch wheels rather than weedy 16s.
In 2.0-litre TDI 150 Ultra guise, it has a 74.3mpg average fuel economy figure, and Audi’s added some tech to help real-world economy; the stop-start system cuts in as you’re coasting to a halt, for example, rather than waiting for a compete stop. This means the engine is off more often than you may expect in traffic.
Retained values will be strong, albeit not as strong as the surprise leader in this sector – that’s the Jaguar XE. The 163hp 2.0-litre diesel SE holds on to 40% of its list price after three years; the test Audi pairs with the Mercedes-Benz C 200d SE on 39%, with the BMW 320d ED Plus (also surprisingly) trailing on 37%.
2015 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE: Verdict
Does the new Audi A4 now lead the compact premium saloon sector? No. The BMW 3 Series, in facelifted guise, still gets the nod from us. The A4 is close behind though, and leaps ahead of our other favourite, the Jaguar XE, in the final draw. That’s a mark of how much it has improved.
OK, it still doesn’t thrill behind the wheel. But it does satisfy, with its improved ride, smooth engine and, most of all, its refinement. It does what drivers buying this class of car expect, and makes them feel special. As it’s one of the best-value compact premiums on sale, this is a significant advantage.
It also has a truly outstanding interior, excellent connectivity and infotainment features, a plethora of optional tech and a fair haul of standard functionality included in the price. The exterior won’t turn any heads, but it will please and age well – and running costs will be sharply competitive too.
It’s hard to fault. The BMW is still our choice, but the A4’s strengths, and excellence in key areas, still make it a very strong alternative indeed.
2015 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE: Specifications
Model tested: Audi A4 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra SE
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 130mph
Fuel economy: 74.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 99g/km
Yes, this really is the new Audi A4. It’s certainly an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to the styling, but under it lies a much improved car.
Besides, Audi isn’t stupid. There’s logic behind the looks, as boss man Dr Hackenberg tells us: “It’s a mistake if [a new model] makes it predecessor look old. The design is OK. It does not scream ‘it’s a new model’, as that would harm values of the old one.”
This approach has worked well for Audi in the past, but other cars in this sector are exactly the same. The BMW 3 Series hasn’t changed dramatically over its lifespan, and neither has the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The main criticism we have of the Jaguar XE is it looks a little predictable… just like a smaller XF.
But enough about the design. We’ll let you decide whether you like it. More importantly, how did we end up in a car with Dr Hackenberg and what exactly is different about this ‘all-new’ model?
Revealed last month and set to be launched to the media in September before going on sale in the UK in November, the 2016 Audi A4 is currently going through final testing in Germany. We joined engineers (as well as Dr Hackenberg) in a drive of pre-production models ahead of its final sign-off within the next couple of weeks.
2016 Audi A4: on the road
The Audi A4 has traditionally never been a driver’s car. It’s left that to the BMW 3 Series, while recently the Jaguar XE has thrown its hat into the ring as the enthusiastic driver’s company car of choice.
But, under the watchful eye of suspension and driving dynamics expert Dr Hackenberg, the Audi A4 can finally be considered to be one of the best dynamically.
Although UK specifications are to be confirmed, higher-end models will come with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system. Broadly the same as the system it replaces, under normal driving conditions it’ll transfer 60% of torque to the rear axle and 40% to the front.
But, when required, the central differential can also transfer up to 70% of torque to the front and 85% of torque to the rear. It’s a system that Audi’s spent years perfecting and it does help provide more confidence on greasy or wet roads.
The A4’s wheel-selective torque control goes a step further and can split torque between the front or rear wheels in a bid to prevent those on the inside from spinning up. This results in more agile handling on twisty roads.
The suspension has been heavily revamped for the new Audi A4, with lightness a key consideration. There’s a multitude of suspension options for buyers – from the standard suspension with sensitive monotube shock absorbers, to adjustable sport or comfort dampers.
The ride does appear to be comfortable with even the sportier suspension setups, but it’s hard to tell on the sort of smooth, German roads we can but dream of in the UK. Still, even the 18-inch alloys of our test cars failed to transmit the harshest road surfaces we could find into the cabin.
