The diesel A4 range kicks off with a 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel that offers acceptable performance. The 187bhp version is much more like it, however, pulling eagerly from low revs, while the 3.0 TDI 218 is better still – it’s considerably punchier than either of the 2.0-litre engines and revs more smoothly, making it worth the relatively small price premium.
A quattro four-wheel-drive version of this 3.0-litre diesel is also available, but since the front-wheel-drive car is cheaper and more efficient we wouldn’t bother. Likewise, there's no need to upgrade to the pricey 3.0 TDI 272 diesel which has four-wheel drive as standard.
As for petrols, the entry-level 1.4-litre turbo performs well and is worth a look if you’re a private buyer and don’t do many miles. Just be aware this version is likely to shed value quicker than the more popular diesels, as will the 187bhp 2.0-litre petrol.
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 Saloon ride comfort
The Audi A4 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. 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 a 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 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. 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.
Delivers reasonable pace but needs working fairly hard; it is smooth though. Driven carefully this engine proves reasonably economical, but you can only have it with a manual gearbox. Resale values aren’t as strong as the diesels’.
2.0 TFSI 190
Punchy performance delivered in a refined manner. This engine is available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic gearbox. It has limited appeal though, considering the diesels are just as strong and much more efficient.
2.0 TFSI 252
Only available with a seven-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive, which helps it put its power down effectively– even in the wet. Quick but not particularly cheap to run nor very efficient.
2.0 TDI 150 Ultra
This is the most efficient engine in the A4 range with CO2 emissions from just 99g/km, which make it very attractive to company car drivers. 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 whichever form you choose, the 2.0 TSI 190 is efficient and offers good performance with plenty of low-end shove, and it’s more refined than equivalent engines in rivals, too. Also available with four-wheel drive.
Our pick 3.0 V6 TDI 218
Our favourite engine is a V6 which means it’s supremely refined, yet 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. Stick with front-wheel drive to keep CO2 emissions down, though.
3.0 V6 TDI 272
This version of the V6 comes in four-wheel-drive Quattro form only to help transfer its impressive power to the road. Very smooth and refined, made even better by the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox. More expensive to run than the other diesels, but still delivers respectable running costs.
Until a new RS4 arrives, this is the sportiest A4 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.