2015 has been jam-packed with progression in the executive class. First Jaguar's XE, then BMW's 3 Series. Now it's the turn of Audi's A4

What is it?

You've probably noticed some change in the company car park of late. Jaguar's XE is already a fairly common sight on our roads and - even if it's hard to recognise - a facelifted 3 Series will soon be joining it. There's more change afoot, though, because Audi's Audi A4 is not long for the UK, too.

While Audi's premium badge and superb cabins have ensured that the previous A4 sold reasonably well, its dynamics and emissions have always played second fiddle to the BMW. With the XE now with us, the A4 was starting to look even longer in the tooth.

No such issues with the new one. Company accountants will like the fact that the new A4's emissions start at 99g/km and that (official) fuel economy is as good as 74.3mpg, while its completely new MLB-evo chassis, which features five-link independent suspension front and rear, should ensure better ride and handling characteristics. 

It's a bigger car than it was but it’s lighter, too. Overall it’s longer, while front head room and rear leg room are improved. Audi has also worked hard to ensure that refinement is better than ever, claiming that its class-leading drag coefficient helps to keep wind noise down to A8 levels of silence. 

We're yet to try that headline economy figure-wielding 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra, but here we're driving what should still account for a decent proportion of UK sales: the 187bhp version of the same engine. It still features Audi's 'Ultra' technology, so despite its extra performance, it remains good for CO2 emissions as low as 102g/km and thus an 18% BIK rate in entry-level manual form.

What's it like?

We've no complaints with the engine. This 2.0 TDI Ultra unit has already shown what it’s capable of in the A6, and it's no less impressive in this A4. By 1500rpm you begin to feel its pull and by 1750rpm the needle is well on its way, which means you rarely require a downshift to pull out of third and fourth gear. 

It's not adverse to being revved out, either, and is one of the quietest four-cylinder diesels on sale in the upper reaches of its rev band. You're aware of some vibration at the pedals and through the gear lever, but the latter won't be a problem for buyers of the automatic – and there'll be more of those, we'd suspect. The manual 'box’s action itself is far more sophisticated, while at 70mph wind noise is extremely well suppressed - although all our test cars were fitted with optional laminated windows.  

Thanks to some serious weight loss - up to 120kg in some cases - and that new chassis, driving this new A4 is a more rewarding experience than it was before. It certainly feels lighter on its wheels than the old car and more eager to change direction, but let's be clear, those who put handling first should still be heading for a BMW or Jaguar dealer.

The A4's steering remains its biggest frustration. The lack of feedback shouldn't be criticised too heavily (the majority of electronic systems offer very little), and nor should its low-speed lightness, but there just isn't the precision or urgency found in the 3 Series or XE. The A4 rolls further than its rivals when attacking bends, too, but grip levels are high and those more concerned with motorway behaviour might prefer the Audi’s less twitchy high-speed set-up.

Its motorway ride will also please, with bumps and crests being nicely damped and the body never wandering too far vertically. Four suspension set-ups are possible: a Comfort setting, a stiffer and 23mm-lower Sport set-up standard on S line cars, or adaptive versions of both. Confusingly, adaptive Comfort is 10mm lower than standard Comfort, and all Ultra models have the lower Sport chassis for better aerodynamics. Still with us?

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Our Ultra model's ride began to unravel as the speed dropped, feeling unnecessarily firm over sharp-edged bumps and expansion joints, even when flicking through its drives mode and selecting Comfort. That said, at least there's a decent level of body control as these bumps are hit and the suspension always remains quiet. 

Another area in which Audi has proved itself a class leader is cabin quality, which remains consistent from the very bottom of its range in the A1 through its core models to the flagship A8. No surprise, then, that the A4 leads its aforementioned rivals when it comes to perceived quality.

We sampled a Sport model with optional leather and a more basic SE (in 1.4 TSI guise) without, but in either case the A4's dashboard is very special. Its soft yet dense upper section is underlined by a classy silver band across the middle, and even the plastics lower down feel of good quality. Its new metallic climate control switches – with haptic feedback – also look and feel superb.

Our car was fitted with Audi's optional larger-screened MMI infotainment system, although a smaller 7.0in version comes as standard on Sport models. Both work the same way, with a slick rotary controller between the front seats to guide you through simple-to-follow menus. The bright screen and crisp graphics are impressive, too, especially in conjunction with our car's satellite navigation maps. 

Also fitted to our car was Audi's 12.3in Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, first seen in the TT and then the R8. It is, of course, an option and we don't have prices just yet. If you can stretch to whatever it might be, though, you won't be disappointed.

