For a first-line family car, many men will be tempted by the fifth generation Audi A4, with its business-like good looks, tweaked chassis and more efficient engines. But will the lady of the house be equally pleased with his choice? June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
My other half has been driving an Audi A4 saloon as a company car for about five years now and is delighted with it. He's been dying to try the latest model but to his dismay, he was at work when I brought one home. To my surprise, I loved it. I found the old A4 impressive but slightly anonymous and not that memorable to drive. The handling in particular has never been as involving as I've experienced with some rivals. Once on the motorway, to be fair, the car has been great, simply eating up the motorway miles. The MK5 model A4 is different altogether, as far as I'm concerned. It's still great on the motorway but it's also a car I've found myself really enjoying on some of my favourite B roads. On top of that, the revised chassis is responsive and the car could turn on a sixpence. It has the same spacious boot as the old model, I'm glad to say, but the interior has been given a welcome facelift. The cool white 2.0-litre turbo diesel-engined car I was driving had a tasteful aluminium interior trim, lightening the unimaginative black of my partner's old A4. If, like me, you don't choose the family's 'main' car, you probably get to drive it only once in a blue moon. This means, of course, that you never get to know it and love it the way he does. If my partner brought home this A4, I'm sure I would be finding excuses to borrow it - and often.
The A4 with its classy new lines - what the marketing men called "sexy, younger and fresh" - is gorgeous. It still looks like an Audi, of course, so our menfolk will lose nothing in status, dare I say. It will double up as a business and family car, and is, therefore, in my view eminently practical. It's roomy, too, with plenty of space in the back and a big 480-litre boot. Personally, I've never found fault with the roominess of the A4 and this one is equally comfortable, with plenty of space for three adults in the back. The boot is capacious, but as in any saloon, it can be awkward to load because of the long, low shape of it. I can live with that, as in our house, loading the boot is the man's preserve! Anyway, there's also an Avant estate version if you want it.
Behind the Wheel
The brochures tell me the latest lighter MK5 model A4 is "faster, more frugal and better specified" and I wouldn't disagree. All the 'luxury' extras were in evidence in the 2.0 litre TDI 190PS S line model I tried, including a clever Audi smartphone interface that allowed me to use the Apple Car Play system that mirrors the working of your smartphone onto the central dash MMI infotainment screen. I felt very comfortable behind the wheel. It helped a lot that the driving position is further improved. Where the A4 knocks the BMW into next week is in interior design and perception of quality. Put simply, the A4 has moved the game on a good few notches. The old A4 was held as the class best in terms of build integrity and ergonomics but some felt that from a design perspective, the acres of black plastics were starting to look a little too nineties. The latest model rectifies this, taking many of the design cues from the A8, including more imaginative use of contrasting coloured trims, metal brightwork and electronic functionality. I'd certainly say that the latest model rides a good deal more fluently than before with less constant pitter-patter from the road surface transmitting itself into the cabin. However, it still suffers from some bump and thump over larger irregularities and driven back to back with a BMW 3 Series, it has to be said that the latest A4 still doesn't match its Bavarian rival when it comes to ultimately rewarding handling. In terms of refinement and comfort though, I'd say the Audi is ahead, especially if you opt for one of the optional adaptive suspension systems that allow you to set the ride up to suit the road you're on.
Value For Money
As you'd expect, this A4 is priced closely against its three key rivals, the BMW 3 Series, the Mercedes C-Class and the Jaguar XE, which means asking figures broadly focused in the £25,000 to £40,000 bracket. There's a £1,400 premium to go from this saloon bodystyle to the more versatile Avant estate and on virtually all derivatives, there's the option of finding just over £1,500 more to specify seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission in preference to the usual six-speed manual gearbox. If you're looking at a petrol model, I'd recommend you seriously consider finding the £1,800 premium necessary to progress from the entry-level 150PS 1.4-litre TFSI variant to a 190PS 2.0 TFSI derivative that gives you much more pulling power but almost identical levels of efficiency. If you're happy with this 2.0-litre unit and want it mated to S tronic auto transmission, you could also opt to pay the substantial premium of just over £5,000 that's necessary to get it with a heftier 252PS power output and quattro 4WD. Most A4 buyers though, are going to want a diesel like the one I tried. There's a premium of over £3,000 to get 150PS in your A4 with diesel rather than petrol power, but if you do go for the '2.0 TDI 150PS ultra' variant that most buyers choose, you'll get more than 30% more pulling power and fuel consumption that's nearly 50% better. The attraction's obvious.
Could I Live With One?
If he's happy, I'm happy and I'm in no doubt that my other half would not hesitate to bring home the latest Audi A4. For once, I wouldn't be moaning on about it being anonymous and boring to drive. As long as he doesn't get into the notion of replacing everything in his life with "sexy, younger, fresher" models, I'll be happy, too.