But as the market continues to change, Audi has added a few tweaks for 2006. Customers can now specify their standard cars up to SE level at no extra cost, which means 17-inch wheels, an upgraded CD radio, cruise control, splashes of leather and electric windows in the back.
The major changes, though, are under the bonnet.
The 2.7-litre V6 diesel engine, as used in the larger A6 range, now finds a home under the A4’s bonnet and replaces the old 2.5 TDI, offering a 17bhp power upgrade to 180bhp.
In addition there is a new six-speed manual transmission and the suspension, steering and brakes have all been tweaked.
Our car had the six-speed manual unit, which straight away makes an impression. It’s extremely good – well weighted, precise, with a solid, short shift. This ’box is so good to use you could find yourself changing gear just for the sake of it.
The 2.7 TDI V6 is very competent with a smooth, continuous band of acceleration. It’s undramatic and never feels like it’s working particularly hard, which leads to a refined, quiet drive. But this is deceptive as the A4 builds speed very quickly.
However, that extra power means CO2 emissions of 185g/km and fuel economy of 40.1mpg – relatively high when compared with its rivals here.
But then you are getting a much bigger engine – 2.7 against 2.0. How drivers choose will depend on whether they prize performance or fuel economy most.
The interior is similarly refined. Audi’s reputation for build quality is perfectly safe on this evidence.
The new front seats are comfortable and now more adjustable than ever, leaving little excuse for a poor driving position.
To drive, everything is done well. It’s hard to find any faults, although the A4 is competent, rather than fun to drive.
The reason is hard to fathom – nothing is noticeably wrong, but the driving experience lacks a certain engagement that would make it stand out.
The A4 is a good-looking, well-built and now generously-specced machine. It does nothing wrong, but at the same time lacks the passion which would make it stand out on the move.
If you want an extremely confident car in which to eat up the miles, you could do far worse. Only its lack of character and comparative thirst for fuel let it down here.
P11D value: £25,062
CO2 emissions (g/km): 185
BIK % of P11D in 2006 27%
Graduated VED rate £160
Insurance group 15
Combined mpg 40.1
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £10,050/40%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £484
We don’t like
Three rivals to consider
AN evenly matched group of cars. The BMW is just the cheapest over the Lexus, although the IS offers more standard equipment. The A4 is a fraction over £25,000, although it offers a much bigger engine while the Mercedes-Benz is easily the most expensive.
Emissions and tax rates
WITH the lowest emissions and lowest P11D price, the BMW is the car of choice for a 40% taxpayer, costing £165 a month in company car tax. Next cheapest is the Lexus at £192 a month, while the Mercedes’ high cost means a bill of £198. The Audi will cost £225.
A WIN for the Lexus when it comes to servicing and repair. It is likely to cost £270 less than the BMW over three years. The Audi is only £30 more expensive than the 320d, while Mercedes is just under £100 behind that. The difference comes down to varying garage labour rates.
IS220d 3.50ppm £2,100 (60,000 mile total)
320d 3.95 £2,370
A4 4.00 £2,400
C220 4.16 £2,496
THE BMW is back on top – its less powerful engine drinks far less fuel than the others and returns a claimed 49.6mpg. The Lexus offers 44.8mpg, just ahead of the Mercedes with 44.1mpg. The Audi’s bigger capacity engine means it can’t compete, offering 40.1mpg.
320d 9.06ppm £5,436 (60,000 mile total)
IS220d 10.03 £6,018
C220 10.19 £6,114
A4 11.21 £6,726
ANOTHER win for the Lexus, which will lose more than £1,000 less than the second-placed BMW. CAP estimates the IS220d will retain 50% of its cost new after three years/60,000 miles. The BMW will retain 45% of its value, the Audi 40% and the Mercedes just 36%.
IS220d 20.79ppm £12,474 (60,000 mile total)
320d 22.64 £13,584
A4 25.02 £15,012
C220 27.52 £16,512
THE Lexus is the cheapest to run, costing £20,592 over 60,000 miles. The gap to the BMW is less than £1,000. The remaining cars cannot compete. The A4 is too thirsty and doesn’t have outstanding residuals, while the Mercedes costs too much to service and has a lower RV.
IS220d 34.32ppm £20,592 (60,00 mile total)
320d 35.65 £21,390
A4 40.23 £24,138
C220 41.87 £25,122
ON paper, the Lexus should win this. It’s more than a penny per mile cheaper to run than the second-placed BMW, but the driving experience lets it down – the shorter geared Sport model is a better bet. The Audi is off the pace on wholelife costs in this company while the BMW offers a much better driving experience despite giving away a small amount of power, and it also comes with a much cheaper company car tax bill.