One criticism many drivers of the outgoing model have is the steering, which features an unnerving ‘dead’ point just off straight ahead. This is now gone, with the A4’s electromechanical steering providing an instant response to every input from the driver. It’s a really pleasing steering set up – one that can be tweaked from ultra-light to sportily heavy through Audi’s driver select system.
Higher-end models will come with dynamic steering which adjusts its ratios depending on your driver select mode and the speed you’re travelling at. While a clever idea, and one we’d imagine we could comfortably get used to, it seems to lack a touch of the directness of the regular steering (we recently criticised a similar system in the facelifted BMW 3 Series).
Aside from the suspension and steering, there’s a host of driver assistance features to make life easier. One of the most significant is the adaptive cruise control (ACC). While ACC isn’t groundbreaking itself – it is becoming commonplace across VW Group products – some of the features debuting on the new A4 are.
For example, the ACC’s traffic jam assist can take over steering at speeds of up to 40mph. It uses the car’s front camera as well as sensors to gently guide the car and follow the vehicle in front in heavy traffic. Essentially, at low speeds, the Audi A4 can drive itself.
2016 Audi A4: on the inside
If you’ve ever driven a modern Audi, you’re not going to be particularly surprised by the new A4’s interior. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it feels solid and well-built, and provides that premium feel you’d expect from a car of this class.
A big change to the Audi A4’s interior is the addition of the virtual cockpit, as seen on the latest TT. This replaces the standard driver’s instrument panel (featuring the speedo and rev counter) with a 12.3-inch LCD monitor.
Using a button on the steering wheel, the driver can change the size of the instruments and switch between features such as the sat-nav and audio. It’s a system we like in the TT and it’s transferred well to the A4 – almost making the 8.3-inch MMI touchscreen in the centre console seem redundant.
While UK specifications are yet to be confirmed, the virtual cockpit is likely to be standard on higher-end models and available as an option on the rest of the range.
One complaint about the interior is the bulky transmission tunnel. It encroaches onto the legroom of the front passenger in the left-hand drive model we tried – suggesting, like the outgoing model, there might be awkward offset pedals on right-hand drive versions.
That transmission tunnel makes for uncomfortable seating for middle seat passengers in the rear. Audi says there’s now an extra 23mm of legroom in the rear, yet it still feels cramped for adults. Not a huge concern if you’re a company car driver covering 90% of your miles without passengers, but families with teenage children should probably look elsewhere.
2016 Audi A4: running costs
With company car drivers being the staple of Audi A4 buyers, Audi has concentrated on making the A4 more efficient – boasting a 21% reduction in fuel consumption compared to its predecessor.
Because of the efforts Audi has gone to into reducing the weight of the A4 and making it more aerodynamic, it’s now class-leading when it comes to efficiency.
The A4 2.0-litre TDI Ultra comes in at 95g/km CO2 in saloon form (99g/km for the Avant) – bringing it below that 100g/km threshold for car tax and company car users. Jaguar has only just edged below 100g/km with its XE, while it’s only with the facelifted car that the BMW 3 Series dips below 100g/km: the volume diesel model starts at 102g/km.
More importantly for those of us who aren’t company car drivers is the A4’s fuel efficiency. With a manual transmission the 150hp A4 Ultra returns a frankly staggering 76.3mpg, while the more powerful 190hp 2.0-litre diesel achieves 68.9mpg in non-Ultra form.
The 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel starts at 67.2mpg, while the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol returns 49.6mpg.
2016 Audi A4: verdict
Without driving the new Audi A4, you have to look very closely to see the differences over the predecessor. A slightly improved interior and tweaked exterior isn’t enough to excite buyers in the premium segment.
But when you start to look closely and, more importantly, take the new Audi A4 for a drive, you start to realise the new model is a much bigger advancement than you might have originally thought.
It now handles with the best – seemingly with little expense in comfort (although we look forward to putting it through a real test on UK roads). The addition of Audi’s virtual cockpit along with a host of technology will appease the most demanding of company car drivers.
