As a rival for the venerable BMW 3 series the Audi A4 has been a mainstay, matching the Munich maker's models with performance, efficiency and looks all the way. Revised late in 2011 it's now better than ever, and offers something of a sensible choice in the compact executive segment. There's no doubt the A4's USP and key to its appeal is its sleek looks, backed up the firm's now trademark LED running lights, and quality cabin. Available as both an Avant (estate) and saloon, we tested a £26,555 SE 2.0 TDI version of the latter.
The A4 is the automotive equivalent of a tailored suit -- subtle but reassuringly good looking. Audi was one of the first to do the full length grille, and continues the theme with the A4, the face flanked by the sharp headlights with redesigned LED running lamps. Both the saloon and avant look good, though the latter somehow appears to be more of a premium product, especially in sporty S-Line trim. Inside the layout may be familiar, but it's incredibly well put together and feels more special than any rival's cabin.
There's plenty of space up front, and storage space is good, however those relegated to the rear will note that it can be rather cramped, especially behind taller front seat occupants. Regardless Audi offers some excellent sports seats, and the driving position has plenty of adjustment. Boot space is reasonable too, with 480-litres available in the saloon and a further 10-litres in the practical avant -- dropping the seats extends the former's capacity to 962-litres and the latter to a whopping 1,430-litres. It's incredibly well trimmed back there too, with a quality carpet that rivals the material used in the main cabin of some competitors.
Performance & handling
In terms of finesse and feedback the A4 is something of an also ran in the compact executive sector; that's not to say it's a bad drive, it's just not as dynamically appealing as the BMW 3 Series. But, it is safe and secure -- especially when specified with the firm's excellent quattro four wheel drive system.
There's an engine to suit everyone from the frugal 1.8 TFSi with 118bhp to the storming 328bhp supercharged S which sprints from 0-60mph in a little over five seconds.
The 2.0-litre TDI tested here is slightly slower at 8.2 seconds, though it delivers its 175bhp in an incredibly linear and smooth matter. Those looking for extra flexibility should turn their attention to the allroad model, a quasi off roader with chunky bumpers and raised ride height, though like all others in the range it too suffers from numb steering and a notchy manual gear change.
Economy & environment
There's been a raft of recent improvements to the A4 to make it even more economical and efficient -- from the rather techy sounding Thermal Management System to the electromechanical steering system. Opt for the most economical engine -- the 2.0-litre TDI e with 134bhp and you can expect a combined economy of 65.7mpg and thanks to stop/start CO2 emissions of only 112g/km. Even the more powerful 2.0-litre TDI tested here manages 61.4mpg and 120g/km CO2. It's also worth bearing in mind that useful though the quattro four-wheel drive system may be, it does rather eat into the efficiency and economy on offer.
Equipment & value
Prices start at £23,630 for the 1.8 TFSi SE saloon and rise all the way up to £41,130 for the S4 Avant Black Edition -- and allroad models start at £31,485. Regardless of specification chosen though the A4 comes equipped with three zone climate control, split folding rear seats, rear parking sensors, cruise control, automatic Start-Stop, Bluetooth connection and a 10 speaker audio system with AUX-in. There's a host of options as well, allowing you to really tailor the A4 to your needs though prices are often expensive; sat-nav is £1,620 while leather seats start at £1,680.
Like rivals the A4 gets the full five star approval from Euro NCAP, but the latest A4 will also ensure the driver is paying attention. If it thinks they you haven't reacted to the car in front slowing or stopping, it will momentarily apply the brakes to jolt your attention.
The Audi A4 may not be the sharpest compact executive on the market (that award goes to the BMW 3 Series) but it's left languishing as second best. For many this car's subtlety will appeal most -- both in terms of the way it looks and how it goes about its job. There's a range of smooth, and in the most part efficient, diesel and petrol engines along with a choice of transmissions as well as saloon, avant and allroad bodystyles. And where many rivals like the Volvo S60 only offer four-wheel drive on the flagship, the A4 is available with quattro on lesser models too.
Model tested: Audi A4 Saloon 2.0 TDIe SE
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 134mph
Emissions: 112g/km CO2