Audi A4 saloon performance
All the petrol engines use turbochargers to boost power, including the entry-point 148bhp 1.4-litre unit. Despite its relatively small capacity, it manages to feel pretty perky, but it does need to be revved hard to extract all of its performance.
As a result, if you’re after a petrol, we’d stick with the 2.0-litre engines. The 187bhp version is brisk enough to keep up with its rivals, while the 249bhp unit 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, offering a better blend of pace and efficiency. The 148bhp 2.0-litre unit 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 2.0-litre engine, making it our pick.
We'd be tempted by the 215bhp V6 diesel, because there’s so much shove at low revs that there’s rarely any need to push it. 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 four-wheel drive (standard on V6 models) 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.
Audi A4 saloon ride
The A4 is available with no fewer than five suspension set-ups: Comfort Dynamic, Sport, 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.
First, our favourite set-up is the passive Comfort Dynamic, standard on non-Ultra SE and Sport trims. Go for one of these and stick with the default 17in alloy wheels (larger wheels tend to make the ride harsher) and you’ll have the best-riding A4. As its name suggests, this 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.
Pricier S line versions come with passive Sport suspension as standard. This is stiffer and lowered by 20mm, which further sharpens the body control, but at the expense of a little extra bumpiness at low speeds. That penalty isn’t worthwhile in our opinion, so swap it for the Comfort Dynamic set-up if you can – something that Audi lets you do free of charge.
The popular and efficient Ultra models (including the 2.0 TDI 190 we recommend) also come with passive Sport suspension but, because they employ that lower ride height for better aerodynamics, you can’t simply swap to the softer Comfort Dynamic option. However, you can pay a bit extra for Adaptive Sport suspension. It’s still lower and stiffer, but being an adaptive mode means you can press a button to soften things a little and enjoy a much smoother ride.
Adaptive Sport is available as option on non-Ultra SE, Sport and S line models as well. Don’t worry about that, though; Comfort Dynamic is so good that 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 lets you flit between softer and harder modes to suit your mood. Given the sporty nature of the S4, it’s no surprise to find that even the softest mode is a touch firm.
Audi A4 saloon handling
Fun handling is rarely the priority for executive saloon buyers, but if you do want something really entertaining to drive you’d be better off with a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE. Both of these rear-wheel-drive rivals are that bit more enjoyable to drive quickly down a country road.
Mind you, the A4 handles predictably and securely, and grips the road exceptionally well. Versions equipped with Sport suspension feel the nimblest (see the above 'ride comfort' section for a run-down of the A4’s suspension options), staying flattest through corners and changing direction reasonably eagerly. Despite a little added body lean, we’d stick with Comfort Dynamic that’s either standard or a no-cost option on non-Ultra 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 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; if you can bear the jarring ride, the firmer setting feels totally planted to the road. Even so, it always feels a bit aloof, never fully involving you in the experience of driving.
The standard steering is precise and weights up consistently as you turn in to bends, even though you don’t get a huge amount of feedback through the wheel. The optional Dynamic Steering benefits from a variable ratio, which means that you don’t need to turn the wheel as much to get around tight corners at low speeds. This is a pricey extra, though, so isn’t worth adding.
Audi A4 saloon refinement
This is one of the Audi A4’s strongest suits. All of the engines are hushed and transmit barely any vibration through into the cabin, but the 3.0 TDI V6s are most impressive of all; they’re as refined as the engines in many luxury limos costing twice the price and remain whisper quiet, even when worked hard.
The A4 suppresses road and wind noise better than its key rivals, too, and there’s only the occasional muted clonk from the suspension over rough patches of road.
The S Tronic automatic gearbox can be a little jerky at very low speeds but shifts smoothly in most other situations, while the six-speed manual gearbox is precise, light and easy to use. The brakes are also progressive, making it easy to slow your progress smoothly.