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Audi A4 saloon (2008 – ) expert review

By Stuart Milne & Andy Pringle, 31st July 2014

The verdict

The A4 is a stylish alternative to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, with a high-quality cabin and excellent engines, but it's showing its age in some crucial areas.

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Expert rating:

3.9

Pros

  • Excellent cabin
  • Five-star Euro NCAP rating
  • Refined and economical engines

Cons

  • Lengthy and expensive options list
  • Lacking in design flair
  • Less involving to drive than rivals

Full Review

1. Exterior

Rarely does such a conservative-looking car turn so many heads. That has a lot to do with the elegant LED strip light which runs through the headlights on higher-spec versions. This fourth generation Audi A4 certainly has more design flair than previous models, with sweeping lines along the sides which are a nod to its coupe brother, the Audi A5. The S4 performance saloon has subtle badging, unique grilles and vents, a rear spoiler and two sets of exhaust pipes hinting at the extra performance.
Our Rating: 4

2. Interior

The Audi A4’s cabin is one of the car’s high points: the company has created a space that’s elegant and sophisticated. The dash sweeps around the driver, and the raised centre console features a menu system surrounding the gearstick. The heart of this is a rotary dial, but as well as that, four shortcut buttons allow easy access to the various menus via a colour screen in easy sight of the driver, while a series of silver inserts add some extra spice to the look. A range of different steering wheels, interior colours and dash inserts is offered, and chrome edging around the dials and controls add an upmarket feel. S4 models have sporty dials, brushed aluminium dash inserts and more S4 badging.
Our Rating: 4

3. Practicality

Audi scores well when it comes to ease of use. The seats are both comfortable and supportive over long distances, and there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the front. The slope of the roofline does limit headroom a little in the back, but there’s still enough room for a couple of adults. The A4 boasts a 480-litre boot, which is identical to what you’ll find in the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C Class, and space can grow to almost 1,000 litres with the rear seats folded. The fact that the Audi A4 is a saloon – without the wide-opening tailgate afforded to big hatchbacks – limits ultimate practicality, but it’s still one of the better cars in its class.
Our Rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

Compared to its most major rivals, the Audi’s ride and handling are not class-leading, and this is the area in which it most obviously shows the age of its basic design. It doesn’t feel as crisp through the bends as the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class, the suspension isn’t as effective at ironing out bumps in the road, and the steering is short of feel. That said, the car feels composed at speed, and the optional Audi Drive Select system allows drivers to tailor the drive to suit their preferences: from comfort to sport and economy-focused driving. Well, in theory it does – in practice, we found little discernible difference between the modes. At the top of the range, the S4 too is a little disappointing, leaving enthusiastic drivers feeling a little detached from the driving experience.
Our Rating: 3

5. Performance

A wide range of petrol diesel engines is offered, and none of them struggles to shift the car. Even the most basic petrol unit revs keenly and gives decent performance, but the majority of buyers will prefer a diesel unit, and the good news is that even the economy-focused ‘ultra’ models demand no sacrifices. Like all of the A4’s diesel engines, the ultra engine pulls well from low revs, making it undemanding to drive in traffic, while the 2.0 TDI 177 is so strong that it makes the 3.0-litre unit seem a needless expense. At the top of the range, the S4 has suitably blistering performance that – on paper at least – makes it a rival for the BMW M3.
Our Rating: 4

6. Running costs

For a premium saloon car, the Audi A4 is reasonably well priced, but be warned: the options list is long, tempting and expensive. On the other hand, strong demand and the relatively limited number of cars available keeps second-hand values strong – and whole-life costs down as a result. Fuel economy, too, is impressive and, with the exception of the V6, all the petrol engines average between 40 and 50mpg. As you would expect, though, the best fuel economy comes from the diesel units – with the ultra models particularly appealing to company car users thanks to their 109g/km CO2 emissions and consequently low tax liability. The one word of caution to anyone considering a quattro model is to make sure you really need four-wheel drive, as choosing it will not only add to the car’s purchase price, it will also add to your running costs, as it has quite a major detrimental effect on the car’s fuel economy.
Our Rating: 4

7. Reliability

Audis have an excellent reputation for reliability, and the A4 scores high ratings for reliability from owners on our website. The only fly in the ointment is – as figures from Warranty Direct show – that, when things go wrong, they can be quite costly to fix.
Our Rating: 4

8. Safety

The Audi A4 achieved a full five star rating in the Euro NCAP crash test programme. It counts daytime running lights, ESP, front and front side airbags among its standard equipment. Higher-spec models gain items such as automatic headlights and wipers and bright xenon headlamps, but you’ll need to venture to the options list to specify items such as Audi’s Lane Assist and Side Assist systems.
Our Rating: 4

9. Equipment

Entry-level SE models are well equipped for a car of this type, featuring 17-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, electrically powered bootlid, Bluetooth connectivity, 6.5-inch infotainment screen with CD, AUX-IN and USB compatibility, cruise control and automatic headlights and wipers. SE Technik models add leather upholstery, sat-nav, park sensors and an upgraded music interface. Sport S line models also feature 18-inch alloys, lowered sports suspension, xenon headlights, S line sports styling inside and out and a multi-function trip computer. The Black Edition comes with 19-inch alloy wheels from the RS 3 hot hatch, bespoke bodystyling, a Bang & Olufsen stereo and a digital radio.
Our Rating: 4

10. Why buy?

The Audi A4 will tempt buyers with its mix of stylish looks, high-quality interior and easy-driving, high-economy engines.
Our Rating: 4

Expert review 3.9stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling3
  • Performance4
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:
A4 1.8 TFSI 120
This  is the cheapest A4 to run and tax
Best-seller:
A4 2.0 TDI
Superb diesel engine gives great power and economy
Blow the budget:
A4 3.0 V6 S4
Wonderful V6 and full S kit make this A4 a great choice

Rarely does such a conservative-looking car turn so many heads