+ Premium image and quality to match
+ Economical over long distances
+ Quite a refined car
- Premium prices
- S line suspension is firm
- Not exactly fun to drive
Verdict: While it’s not exciting in the pure driving sense, the Audi A4 hits all the right notes when it comes to comfort and refinement. It carries that premium image well, without being brash, and a wide range of engines gives buyers lots of scope to find a version that suits their needs.
The Audi A4 as we know it has been around for more than a quarter of a century now. Even longer if you count the Audi 80 and throughout successive generations it’s barely put a foot wrong, in design terms at least. The A4 faces some stiff competition, namely from the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In more recent times, others like the Lexus IS and Jaguar XE have taken aim at the executive saloon from Ingolstadt.
Sporty driving isn’t something the Audi A4 is best at, even if you opt for one of the more powerful engine options. The overall setup is one of comfort and also safe handling, hence the popularity of Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive.
The light steering is one aspect of the A4 that initially drew criticism from keener drivers — and Audi did rectify this with the 2019 midlife update — but there are plenty who will appreciate the ease at which the Audi drives, especially over longer distances. Its offering of diesel engines galvanised its popularity with company car drivers. Audi even pushed the engineering boat out with a more efficient A4 Ultra model that sipped fuel more gently and had CO2 emissions of 99g/km.
The 2.0-litre TDI is a competent engine and is one of the most common in the used market. In its 187bhp guise, this engine is one of the sweet spots of the A4 range, and the automatic transmission makes for an easy life. Mild hybrid electrification came after the 2019 update, but you won’t find any plug-in hybrid or electric models, just some confusing engine designations such as a 40 TDI few still fully comprehend.
A well-appointed cabin suitably demonstrates Audi’s expertise at crafting excellent interiors, and even though the A4 isn’t that high up the model range, it exudes quality. Aside from the lashings of leather upholstery and brushed metallic surfaces spanning the dashboard, there’s Audi’s intuitive infotainment system that was operated by a pleasingly high-quality rotary controller until the facelift version.
Newer models gained a crisp-looking touchscreen flanked by Audi’s Virtual Cockpit — a 12.3-inch display replacing traditional analogue instrument dials. A colour head-up display is also available on higher-spec Vorsprung models. Aside from the gadgets, you get plenty of space inside, and there are comfortable levels of head and legroom for two adults in the rear. The middle pew is slightly constrained due to the car’s floor design.
Earlier versions utilised Audi’s excellent rotary controller to navigate around the infotainment system. With the 2019 model facelift, the system received a 10.1-inch touchscreen display as standard, making the rotary controller redundant. A new storage bin fills this space, and in front of that are the two cupholders.
Audi also made its ‘Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument display standard as part of the 2019 upgrade. The configurable display looks great and complements the modern style of the A4. Choose the Vorsprung specification and you’ll also get a colour head-up display.
Just like the larger saloons in Audi’s lineup, the interior of the A4 has a high-quality look and feel. The driving position is good, with plenty of comfort and reasonable degrees of adjustability, so finding the correct driving position isn’t difficult.
The rear seats aren’t shy about providing space for occupants. There is an increase in overall length with this generation of A4, which passengers can feel in the rear. There’s ample legroom and sufficient levels of headroom too. As Audi does offer an all-wheel-drive A4, there is a noticeable transmission tunnel that eats into foot space for whoever is sat in the middle seat, but this is no worse than what you’ll also find in the BMW 3 Series.
If you needed proof of just how close the competition is between the Audi A4 and its chief rivals, the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, you need only to open the boot. The Audi has a capacity of 480 litres, exactly matching that of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, so there’s nothing to separate them in that respect. There are 20/40/20 split-folding rear seats in the Audi too. These don’t fold completely flat but do boost cargo capacity to 965 litres.
Audi has never been shy in offering engines with the A4, so there is a wide choice of options available. The range started with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder TFSI petrol that produced a modest 148bhp. A larger capacity 2.0-litre TFSI petrol came in two versions with a bit more punch, starting with 187bhp followed by a 249bhp output. The latter came exclusively with a seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox and quattro all-wheel drive.
However, the diesel lineup was more popular in the A4 range as many were used by company car drivers. A 2.0-litre TDI tends to be the most common and the 148bhp model was a pretty polished performer, nicely balancing performance and frugality. Audi also produced a front-wheel-drive eco-version. It was badged as the Ultra, with a slightly lower top speed and an impressive claimed consumption of 74.3mpg, just as relevant was its 99g/km emissions level.
There were, of course, more powerful diesel engines such as the 187bhp 2.0 TDI that could hit 149mph and had decent performance to make motorway miles a cinch. But it’s the 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel that transforms the A4 into a car that’s every bit the smaller A6. This duo of diesel motors started at 215bhp, but it’s the brawnier 268bhp that is the one to have (if your budget permits). These engines were prone to experiencing excessive vibrations at low speeds, so check this out during a test drive to ensure it isn’t a problem.
Things did get a little more confusing following the mid-life facelift as Audi switched to a new naming system for its engines, with the 148bhp becoming the 35 TFSI while the 2.0-litre engines became known as the 40 TFSI and 45 TFSI.
On the diesel side, Audi updated the engine lineup with the 134bhp 35 TDI and a 161bhp 35 TDI. During this refresh, Audi also introduced mild-hybrid tech that helped further reduce fuel consumption; although it only brings marginal savings, it improves the overall refinement. This featured on sportier S4 models that controversially used diesel power in the UK, whereas other markets got petrol engines. The 3.0-litre V6 has a stonking 700Nm of torque and could slingshot the Audi from 0-62mph in under five seconds.
If you’re looking for an engaging drive that will give thrills behind the wheel, you may want to look elsewhere. The Audi A4 is the least sporty of the German trio, with the BMW 3 Series delivering the best drive, while the C-Class also puts in a good account of itself. The A4 is more at home when it’s cruising over long distances, which is why it is popular with the company car driver.
When Audi set about creating this generation of A4, it was keen to replicate the quality of its larger saloon models, the A6 and A8. To a large extent its engineers did an excellent job. This is the more refined car among its peers in terms of both comfort and its hushed cabin. If they’re the type of qualities you look for in a car, then the A4 will seem most agreeable to you.
The Audi will leave some wanting more when you start driving it with a bit more verve. The assisted steering is light to the touch but ultimately lacks a real sense of feel or feedback, which isn’t an issue in a BMW 3 Series. Audi did address this with the 2019 facelift, adding an improved setup.
Comfort from the suspension is decent, and it maintains plenty of composure through a series of bends. One word of warning is that, as with other Audi models, the sportier S line specification does bring a stiffer suspension setup due to the car being lower by 23mm. This setup is always a bit of a trade-off as the A4 does look better in that guise, but it comes to the detriment of overall comfort.
Few others in this segment can match the effortless cruising ability of the Audi A4, and its refinement over longer distances is by far one of its strongest points.