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Efficient Teutonics. Image by Audi.

Efficient Teutonics
The Audi A4 does everything it's supposed to very competently, but excitement comes at a premium.


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| Week at the Wheel | Audi A4 2.0 TDI 120 saloon |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

The latest Audi A4 was evidently designed to give middle managers with kids the chance to drive something akin to the stunning A5 coupé, and from some angles it does exactly that. Problem is, few shapes are as colour dependent as this. In white, the automotive couleur du jour, the A4 is taut and aggressive, but it can look bland in the darker hues and on smaller wheels.

It doesn't use its space very well either, despite augmented proportions. Legroom in the back is shocking with a six-footer in the driving seat, which becomes even more perplexing when you open the boot and see that its floor space apparently occupies half the car's entire length. There's almost too much of it, so why couldn't Audi liberate extra cabin space instead? Maybe it's a design thing?

Elsewhere it's business as usual, a phrase which we use mostly pejoratively. This car arrived on the market some time after the current BMW 3 Series, but it's just not as good. There's nothing wrong with the A4, but you come away with the impression that Audi could have moved the game forward and missed an opportunity. Plus, some areas are a step backwards, like the wheelie bin-spec silver plastic surrounding the satnav screen - incongruous with the rest of the excellent cabin and really disappointing.

But we'll spare a sentence for Audi's praiseworthy, iDrive-trumping Multimedia Interface (MMI), which is intuitive and standard across the range. We'd get the optional Audi Music Interface (AMI) too - a must for iPod owners. Or most people, in other words.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

Thankfully the A4 is a good thing to drive. Very pleasing, in fact, even in mid-range SE form with the lowest-powered oil burner up front and a manual gearbox. The gearchange has a sharp, snappy action and while the diesel's never going to get you anywhere near neck-craning G-force numbers, it's smooth and strong enough. The 118bhp engine feels tardy if you gun for the horizon in it, but how often will you do that? Its natural home is on the motorway, which is probably where most of this version's buyers will spend most of their time, and it does a cracking job there.

The problem is, what exactly is the point of this engine? Compared to the 141bhp TDI it's £700 cheaper, only one insurance group lower, spits out just 5g/km more CO2 and will give you 2.1 miles more per gallon of fuel, but it's significantly slower in the mid-range. Hardly seems worth it, does it? There are three 2.0 TDI power outputs (118bhp, 141bhp and 168bhp); we could understand the need for this one if the middle option didn't exist, but it does. Buy that one instead.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

This A4 is further proof, if it were needed, that Audi is getting its act together on the handling front. It loses out to both the Mercedes C-Class and 3 Series by being front-wheel driven, though for nine-tenths of driving that doesn't make a jot of difference. Plus, a bit of gentle understeer through a corner is much easier to deal with than a dose of panic-inducing, throttle-on oversteer. The A4 handles with the kind of neutral poise that means even the most exaggerated yanks left or right on the wheel are met with a hint of scrabble at the front, before the ESP kicks in and tightens the line up. Even with the ESP switched off, it's difficult to really get the front tyres to misbehave. Mind, lack of power plays its part in this particular version.

The ride, too, is really well judged. It's firm enough that you can feel the front tyres doing their thing (and the back, for that matter), but it's cushioned enough to spare your spine the harsh realities of under-funded tarmac.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

Well, what do you think? Base models get 16-inch alloys, a single CD player, climate control and daytime running lights, which is ok for a £15k hatch these days, but for a £20k junior exec? You decide.

SE cars are probably as low as you want to go. They get a colour screen (so it looks like you've ordered a satnav even if you haven't) linked to the MMI dial. Again, it's most pleasing to use and dispenses with the need for lots of those very old-school of control interfaces, buttons. You'll also get some 17-inch rims, a very decent stereo with a subwoofer and MP3 compatibility, triple-zone climate control and all kinds of other pleasing stuff.

We went through economy earlier, so let's not do that again and head straight to value for money town - a town only few Audis ever venture into. But guess what? Get your snare drum out and start rolling, because it isn't that bad. Our car had about £5,500 worth of leather seats, satnav and other fripperies inside it, bringing the cost to £28,000. But you don't have to go that way, and even if you do you'll feel like you're getting what you paid for.

Overall: star star star star star

Tricky one, this. The thrill count of our particular car was close to zero, what with its un-engaging straight-line performance and that general feeling of being on the lower rungs of the junior executive ladder. Still, in the right colour, with an S line style pack and any of the more powerful engines, the A4 is a lovely car to have parked outside your house. The problem is, we'd still much rather have a 3 Series, especially now that BMW has updated it. Or a C-Class for that matter. It's not that the Audi is bad, it's just very above average, no more.

Mark Nichol - 12 Dec 2008

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2008 Audi A4 specifications: (2.0 TDI SE manual saloon)
Price: £22,675 on-the-road (€35,100 for equivalent in Ireland).
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Combined economy: 55.4mpg
Emissions: 134g/km
Kerb weight: 1465kg

Full technical specifications

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.

2008 Audi A4. Image by Audi.


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