Fleet News

Audi A4

Audi

Review

GENERALLY, if a car gets a radical and far-reaching mid-life facelift you can be pretty sure that there was something fundamentally wrong with it from the outset, and the changes are an attempt to right a few wrongs.

So what’s wrong with the Audi A4? Four years after it was launched, it’s received a makeover of Llewellyn-Bowen proportions, with a completely new look, new suspension, steering and engines. Looking at the sales figures and residuals though, the now defunct A4 was doing well.

It was playing a key role in Audi UK’s successful climb up the corporate ladder, selling about 27,000 units this year, which is 35% of the firm’s total sales. Residual values were also tracking its competitors very closely.

So what is wrong with it? The answer to that actually lies in the question of what’s wrong with the BMW 3-series. The 3-series is performing strongly even as it draws its last breath and the new version, out early next year, promises even more sublime handling and quality engines.

And from the pictures, it appears to be the first BMW for a few years that doesn’t have weirdness as standard in the way it looks.

So the A4 is a pre-emptive strike designed to raise the bar in the corporate motoring sector, and from the outside, it appears to have done just that.

The big Audi grille is the most obvious change but all the body panels bar the roof have been revised, and it has new lights back and front and sharper creases all round. It means the A4 has lost some of the attraction it had as a less showy alternative to BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but it reflects the increasing confidence of the brand and its desire to get in the faces of the other premium manufacturers.

Whether this strategy, which drops the understated approach that has been Audi’s strength, will work long term remains to be seen but it seems to suit the showy, label-conscious mood of the moment.

Not a great deal has changed inside, although it gets the new steering wheel design of the A6 and there are a number of new leather and cloth options for the seats.

Everything is up to the usual Audi interior standards, and there hasn’t really been any opportunity to improve that in the car. The same goes for interior space. It’s still as cramped as ever. The engine range is now formidably wide, with a power unit to suit virtually every taste and circumstance, from a weedy, wheezy 1.6-litre petrol up to the 4.2-litre bombshell in the S4. But it’s in the middle of the range, the company car arena, where the headlines are.

The 2.4-litre V6 is no more, replaced by the choice between a 161bhp 1.8-litre turbocharged unit and a new 197bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI, which is probably the best of the petrol bunch, as it has better CO2 and fuel consumption than the smaller turbocharged engine. The 251bhp 3.2 FSI V6 is also new for this revised car.

With the diesels, all are now Euro IV compliant, from the 1.9 TDI to the big 3.0 TDI motor, which at 201bhp is a slightly less powerful version of the engine in both the A6 and A8.

The 2.0 TDI, another first time engine in this car, combines the best of performance and economy though, and is only marginally less efficient than the 1.9, but has much better performance.

So now there’s an engine for every occasion, Audi has made some major revisions to the suspension and steering to match.

The A4 has never been as good to drive as the 3-series, so a combination of new parts have been introduced with the aim of bringing it closer to the class leader. It is also now stronger than the 3-series for projected residual values by a couple of percentage points, but the BMW is in its last months, and it seems extremely likely that the new model will assume class-leading values when it is launched.

Behind the wheel

The numerous revisions to the A4’s steering and suspension make themselves immediately apparent as soon as you turn the wheel. Gone is the light, over-assisted nature to be replaced by a much heavier turn.

This makes quite a difference on the move, where the steering now seems to have a mechanical connection to the front wheels. It is also more direct and the A4 snaps into turns. There’s a lot less understeer in corners than there used to be. With cars fitted with quattro, the A4 has extremely high levels of grip.

But it’s not just the uncommunicative, hold-on-and-hope grip that many Audis previously have had. You can really feel what is going on at each corner of the car and once you get used to turning in very hard and getting on the power early, it is tremendous fun. The ride also appears to have improved a little, particularly on the larger wheels, where the old car would hit ruts with the subtlety of an angry bouncer.

The newly developed 3.0-litre TDI is quiet, smooth, and barrels the car along and is probably the best engine in the range, if a driver has the budget to run it as prices don’t start until nearly £27,000, but the new 2.0 T FSI runs it close, especially as it can be had for a more respectable £22,000.

It makes a hard, racy sound and delivers some strong performance once the turbo kicks in. Maximum torque of 207lb-ft is available from 1,800rpm up to 5,000rpm so there is always plenty of acceleration available at most speeds.

Driving verdict

The new A4 is a vast improvement over the already good old-ish one and for the moment, is the best range of vehicles in the premium upper-medium sector, with strong engines, a great look and solid residuals. The competition will really heat up in the spring when the new 3-series appears.

Audi A4 fact file (new engines)

Model: A4 2.0T FSI 2.0TDI 3.0 TDI V6 Quattro
Engine (cc): 1,984 3,123 1,968 2,967
Max power (bhp/rpm): 197/5,100 251/6,500 138/4,000 201/3,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 207/1,800 243/3,250 236/1,750 332/1,400
Max speed saloon (mph): 150 CVT: 146 /Q* Tip: 145 132 146
Max speed Avant (mph): 146 CVT: 152/Q*: 150 127 144
0-62mph saloon (sec): 7.3 CVT: 6.8/Q*: 6.4 9.7 7.2
0-62mph Avant (sec): 7.6 CVT: 7.0/Q*: 6.6 9.9 7.4
Fuel consumption saloon (mpg): 36.7 CVT: 30.1/Q*: 26.7 49.6 37.7
Fuel consumption Avant (mpg): 36.2/Q*: 32.1 CVT: 30.1/Q*: 26.4 48.7 37.7
CO2 emissions saloon (g/km): 185/Q*: 211 CVT: 226/Q*: 259 153 203
CO2 emissions Avant (g/km): 178/Q*: 211 CVT: 226/Q*: 257 153 203
On sale: January 2005
Prices (estimated): £18,750-£39,000
* Q = Quattro

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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