All the petrol engines use turbochargers to boost power, including the entry-point 148bhp 1.4-litre. Despite its relatively small capacity it manages to feel pretty perky but does need to be revved hard to extract all its performance.
As a result if you’re after a petrol we’d stick to the 2.0-litre engines. The 187bhp version is brisk enough to keep up with its rivals, while the 249bhp engine that comes with Quattro four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox feels pretty rapid.
However, it’s the diesels that we think make the most sense with a better blend of pace and efficiency. The 148bhp 2.0-litre has decent low-end shove for around town, but can feel a little flat if you’re overtaking on faster roads. This is less an issue with the 187bhp engine, but we’d still pick the 215bhp 3.0-litre V6 engine as our pick of the range.
There’s so much shove at low revs that there’s rarely any need to push it, but on those rare occasions when you need maximum performance it delivers in spades. If you want more, try the 268bhp version of this engine, which has all the performance you can reasonably need.
Adding the Quattro 4WD improves the acceleration at low speeds because you can get the power down more easily – especially in slippery conditions. Specifying an automatic instead of a manual gearbox has no detrimental effect on performance - even improving it on some variants.
If you're after maximum performance, then the S4 will be of interest. This gains a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that is also turbocharged. With 349bhp it's certainly fast but will be costly to run. In the real world, it's not much quicker than the TDI 272, either.
Audi A4 Avant ride comfort
The Avant is available with no fewer than six different suspension set-ups: Comfort Dynamic; Sport; Adaptive Comfort; Adaptive Sport, ���S’ Sport and Adaptive ‘S’ Sport.
So how does that lengthy list relate to the various trims? Well, it’s a little convoluted, but we’ll try to break it down in as straightforward a fashion as possible.
Firstly, our favourite set-up is the passive Comfort Dynamic, standard on SE and Sport trims. Go for one of these and stick with the default 17in alloy wheels (larger diameter wheels tend to make the ride harsher), and you’ll have the best riding of all the A4s; as its name suggests, the comfort set-up puts comfort first and deals effectively with all manner of lumps and bumps, while controlling body movements over dips and crests extremely well.
Upper-level S line versions come with passive Sport suspension as standard. This is stiffer and lowered by 20mm, which further sharpens up the body control, but at the expense of extra bumpiness at low speeds. That penalty isn’t worthwhile in our opinion, so swap it for the Comfort Dynamic set-up we mentioned earlier, something Audi lets you do free of charge.
The popular and efficient Ultra models also come with passive Sport suspension, but because they employ that lower ride height for better aerodynamics, which contributes to their improved efficiency, unlike S line you can’t simply swap to the softer Comfort Dynamic option. However, you can pay a bit extra for the Adaptive Sport suspension. It’s still lower and stiffer, but being an adaptive means you can press a button to soften things off a little.
Both adaptive systems - Adaptive Comfort and Adaptive Sport - are available as options on SE, Sport and S line models. Don’t worry about that though: as discussed, the passive Comfort Dynamic system is so good you don’t need to spend the extra.
Finally, ‘S’ Sport is a bespoke set-up that’s only fitted to the high-performance S4 model. It’s noticeably stiffer, but as S4 buyers are looking for something racier, this is more acceptable. An optional variable system called Adaptive ‘S’ Sport suspension lets you flit between softer and harder modes to suit your mood.
Audi A4 Avant handling
As with ride quality, the A4 Avant’s various suspension options also create quite a variance in the way it handles.
Mind you, the A4 handles predictably and securely and grips the road exceptionally well. Versions equipped with Sports suspension feel the nimblest (see the Ride Comfort section for a run-down of the A4’s various suspension options), staying flattest through corners and changing direction eagerly. Despite a little added body lean mid-bend we’d stick with the Comfort Dynamic system that’s either standard or a no-cost option on SE, Sport and S line trims, because it offers the best ride and handling balance. Front-wheel-drive versions tend to struggle for traction out of slow corners when the road is wet, but four-wheel-drive models, which Audi brand quattro, are pretty much unflappable.
