Audi A4

Po­tent V6 diesel sa­loon says good­bye

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK - STEVE HUNT­ING­FORD

Along-term test is al­ways a great op­por­tu­nity to re­ally get to know a car, but just as im­por­tant with the Audi A4 I’ve been run­ning for the past eight months, it was a chance to see if six-cylin­der en­gines have a fu­ture in main­stream mod­els.

It wasn’t so long ago that these en­gines ac­counted for a size­able share of ex­ec­u­tive sa­loon sales, whereas to­day most have been swept from the road by a torrent of tax-friendly 2.0-litre four-pots. Our 3.0-litre V6 diesel A4, com­plete with its of­fi­cial com­bined fuel econ­omy fig­ure of 67.3mpg, seemed to have been en­gi­neered specif­i­cally to re­verse this trend.

Putting things into per­spec­tive was the fact the car ar­rived im­me­di­ately after we’d spent six months with the 2.0-litre diesel model that the ma­jor­ity of cus­tomers opt for.

Given that the 3.0-litre pro­duces an ex­tra 28bhp and de­vel­ops its max­i­mum torque lower in the rev range, it’s not ex­actly sur­pris­ing that it feels more lively than the 2.0-litre. How­ever, the 2.0 is still a strong performer, so it’s ac­tu­ally the su­pe­rior re­fine­ment of the 3.0 that re­ally sets it apart. You barely hear a whis­per from it, even when ac­cel­er­at­ing hard, and al­most no vi­bra­tion reaches the cabin.

Don’t think that you pay heav­ily at the pumps for this smooth­ness and calm, ei­ther. We av­er­aged 42.9mpg dur­ing our time with the 3.0-litre A4, com­pared with 44.8mpg for the 2.0-litre, and on long mo­tor­way runs, both would top 55mpg.

Add in the fact that you’ll have to find just £1720 more for the big­ger en­gine if you’re buy­ing pri­vately – or £24 a month ex­tra in com­pany car tax – and it’s cer­tainly the one that I’d choose.

Ride com­fort is an­other A4 strength and ex­pe­ri­ence of other ex­am­ples has shown that this re­mains the case even on larger wheels and with­out the Adap­tive Com­fort sus­pen­sion (a £900 op­tion) fit­ted to our car.

What’s more, only the BMW 3 Se­ries has an in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem that’s as in­tu­itive and easy to use on the move. And even that is sec­ond best if you spec­ify the A4 with the op­tional Vir­tual Cock­pit (£450), which re­places the tra­di­tional in­stru­ments with a screen that can be con­fig­ured to show a range of in­for­ma­tion di­rectly in front of you.

The ma­te­ri­als in the A4 also impress – it feels ex­tremely plush from car­pet level up­wards – and the crisp on-screen graph­ics and beau­ti­fully damped switchgear con­trib­ute to the sense that no ex­pense has been spared.

It’s ac­tu­ally the su­pe­rior re­fine­ment of the 3.0 that re­ally sets it apart from the 2.0

How­ever, the build qual­ity on our car wasn’t be­yond re­proach. After less than three months, its gear­lever gaiter had come loose, re­veal­ing the me­chan­i­cals be­neath. Al­though you could click it back into place, it quickly worked free again.

Of course, this was far from the end of the world and is the sort of thing that could eas­ily be fixed at a first ser­vice. But it was a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing, given Audi’s rep­u­ta­tion for qual­ity and the gen­eral ro­bust­ness on dis­play elsewhere.

Most of the time, I can get by with a two-seater, but at about the time the gear­lever was first do­ing its striptease, prac­ti­cal­ity sud­denly be­came a con­cern be­cause my in-laws de­cided to fly in from Ja­pan for the Good­wood Re­vival. For­tu­nately, Audi has built one of the big­ger com­pact ex­ecs, so they had plenty of room in the back to stretch out.

The only is­sue was that the boot wasn’t quite wide enough for their ki­mono bag, but we were able to run it down the spine of the car, thanks to the 40/20/40 split rear seats – a fea­ture Audi fits as stan­dard when most ri­vals charge ex­tra.

The car’s next big test came with the ar­rival of win­ter. I’ve never been a huge fan of four-wheel drive in any­thing other than big SUVS, pre­fer­ring the ex­tra fun that comes with rear-wheel drive or the lower run­ning costs of front-wheel drive. But 215bhp is quite a lot to send to the front end of any car with­out a clever dif­fer­en­tial to help it trans­fer its power to the road.

Sure enough, it did be­come quite easy to spin the wheels when pulling away, but the pe­riod dur­ing which this was a prob­lem was so short that I’d still ar­gue qu­at­tro is some­thing you can do with­out un­less you live in a place where it of­ten snows.

What I would change about our car’s spec if I could is the dual-clutch S tronic gear­box. This might shift smoothly at higher speeds, but it can be a bit jerky and hes­i­tant in town, which is a real pain at busy junc­tions. Ei­ther a man­ual or a con­ven­tional auto ’box would be prefer­able, but nei­ther is avail­able.

Re­turn­ing to the orig­i­nal ques­tion, I’d have to say that Audi has shown six-cylin­der en­gines def­i­nitely de­serve a main­stream fu­ture, but the con­tin­ued sales dom­i­nance of four­pots – even in the A4 – mean that it’s un­likely we’ll see ri­val pre­mium brands rush­ing to in­tro­duce their own su­per-fru­gal (and smooth) sixes.

Even with­out such en­gines, the 3 Se­ries, Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Gi­u­lia are all bet­ter choices if you value sharp han­dling and an en­ter­tain­ing drive. How­ever, if com­fort, re­fine­ment and a first-rate in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem are your top pri­or­i­ties, I’d ar­gue that this A4 is the best car of its kind.

Progress is quiet and, with 295lb ft at just 1250rpm, ef­fort­less

Com­fort is a higher pri­or­ity than driver re­ward in the A4

Hunt­ing­ford says a fru­gal six-cylin­der diesel has its place

Ar­rival of in-laws from Ja­pan tested the A4’s prac­ti­cal­ity; it passed

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