They are the mainstay of A4 customers, after all. And on paper, the figures more than stack up for them. It’s a bold move sticking with a steel platform, but Audi has put so much work into saving weight and improving aerodynamics.
The result is huge. It truly is class-leading when it comes to efficiency, meaning it’ll undercut rivals in company car tax and save money on fuel.
We understand why Audi hasn’t changed the A4’s appearance dramatically but for us, having seen just how good the new A4 is, it’s a little bit disappointing that most will dismiss this as little more than a slight facelift.
Our only other complaint? Interior space. Sure, it’s more spacious than its predecessor, but legroom in the back isn’t good for adults. If you rarely carry rear seat passengers, you should give the Audi A4 some serious consideration over a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE. Certainly don’t dismiss it without a good test drive.
Specification: 2016 Audi A4
Engines: 2.0 – 3.0-litre TDI diesels; 1.4 – 2.0-litre TFSI petrol
Prices from: £28,000 (est)
Power: 150hp – 272hp
Torque: 184 – 295lb ft
0-62mph: 5.3 – 8.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Fuel economy: 49.6 – 76.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 129 – 180g/km
The new 2016 Audi A4 has been officially revealed ahead of its global debut at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show – and once again for Audi’s it’s an evolutionary approach rather than a stylistic revolution.
But the firm is keen to stress there’s far more future-looking technology beneath the lighter-weight skin of the new A4, which goes on sale towards the end of 2015.
The design, for example, may be familiarly Audi A4, but it’s also notably aerodynamic; in its optimum trim, the Cd drag factor is just 0.23, something no other model in the class gets near.
It’s a bigger design too – addressing criticisms of the current car’s lack of space, particularly in the rear, the new Audi A4 has grown to 4,726mm long, 1,842mm wide and 1,427mm tall.
The new Audi A4 is thus 25mm longer and 16mm wider than the old one, but remains the same height – actually the lowest in the premium sector. The A4 Avant is actually 1mm shorter than the saloon.
This give it the longest interior in its class, plus the best front shoulder room and, in the new A4 Avant, the biggest boot: it’s 505 litres with the seats up, 1,505 litres with them down.
The Avant is, however, not as aerodynamic as the sleek saloon: its drag factor Cd is 0.26.
One of the most striking features of the new Audi A4 is its new virtual cockpit, first seen in the new Audi TT. Now, this isn’t standard on all A4s, but does create a striking look for cars optionally fitted with it: the full-width display in front of the driver is a striking feature.
Unlike the TT, all A4 come as standard with an MMI display in the centre of the dashboard, of at least 7 inches’ diameter. Audi’s claiming the interior is now the quietest in the class.
New Audi A4: tech highlights
Under the bonnet, there’s a fully updated range of engines that benefit from the light weight and aero efficiency: Audi claims just 95g/km for the greenest version of the 2.0 TDI 150 ultra – without hybrid assistance.
A new 2.0 TFSI 190, with a trick new combustion system, can emit as little as 109g/km CO2. There’s also a punchy 272hp 3.0-litre TDI six-cylinder. UK CO2 figures are, however, still to be confirmed: due to our love of larger alloy wheels, they might be a bit higher.
Exhaust tailpipes are an indicator of which engine’s on board: single for base motors, double for TDI with 190hp or more, or dual for TFSI engines with 190hp or more.
Audi’s standardised Xenon headlights on all new A4, previously only fitted to S line models and above. Why? Because it now offers both full LED and the trick matrix LED headlights first seen on the A8 as an option.
The body is up to 120kg lighter, with the base model (a to-be-announced 1.4 TFSI) weighing just 1,320kg (albeit empty and without a driver). Audi’s achieved this without extensive use of aluminium, either: just the tailgate is made from the material it’s strongly associated with.
Official kerbweight of the Jaguar XE, which is made from 75% aluminium, start from 1,475kg.
Audi’s promising handling has made “a great leap forward”, with redeveloped five-link axles and new EPAS power steering. it rides better too, and there’s a plethora of suspension tech on the options list including adjustable dampers that “the driver can for the first time select between two settings: sports or comfort”.
This Audi drive select suspension system is standard on new A4 with engines producing 190hp or more.
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