Audi A4 saloon (2008 – ) expert review

By Stuart Milne, 30th November 2011

The verdict

The Audi A4 saloon's range of engines, spacious interior and strong used values make it a compelling choice, helping it compete against rivals the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C Class.

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Expert rating:

4.0

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. The 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. A raft of revisions in late 2011 include more pronounced lines, new bumpers and front and rear light units. 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. Audi 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 unlike BMW’s iDrive system, 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 are 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 A4 boasts a 480-litre boot, which is more than 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. The seats are both comfortable and supportive over long distances, and there’s more interior room than there’s been in previous Audi A4s, with enough room for five adults.
Our Rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

Audi has previously been criticised for not offering class leading ride and handling qualities, but the German car maker has taken care to ensure the same comments can’t be levelled against this model. For 2012, the A4 has an all-new steering system which is claimed to offer more feedback (though the difference is minimal) and tweaked suspension, which is cossetting on smooth European roads. The Audi A4 feels composed at speed, and rarely gets caught out by sharp bends or unforgiving road surfaces. The ride is also excellent, soaking up bumps with ease. Audi Drive Select is optionally available which tailors the drive to suit comfort, sport or eco driving enthusiasts. Purists might argue the BMW 3 Series is the better driver’s car when driving hard, but in all other aspects the Audi reveals itself as a very competent car. The S4 remains  extremely comfortable and refined if leaving enthusiastic drivers feeling a little detached from the driving experience. The forthcoming RS4 (albeit in estate body shape only) will be the car to take on the BMW M3.
Our Rating: 4

5. Performance

Three petrol engines and six diesel engines are offered. The petrol line-up starts with a 118bhp 1.8TFSI and a smooth but punchy 167bhp version of the same engine. The lower-power unit will accelerate to 62mph in 10.5 seconds and on to 129mph, while the 167bhp model power to 62mph in 8.1 seconds before reaching 143mph. The 2-litre TFSI petrol is available in two- and four-wheel drive delivers 210bhp for an impressive 6.5 second 0-62mph time and a 153mph maximum. A 3-litre supercharged engine will be available in 2012. Diesel choices are extensive, with the 2-litre options expected to be the most popular. They’re available with 134, 141, 160 and 174bhp which reach 62mph in between 9.3 and 8.2 seconds, with top speeds between 133 and 142mph. The 2-litres are so competent, they almost render the 3-litre diesels redundant for most buyers. They offer plenty of power though, with 201 or 241bhp making for 0-62mph times of 7.1 or 5.9 seconds respectively. The S4 is powered by a 333bhp supercharged 3-litre V6 engine which sounds superb when worked hard. It’ll reach 62mph in five seconds before hitting a limited 155mph.
Our Rating: 4

6. Running costs

The Audi A4 is a safe bet when it comes to holding their value on the used car market, thanks to demand from buyers. The diesels offer good fuel economy: the 134bhp 2-litre can return an average of 65.7mpg while emitting just 112g/km of CO2 and even the two-wheel drive 3-litre diesel can cover 57.6mpg. As expected, the petrols are less frugal, although they’re around 11 per cent more efficient than before. All models now feature stop and start systems to save fuel when stationary. For a premium saloon car, the Audi A4 is reasonably well priced, but the options list is long, tempting and expensive.
Our Rating: 4

7. Reliability

Audis have an excellent reputation for reliability, and the new A4 seems among the most solid the manufacturer has built. The Audi A4 is traditionally one of the most reliable cars of the past decade, according to the Reliability Index, which tracks the cost and frequency of breakdowns on cars over three years old.
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.
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 is the only German car in its class which doesn’t offer other road users any preconceptions. It’s a classless machine, and now has the ability to take the fight to the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C Class.
Our Rating: 4

Expert review 4.0stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling4
  • 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