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Audi A4, A6, A8 TDI

Audi

Review

AUDI is planning to use leasing companies to target potential user-choosers as part of the drive to build up the proportion of diesels it sells in Britain. However, the new diesel drive comes as the Government looks likely to penalise diesel-engined company cars under the new carbon dioxide-based benefit-in-kind tax regime due to come into effect on April 6, 2002.

Diesel-engined company cars, which emit lower levels of CO2 than their petrol equivalents, would be hit with an additional 3% tariff added to their CO2 rating under the draft plans for the new tax regime. Details of Audi's move emerged when the firm launched a trio of new cars as part of a technology event staged at Graz University in Austria. 'These vehicles will take up a significant proportion of the fleet of 300 demonstration cars which will be made available to a number of leasing firms we work with.

'We want them to be offered on an extended loan basis to people who have never before tried a diesel,' Audi UK product marketing manager David Ingram told Fleet NewsNet. 'At present, 15% of UK-registered Audis are diesels. While we're not necessarily moving to lift total sales higher this year than last, when we reached 41,000 registrations, we are keen to improve on the diesel mix. To this end, we will be running a national press advertising campaign which specifically highlights the advantages of turbodiesel power and economy. We also have access to TDI television advertising, but before we consider taking up this option, we're favouring the more softly-softly approach to the problem of how to address the preconceived concepts many people still have about diesel,' said Ingram.

'We may not be a mass fleet vehicle supplier, but we do have a good relationship with a number of high-profile leasing companies. Getting them to help us in this way makes sense because we recognise the power of personal recommendation and we're confident that lengthy test drives will produce a positive result.' Claimed Ingram: 'Uncertainties remain over diesel because the British Government doesn't want to be seen to take sides on the debate over emissions and the issue of soot particulates. But a tremendous amount of development work has taken the diesel a long way in recent years and this progress enables today's units to offer huge benefits in terms of outright performance, torque and ease of driving. They also have the economy which allows some incredible operating ranges. Audi has some of the best diesel cars on the market and we have a story to tell.'

Audi has celebrated a decade of producing electronically-managed, direct fuel injection diesel engines by creating a pacesetting compact V8 TDI which has the potential to keep it among the front-runners in compression-ignition technology for several more years. With a four valves per cylinder layout and a host of advanced features, it is the first eight-cylinder, direct injection diesel to meet the stringent Euro 3 exhaust emission limits.

Out on the road, the sophisticated 3.3-litre motor's twin turbochargers ensure that a seamless flow of power is on tap for effortless performance at any rate of progress. Significantly, mechanical noise is noticeable only by its absence from behind the wheel - but one of the most impressive features of our first drive was the difficulty of detecting any telltale metallic tapping sounds from outside as the engine ran on tickover.

Audi engineers claim the noise levels of their flagship unit matches the quality of a V8 petrol engine, and we wouldn't disagree. Due to enter series production at the end of the year, the 225bhp engine gave our four-wheel-drive and automatic transmission test car all the power customers would demand and rather more refinement that they might expect. The big luxury car surges up to 62mph from rest in just 8.2 seconds. On the autobahns, it will go on to reach 150mph all out and still feel relaxed - yet with economy nudging 30mpg it is able to sweep along for 600 miles before refuelling is necessary.

Having only just enough of the traditional tappety clatter sound for it to be recognised as a diesel from outside the car on idle, the new V6 2.5 TDI which will be fitted to A6s is almost as impressive as the V8 on the move. Producing 180bhp, the uprated unit ranks as one of the leading series-production engines for specific power output by developing 72bhp per litre. Like its bigger stablemate, it also complies with the Euro 3 exhaust emissions standard and takes less than nine seconds to reach the benchmark 62mph rate. Top speed is 138mph, and claimed economy of 35.3mpg allows the car to travel 540 miles on a tankful.

The A4's new 1.9-litre 115bhp engine has significantly more pull than the unit it replaces despite offering only 5bhp more. The reason is that peak torque of 210lb-ft comes in at 1,900rpm, a feature which provides even more mid-range flexibility than its class-leading VW Group predecessor. While overall noise seems to be the same as the 110bhp engine, the new unit promotes more relaxing driving with fewer gear changes - but it takes the car to 62mph in 10.5 seconds, has a 125mph all-out potential and 53.3mpg economy. According to Audi UK officials, prices of the revised A4 diesels will be similar to the present range. 'We're not able to comment about the new A6 diesels yet because we're still in negotiation with the factory,' said a spokesman.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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