Performance diesel variant of Audi's fifth-generation A4 is effortlessly fast, while also proving comfortable and spacious

What is it?

We've been generally impressed with the fifth-generation Audi A4 thus far. Although tweaks to its styling may only be minor, the improvements Audi has carried out to the car's interior and engine range have been enough to keep it competitive against rivals from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and now Jaguar, too.

This is the first time we've had the chance to drive the range-topping 3.0 TDI. With 268bhp and 442lb ft of torque, the A4 beats BMW's 330d xDrive, which comes with 258bhp and 413lb ft, while also coming in some way above Jaguar's range-topping diesel XE, which gets 178bhp.

The engine in the A4 is a tweaked version of the one that appeared in the previous generation model, with improvements to power (up 11%), emissions and fuel economy. CO2 has fallen by 21% to 137g/km while combined MPG has risen to 54.3mpg (when the car is riding on 19in alloy wheels).

The S line version reviewed here comes with plenty of standard equipment including LED headlights featuring Audi's dynamic indicators, leather-trimmed sports seats, an S line bodykit, a bespoke steering wheel and sports suspension, which lowers the car's ride height by 20mm. 

What's it like?

If we had our pick of the new A4 range, we'd choose this version. The 3.0-litre TDI is effortlessly fast and despite not matching its rivals on pure power, makes up for this with grunt. All 442lb ft of torque is available from just 1500rpm, resulting in fierce acceleration from low revs.

Power is managed brilliantly by Audi's 8-speed automatic transmission, which provides smooth and fast changes. It's so good, in fact, that you'd rarely be tempted to take manual control with the steering wheel-mounted paddles but be assured that if you do, the experience is suitably engaging.

What's equally impressive is the A4's interior. As we've found with other models in the range, Audi has worked wonders in lifting the fit, finish and perceived quality of its mass-market saloon.

A particular highlight is the redesigned gearlever which now takes on a chunkier, more tactile form. Also worthy of a special mention is the virtual cockpit - a £450 option - which already features in the Audi TT and Audi Q7.

Indeed it works as well here as it does in those models, bringing a variety of infotainment and navigation data to the driver's field of vision in an easy-to-use format. Coupled with the larger central infotainment screen and features such as adaptive cruise control and Audi's traffic jam assist system, the A4 is a technical tour de force.

There is a downside to the car, and that's its steering. As with all A4s, the 3.0 TDI comes with Audi's drive select system. It offers five damper, throttle response and steering weight modes.

While there's some difference to be found between them - the most noticeable being Dynamic - the steering still feels wooden and devoid of feeling. The Jaguar XE has the upper hand, here, since it feels more engaging and dynamically capable. We did make use of Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system, too, which aids acceleration and adds security when conditions are less than ideal.

Despite its lowered ride height, this A4 still feels comfortable. Make no mistake, the low-speed ride is on the firm side but in corners there is little or no body roll. Meanwhile, on the motorway, the A4 is composed and absorbs imperfections well. Our car's £450 optional acoustic front window glazing also makes sure that virtually no wind or road noise makes its way to the cabin.

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The sports seats are very comfortable, while the extra 23mm of rear leg room in this latest A4 is really noticeable. Three adults will feel a little cramped on the back seat but two six-footers will be perfectly comfortable.

Should I buy one?

Chances are that if you're looking at running an A4 as a company car, you'll be swayed towards the 2.0-litre TDI lower down the range. That, too, is a compelling choice, but this 3.0-litre TDI is where the A4's excellence lies. It's sharp, refined and, despite not being overly engaging to drive, remains appealing to drivers as well as passengers.

At £38,135 it's on the expensive side for a compact executive car (remember that the larger A6 can be had in 3.0 TDI quattro S-line form for £40,960) but if you're after an engaging A4, this is the one to choose.

Audi A4 3.0 TDI quattro 272 S line

Price £38,135; Engine V6, 2967cc, diesel; Power 268bhp at 3250-4250rpm; Torque 442lb ft at 1500-3000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1735kg; 0-62mph 5.3sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 54.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 137g/km, 22% 

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Maurice Ital 10 October 2015

"Chances are that if you're

"Chances are that if you're looking at running an A4 as a company car, you'll be swayed towards the 2.0-litre TDI"

Probably wise to defer the purchase of a 2.0-litre TDI at the moment...

spqr 8 October 2015

Queen's Speech V.02

"Not one of the laws in the Queen's Speech proposes new restrictions for EU6 compliant cars". True. But since then the VW cancer-mobile emissions scandal has broken. And next year there will be another Queen's Speech in the aftermath of VW's lying and cheating that poses a huge public health risk. Also how many other car companies have lied and cheated over their diesel emissions? More than 1 or 2 no doubt. The scandal is raising awareness of the very serious health risks of diesels and sooner or later (probably sooner if there is a chance to make money) governments will take action against diesels.
jer 8 October 2015

In an estate/avant

Yes but an equiv. BMW is somewhat of a bargain I wonder if this soon will be.