The current Audi A4 is certainly a good looking car with a sharp but classy exterior and an even stronger interior. But is the A4’s bite as big as its bark? A day’s worth of solid test driving should do the job.
First impressions were not brilliant it is sad to report. The car that I was driving was equipped with Audi’s ‘Intelligent key’. To bring the engine to life you first have to insert the ‘key’ (I use that term loosely) then drop the clutch, put your foot on the brake and then push the key again. Whilst it is something you get used to it is a far cry from the simple system in this car’s main rival, the BMW 320d which uses a start/stop button.
It must be said that the drive was a lot stronger than the start. The 2.0 litre engine was strong if not a little rattly at times and certainly pulled very well. Whilst perhaps not as responsive as the BMW equivalent, it had a good amount of torque in the mid range with a smooth 6 spd gear box to boot. The general ride was precise and responsive without being too choppy.
The car being driven in this test was the Quattro edition, featuring Audi’s 4 wheel drive system. It has very good performance in the wet but does lag a little off the line in the dry. A rear wheel drive car will out-perform it in the right conditions. The grip it gives however is excellent. In corners it allows you to get the power down as early as possible, although be too enthusiastic and it will respond with a little bit of programmed understeer which is just the ESP kicking in.
The 4 wheel drive and the addition of electrically assisted power steering leads to the driver being some-what separated from the drive. The steering, which is designed to be lighter at low speeds and pick up weight as you go, does not feel as informative as that in the 3 Series, which is a more traditional power-steering system.
The equipment on the Audi A4 is truly where it shines. The dash is very well set and simple to use with the central control system very easy to navigate.
The Navigation system left a little to be desired. The computer interrupts before you are able to enter the full postcode meaning if you are going to a destination without a house number it is quite tricky and long winded. The display is, however, very good with extra information being displayed on the trip computer screen meaning that it is always in sight.
The switches certainly had an air of quality about them: one area where Audi are so good at interiors. The cabin all round was a very pleasant place to sit with a good driving position with plenty of adjustment. Dual-zone climate control meant that long drives were comfortable and with the well powered stereo on in the background, you can just eat up the miles.
Rear leg room is comfortable but nothing remarkable. The boot is excellent and is a class leader, bigger than both the equivalent BMW and Mercedes.
The Audi A4 2.0 TDI was a solid performer. A decent ride, accompanied by a strong engine and excellent grip leads to a comfortable and enjoyable drive.
Technical niggles such as the starting system and the sat-nav are easily forgotten and the quality and appearance of the cabin is almost second to none.
Slightly vague steering however does mean you feel a little removed from the action, even if it is a lot easier when driving in town.
The BMW 320d is a more rewarding drive than the Audi, and when behind the wheel something about the car feels a bit more special. The Audi however appears to be the practical choice. With good fuel economy, a big boot and an easy ride it is certainly a strong competitor for the long reigning 3 series.