Audi is motoring’s diva brand, the cool marque seen in all the right places. But can the new A4 overtake a BMW 3-Series or the latest Mercedes C-Class as the supermodel with the most panache? Sue Baker went to find out under the early spring sunshine of the Algarve
Fast forward almost a year and another new Audi. This time it wasn’t a rarefied supercar wearing a twinkling set of running lights, but an A4, the model that is by far Audi’s biggest seller. One out of every two cars coming out of the Ingolstadt factory in Bavaria is one of these.
So the R8’s distinctive lighting feature has now percolated down the range to a much more mainstream model, as an option that adds a touch of extra glitz to a rather more affordable car than one costing the best part of £100,000. Unveiled last autumn at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the new A4 is only now going on sale here. Audi invited us on a preview drive to explore a blissfully under-trafficked area of southern we particularly wanted to try was the meat in the diesel sandwich, the 2.7 litre TDI (187bhp) that sits in the A4 range between the two-litre TDI (141bhp) and the three-litre TDI quattro (237bhp).
Both the 2.0 and 3.0 diesels are accompanied by a six-speed manual gearbox, but the 2.7 TDI comes with a Multitronic CVT sequential-shift automatic transmission. This may not be the most fun combination from a pure driving point of view, but it is the most relaxed choice for a milemunching long-distance cruiser. A very valuable feature is the Audi Drive Select control, that lets you vary the suspension damping, the automatic gearbox shift speed, and the steering ratio, all at the touch of a button. It allows you to switch at will between press-on sporting mode, or more relaxed, comfortable driving. It works like a dial-a-mood control to vary the character of the car. In its latest generation, the A4’s styling mimics the lines of the A5 coupe, as well as sharing most of the same structure under the bodywork. The front axle is now further forward than in the previous generation A4, which improves the weight distribution and as a result the handling. You can feel it on the road, in the car’s tautness into the bends and precision over a twisty rural route. Under hard braking, the 2.7 TDI sometimes feels a touch nose-heavy, and there is a slightly blunted edge to the steering’s feel, but overall it has the poise and fast driving comfort of an accomplished grand tourer. From a practical viewpoint, the lengthened wheelbase reaps benefits by improving the new A4’s packaging compared with the previous model. There is 36mm more legroom in the back seat, and an increase in boot size. Audi’s confident claim is that it now “comfortably outclasses key rivals in the premium sector of the car market.” In other words, watch out BMW and Mercedes, the A4’s roominess has overtaken the 3-Series and C-Class.
Not quite the same is true of its driving calibre. For all its poise and the 2.7 litre turbodiesel’s torquey appeal, the A4 is a very good driving machine that comes close, but can’t quite match, the communicative sparkle of a BMW 325d. Where it scores heavily is the looks department. As eye candy, it has leapfrogged both its nearest rivals, especially when those LED running lights glow out at the front corners.
Stunning to look at, rewarding to drive, the new Aud A4 2.7 TDI beefs up the competition and makes the choice harder for anyone considering a prestige saloon as their next car. It is very good indeed, but maybe not quite superior enough to unseat the BMW 3-Series from its place in the spotlight.
On sale: now // Price from: £28,440
- Price: £28,440
- Engine: 2698cc, 6-cyl, 24 valves, common rail turbodiesel
- Max Power: 187bhp at 3,500 – 4,000rpm
- Max Torque: 295lb ft at 1,400 – 3,250rpm
- Max Towing Weight: 1,900kg
- Combined Consumption: 42.8mpg
- CO2 Emissions (taxband): 176g/km (E)
- 0-62mph: 7.7 secs
- Max speed: 140mph
- Insurance group: 15
Powerful and refined engine, high quality interior, lavish specification. Big boot, stylish LED running lights, cool image
Pricey, not as alive-feeling to drive as a BMW. Those running lights could be seen as a bit bling. The last time I drove a new Audi with sexy little strips of LED daytime running lights fringing its headlamps, I ended up in deep conversation with the police. No, I hadn’t been caught speeding (phew!), but I was in rural France at the wheel of the first R8 the local gendarmes had spotted, and they wanted a closer look. We had a friendly chat, they took photos of the car on their camera-phones, then waved me cheerfully on my way