Benchmark saloon has raised the bar
THERE are some cars which have become a benchmark in their particular sector – the Fiesta, Golf and Range Rover for example.
The same can be said for this week’s test car – the 2016 Audi A4 – as for over two decades the A4 has been the benchmark compact executive saloon.
Looking back over those 21 years the basic shape of the A4 has not changed radically, even though this is the ‘Mk Five’. Put a 1995 car alongside this latest version and the two are clearly related.
I remember when the A4 replaced the Audi 80 and it seemed a quantum leap forward in terms of design – so much so that the basic overall shape pretty much survives to this day.
Another reason for that benchmark tag is the sheer longevity of the model – 20-year-old cars are still a common sight on our roads and tales of well-serviced motors with 200,000miles plus on the clock and still going strong are not uncommon. Also one in every five Audis sold is an A4, so the latest version has a lot to live up to.
It may not look too dissimilar to the previous version, but the fifth generation A4 has had a radical overhaul. Audi say 90 per cent of the components are new.
It is also more fuel efficient and our test car – the best-selling 2.0TDi ultra SE 150 – is the most economical (83mpg on a run, 63 around town and 74 combined) and has a basic price of £28,465 - which is very competitive. In addition, our car had the no-cost option larger fuel tank meaning a range of over 600 miles.
Unveiled last summer, the first cars are now appearing on our roads and, thanks to that ‘evolution not revolution’ approach to design, they don’t jump out at you as an all-new model.
But the 2016 cars are lighter (up to 120kg) thanks increased use of aluminium in the bodyshell and suspension. The new A4 is also longer and wider and Audi have used that extra space for those in the back with a more roomy cabin.
There are three trim levels - SE, Sport and S-line. All models get plenty of equipment with 17-inch alloys, xenon headlights, three-zone climate control and a 7in infotainment colour screen as standard. There is also an Avant estate version.
There are three TFSI and four TDI engines delivering maximum power of between 148 bhp and 268. Compared with the previous model, fuel consumption has been reduced by up to 21 percent, while power output has increased by up to 25pc.
The two 2.0 TDI engines are available as ultra versions – the most efficient with modifications to the transmission ratios, bodywork and suspension as well as the use of tires with optimized roll resistance to reduce fuel consumption even further. Our 2.0 Ultra diesel, despite being the least powerful, can still hit 62mph in 8.6 seconds and go on to a top speed of 136mph.
Six-speed manual is standard, with the option of a eight- gear S-tronic, including a freewheel coasting option to save fuel by disengaging the drive. Front-wheel drive is the baseline, but Quattro is available on many models.
The driving experience is definitely improved over the previous car and there are five driving modes efficiency, auto, comfort, dynamic and individual, where you can set the car up as you prefer. After a while in ‘dynamic’ I found myself wafting along in ‘comfort’ mode, enjoying the new electronic power steering, superb driving position and surprisingly quiet diesel engine.
Nice touches include puddle lights in all 4 doors and ambient interior lighting.
The A4 range starts with the 1.4SE TFSI 6-speed manual (148bhp) at £25,900 and goes up to the Avant 3.0 V6 TDI Quattro 8-speed tiptronic (268bhp) at £40,350. Our 2.0 TDi FWD Ultra is £28,465 but had a number of extras (including special LED exterior and interior lighting packs, parking plus and ‘acoustic’ front side window glass) which pushed the final on-the-road price to £33,565.
It also had winter tyres (£1,596) which, despite a lack of snow at the moment, are a really good idea. I recently returned from a ski trip to Switzerland and was amazed at how our standard 2WD VW Passat taxi coped with the resort’s very steep, snow and ice covered roads with ease thanks to being fitted with the right rubber!
First UK deliveries of the best-selling Audi Avant are also now under way priced from £27,300 on the road.
●● The new Audi A4 2016 model