The S4 has its own unique ‘S’ Sport suspension set-up, although we’ve only tried it with the optional adaptive version. Even in its softest mode the S4 feels agile and stable, but if you can bear the jarring ride the firmer setting feels totally planted to the road.
You can also adjust the steering’s weight from the Dynamic Select switch in the cabin. Whatever setting you opt for you don’t get an awful lot of feel through the wheel, but the A4 Avant’s helm is quick and accurate, making it an easy car to place on the road. There’s lots of grip, especially on versions with bigger wheels, and the Quattro 4WD gives loads of traction on slippery surfaces.
We’d still say the BMW 3 Series Touring offers more fun behind the wheel, but the Audi is at least a match, if not better to drive, than its other rivals.
Audi A4 Avant refinement
All the petrol engines are smooth, but it’s the popular diesels that really stand out next to the competition for their relatively muted tone and lack of vibration through the cabin. The 148bhp is the best of the 2.0-litre engines and far quieter than the equivalent BMW or Mercedes, while the 3.0-litre TDI V6s are outstandingly refined, even when accelerating hard.
Cars fitted with manual gearboxes are easy to drive smoothly around town thanks to a slick gear change and positive clutch. The S Tronic dual-clutch automatic, which is optional on the 2.0-litre cars and standard on the 215bhp 3.0-litre TDI, changes smoothly through its seven gears, but lets itself down slightly with some hesitation and jerkiness in traffic. This isn’t a problem you’ll notice on the near-seamless Tiptronic auto fitted to the 268bhp 3.0-litre TDI, though.
Wind and road noise are also much better suppressed than the A4 Avant’s chief competition, especially if you add the optional acoustic glazing.
Delivers reasonable pace but needs to be revved hard to extract it; it is smooth though. Driven carefully gives decent economy, but you can only have it with a manual gearbox.
2.0 TFSI 190 petrol
Gives punchy performance delivered in a refined manner. This engine’s available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. For a petrol engine it delivers decent efficiency, too.
2.0 TFSI 252 petrol
Comes only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and Quattro all-wheel drive, which helps it put its power down effectively whether it’s wet or dry. Very quick but not the cheapest to run.
2.0 TDI 150
For a diesel it is very smooth and also efficient -– with CO2 emissions from
just 104g/km in frugal Ultra specification – making it excellent for business
users. It’s available with a manual or automatic gearbox, but can feel a little
underpowered when overtaking.
2.0 TDI 190
Depending on trim comes in either standard or higher-efficiency Ultra form, and also with an automatic gearbox option. In whatever set-up it’s efficient, offers good performance with lots of low-end shove, and it’s more refined than equivalent rivals’ engines. Also available with Quattro 4WD.
Our pick 3.0 V6 TDI 218
Our favourite engine in the range because it’s a V6 which makes it supremely refined, but it’s only slightly less efficient than the 2.0 TDI 190. It also offers excellent performance, thanks in part to the quick-shifting seven-speed automatic gearbox, and has the option of four-wheel drive.
3.0 V6 TDI 272
This version of the V6 comes in four-wheel-drive Quattro only to help get its impressive power down. Very smooth and refined, made even better by the extremely slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. More expensive to run than the other diesels, but still delivers respectable running cost.
Until a new RS4 arrives, this is the sportiest A4 Avant you can buy. With 349bhp from its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol it feels rapid from 1500rpm, but it’s the breadth of oomph in its mid-range that gives the S4 seemingly effortless pace. It sounds quite throaty, although rivals from BMW and Mercedes have arguably more characterful six-cylinder exhaust notes. Quattro four-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic gearbox are standard. It’s worth thinking about the 3.0 TDI 272 diesel as a similarly quick but cheaper-to-run alternative.