Fleet News

Audi A4

Audi

Review

##auda4.jpg --Right##AUDI'S bigger and better A4 model should be significantly cheaper to buy when it reaches British showrooms in the spring. Talks on pricing now under way between the German company and its UK subsidiary are expected to result in big reductions as part of the battle to wrest sales from Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Audi UK director Kevin Rose told Fleet News: 'We're looking to achieve price cuts of between 5% and 9%. We're working towards a price band that will start at under £17,000 and end at less than £25,000. Even though our packaging has improved and our lead-in model will be better equipped, we know we need to remain competitive - and it is vital we maintain our position against the C-class and the 3-series.'

The aggressive stance on pricing will underscore attempts to make business motorists more interested in the benefits of the brand's advanced technology. At present, 12% of the A4s sold in Britain are equipped with quattro four-wheel drive but this is to to 20% over the next 18 months.

Specification levels for UK cars are set to be generous, with an electronic stability programme and brake assist system, smart front airbags and a side head airbag system included as standard, along with automatic air conditioning.

When the range is launched in March, 3.0-litre petrol and 2.5-litre turbodiesel versions will come only as quattro models and four- wheel drive is expected to be optional on other models, which feature 2.0-litre petrol and 1.9-litre turbodiesel engines. By June, the A4 will be available with the current 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine and a baseline 1.6-litre version will arrive in September.

Each version takes a stronger challenge to the Mercedes-Benz C-class and the BMW 3-series, and I was impressed with the particularly rewarding 2.0-litre model, which combines sharp performance, a slick gearchange and faultless handling with remarkable poise.

It is also available with multitronic, Audi's clever adaptation of continuously variable transmission. Offering a choice of six fixed ratios or super-smooth progress that drives CVT to a new plateau of operating efficiency, multitronic also proves to be dynamic and just as brisk as the five-speed manual car.

Top performer in the range is the new 3.0-litre version, which sweeps to 62mph from standstill in 6.9 seconds and goes on to 152mph - but the surprise gem in the line-up for all-round capability is the 2.5-litre turbodiesel. While the 128bhp 1.9-litre TDI offers 15bhp more than its predecessor for even more lively and economic progress, the 177bhp of the latest V6 heavy-oil motor is a revelation.

Pouring out a massive 273lb-ft of torque from just 1,500rpm, it zips the car away in a commanding manner and has the benchmark 62mph rate flashing by in only 8.6 seconds. Subdued and refined even under hard acceleration, this superb high-performance unit is linked with a six-speed gearbox and lopes along motorways in near silence.

Longer, wider and taller than before, the A4 provides significantly better accommodation for passengers and luggage and the interior layout is an object lesson in fit, finish and detailing. It is a very impressive package.

Rose predicted a big change in the compact executive segment over the next three years as the premium brands bite more deeply into traditional company car territory.

'We have had a lot of help from the corporate sector with this car. Decision-makers saw it back in February at a workshop meeting and our subsequent individual talks with key representatives helped determine the model structure and specification levels,' he added.

'As a result of this dialogue, we have simplified the range and service requirements and we're confident the result will be a further strengthening of residual values. Our next move will be to place a full range of demonstrators with key fleet operators.

'My guess is the success of our new product will be achieved at the cost of mid-size market vehicles like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra.

'We are on course to sell 17,000 examples of the current A4 this year and I'm confident registrations of the new car will reach 23,000 in 2002,' said Rose.

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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