It takes a while to learn, but you'll soon love how easy it is to sift through information using the multifunction wheel buttons, and the fact that you retain your dash-mounted screen means you can run your nav guidance directly in your eye line while you attend to other things on the larger central display. Visually, it's a stunning bit of tech, too. 

Although front head room is better, there wasn't much issue with it in the previous model, and two tall adults will still sit in comfort. The standard manual driver's seat adjustment is wide ranging and most will find enough steering wheel reach and rake adjustment to get comfortable. The improved rear leg room is more noticeable, with the two adults on the outside seats treated to more knee room than before. Three adults across the rear bench remains tight, however.

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At 480 litres, the A4's boot hasn't grown, but it's still the same size as that of a 3 Series and XE and its low loading lip, decent access and handy netted side cubby holes make it a practical space. 

Standard equipment on SE cars includes xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, 17in alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, rear parking sensors, cruise control and keyless entry and start. Sport-trim cars then add sat-nav to the standard 7.0in infotainment system, front sports seats (still in cloth) and an upgraded sound system. S line models get bigger 18in wheels and LED headlights.

Should I buy one?

You'd be foolish not to test drive one if you're in the market for a compact executive. You'll soon realise it isn't on a par with a 3 Series or XE for dynamism, but there's lots more to like. The A4 is still much better to drive than it was, cabin quality is top-notch, refinement is impressive and fuel economy and emissions are competitive.

In fact, compared with the equivalent BMW 3 Series 320d ED Sport or Jaguar XE 2.0 i4 180 diesel, this 2.0 TDI 190 Ultra is a band cheaper (even with Audi's seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox added) in terms of company car tax, saving you a little bit extra every month.

It gets four stars for now, but a drive of the 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra volume seller, which offers the even keener finances all-important in this class, might even see that rise. With the A4's ride a mixed bag at this early stage, we'll give a more final verdict once more suspension set-ups have been tried on UK roads.  

Audi A4 2.0 TDI 190 Ultra Sport manual

Location: VeniceItaly; On sale: Now; Price £31,000; Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, diesel; Power 187bhp at 3800-4200rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 1750-3000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1505kg; Top speed 130mph; 0 62mph 7.7sec; Economy 72.4mpg (combined); CO2 rating & BIK tax band 102g/km, 18%

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Geoffrey Jackson 24 September 2015

No kidding?

VAG group diesel?


bomb 11 September 2015

Ski Kid, with the same engine

Ski Kid, with the same engine in my A6 Avant I achieve genuine mid-60s economy on a long run (low 60s in winter). I recently got over 800 from a single tank. Running in the much-slippier new A4 I've no doubt it would improve on mine and get around 70 on a run. I'd amaze you, I'm the slowest Audi driver in the country!

I've no doubt some VAG products don't live up to their economy claims and it's the smaller engines that spoil it. My dad runs a 1.6 TDI Octavia and wishes he still had his old 1.9 TDI, that was noticeably better on fuel. But the bigger engines get pretty close to their billing in my experience.

Ski Kid 11 September 2015

very interesting bomb

My Range Rover Sport sdv6 gets 30 to 32 just a little down on the official 32.2 but in the winter for local work with the seats on etc can go down to 25mpg but to be fair the central heating system is on for 20 mins etc each day so that must account for some of that.But you are correc tthat the smaller engines appear much worse than large rfor being way off the mark ,perhaps the smaller diesels and high revving small petrols.I had an Ix 35 and that was diabolical achieved 32 to 36 if I was very carefull to achieve the latter, official was 47.8mpg.How slow do you drive? I also think that some of the larger vehicles are so effortless that people tend to drive them much faster,I am sure I would get 35mpg with the RRSport if I could manage to do 50mph but you feel standing still at 70.
Ski Kid 11 September 2015

Still not impressed , I am hard to please , just like the

I fa manufacturer came up with 100mpg ,I would say may be 60mpg to 70mpg is realistic.look at all the test of the Ford ecoboost 1.0 engine and Twin air use din Fiat and Alfa stating 60 mpg plus on test they are achieving under 30mpg upto 35 and the Toyota Prius hybrid sadly falling way off mark, all those customers have been had on economy.
Adrian987 11 September 2015

Try a Celerio

@ Ski Kid, all is not bad. The petrol Suzuki Celerio apparently does a "true" mpg of 62.9mpg (per What Car real world tests), and Mr Cropley has trumpeted for some while how this is achievable will little special effort over driving style. Interestingly, What Car struggled with their Golf 1.6tdi (Mk7), finding the 50 barrier hard to crack.