First Drive

2016 Audi A4 3.0 TDI 218 review

We try cheapest six-cylinder diesel version of Audi’s latest 3 Series rival. Is the 3.0 TDI 218 the surprising pick of the new A4 range?

Words ByWill Nightingale

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The new Audi A4 has proved itself a deeply impressive executive saloon. Good to drive, classy inside and exceptionally quiet, it’s already seen off competition from the Jaguar XE and recently refreshed BMW 3 Series.

We’ve yet to try a version that quite deserves our hallowed five-star rating, though. The 2.0 TDI Ultra models lose a star for their standard sports suspension, which is firmer than we'd like, while the range-topping 3.0 TDI 272 quattro is a bit too pricey.

Could this 3.0 TDI 218 model be the pick of the line-up? Like the range topper, it gets Audi’s creamy smooth six-cylinder diesel engine, but unlike that car it can be had without four-wheel drive, which keeps the price reasonable and caps CO2 emissions at 109g/km – only a few grams more than the 2.0 190 Ultra pumps out.

Too good to be true? Well, given the VW Group’s recent track record for honesty where emissions are concerned you could be forgiven for thinking so. However, Audi assures us this isn’t one of the models affected by the recent scandal.

What’s the Audi A4 3.0 TDI 218 like to drive?

Although it isn’t that much more powerful than the 2.0 TDI 190, this 3.0 V6 pulls strongly from much lower revs. A gentle squeeze of your right foot is all that’s needed to build speed quickly; put your foot down hard away from some traffic lights and you’ll get to 62mph in just 6.6 seconds.

Try that in wet or slippery conditions and the front wheels will scrabble around a bit as they fight for traction, but not as much as you might imagine. A quattro (four-wheel drive) version is available but we wouldn’t bother forking out the extra Β£1430 it costs because doing also hikes CO2 emissions and pushes the A4 into a higher company car tax band.

Even more impressive than the 3.0 TDI's performance is just how refined it is. You barely hear a whisper from the engine, even when accelerating hard, and hardly any vibrations seep into the cabin. Minimal road and wind noise make the A4 the quietest cruiser in this class – by a mile.

You get passive comfort suspension as standard (which we’ve yet to try) but our test car was equipped with a (Β£900) adaptive comfort setup, which brings the option to stiffen or soften the suspension by pressing a button. Choose the softer Comfort setting and the Audi wafts along smoothly, ironing out all manner of road imperfections with only the occasional muted 'clonk' from the suspension around town. The motorway ride is even better.

Select Dynamic mode and the ride becomes firmer and the A4 leans less along twisting country roads. However, given that the A4 is more about comfortable and peaceful motoring than outright driving thrills there seems little point. Yes, the A4's steering is precise, but it doesn't give you anywhere near as much feedback as a Jag XE's. In short, if you’re looking for driving thrills from your executive saloon, and are less fussed about ride comfort and refinement, you’d be better off with the BMW or Jaguar.

This 3.0 TDI 218 model comes with Audi’s seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox as standard. It shifts smoothly most of the time, keeping the revs low unless you choose Dynamic mode. It can be a little jerky in stop-start traffic and when parking, though.

Officially, the 3.0 TDI 218 averages 62.8mpg. In our real-world True MPG tests it returned 43.5mpg, which is worse than the 2.0 190 but only by 1.3mpg.

What’s the Audi A4 3.0 TDI 218 like inside?

Audi is renowned for its classy, minimalist interiors that are both wonderfully finished and super intuitive. The new A4 doesn’t disappoint – it betters its rivals from BMW, Jag and Merc, with upmarket materials everywhere you look and a simple, user-friendly dashboard layout.

Audi’s MMI infotainment system comes as standard and features a clear 7.0in display mounted centrally on the dashboard, which you control using a rotary dial mounted between the front seats. You twist the dial to scroll through the on-screen menus and press it down to select, and there are even some handy shortcut keys to take you straight to specific functions.

Sat-nav comes as standard, although the digital Virtual Cockpit shown in our photos – a 12.3in screen that takes the place of the standard analogue instrument dials – costs extra.

The driving position is hard to fault, with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment and comfortable, supportive seats. As with almost every executive car you have to pay extra for adjustable lumbar support, and you’ll certainly want to do so if you plan to spend hours behind the wheel at a time.

The new A4 is around 11cm longer than a 3 Series so it’s hardly surprising there’s plenty of leg room in the back. A BMW 3 Series has a touch more, but a couple of six-footers will fit in the back easily enough.

The A4’s boot is a fair bit larger than a Jaguar XE’s and roughly on a par with a 3 Series'. You'll easily be able to slot in a set of golf clubs or a couple of hefty suitcases, but being a saloon the boot is rather shallow and the opening small. A 40:20:40 split-folding rear seat come as standard – these cost extra on both the 3 Series and the XE.

Should I buy one?

Buy any BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes executive saloon and we’ll tell you the same thing: stick with a four-cylinder diesel engine. You’ll save a heap of cash and won’t sacrifice a huge amount of performance or refinement.

So, it’s in unfamiliar territory we find ourselves here because we reckon this 3.0 TDI is the pick of the A4 range. It’s only fractionally less efficient than the 2.0 TDI 190 model (officially and in the real world), and delivers the sort of creamy performance and whisper-quiet driving manners that would shame some luxury limos. Put simply, it feels more like a baby A8 than a 3 Series rival.

For most buyers that’s a jolly good thing because executive saloons aren’t sports cars. They’re bought by people doing lots of business miles, usually on the motorway, which is why comfort and hushed cruising manners are absolutely the priorities. Factor in the 3.0 TDI 218’s class-leading interior and surprisingly low CO2 emissions and we reckon it’s the best model in the A4 range.

What Car? says...

Audi A4 3.0 TDI 218

Engine size 3.0-litre diesel

Price from Β£34,250

Power 215bhp

Torque 295lb ft

0-62mph 6.6 seconds

Top speed 155mph

Fuel economy 62.8mpg

CO2 109g/km