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First drive: Audi A4 – on sale February

Audi

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Review

The A4 is a crucial model for Audi, so it will be a relief for dealers that the new generation car is better in every aspect than the current model.

Although its styling follows the trend for restrained elegance of previous generations of A4, it is a totally new car, with improved driving dynamics, excellent interior space and up-to-date wrapping.

From the front and rear, A4 closely resembles the recently launched A5 coupé, with which it shares the same platform. In between it has gained six inches of wheelbase length, meaning it has adequate interior space to seat five adults comfortably and a 480-litre boot to swallow their kit.

The launch range comprises of two petrol engines – 1.8TSFI and 3.2FSI V6 – and three Euro V compliant turbodiesels – 2.0TDI, 2.7TDI and 3.0TDI. Buyers can choose between six speed manual or Tiptronic gearboxes; an eight speed Multitronic CVT auto is offered with the 2.7TDI only. The largest petrol and diesel engines can be combined with Quattro four-wheel drive, all other models are front-wheel driven.

Launch models will all be SE specification, with entry-priced trim cars to follow later in 2008. Electronic climate control is standard, as are multi-function steering wheel, alloy wheels, auto-dim rear view mirror, electric windows, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers and an electro-mechanical parking brake.

In addition, there’s an interesting options list with equipment such as ventilated and heated front seats, heated rear seats, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning system and blindspot alert.

Buyers can also specify the MMI multimedia control function, which allows adjustment of all in-car entertainment, climate control and driving systems through the standard screen in the centre console.

Another plus is the optional dynamic driving system, which can put the car in sport, comfort or normal mode automatically or at the press of a button.

Audi UK is deliberately pricing the A4 just below its BMW 3 Series rival as it seeks to get the car on more fleet short-lists – key to Audi’s growth in the corporate sector.

UK dealers will be expected to achieve 16,000 registrations next year, followed by 15,000 in 2009.

Audi UK expects the 2.0TDI to be the biggest sellng variant, accounting for 30% of the model mix.

Behind the wheel

A4 has become a well-rounded performer. It’s extremely comfortable, feels a bit special, and finally has the on-road dynamics that could tempt a BMW fanatic from their 3 Series.

The front axle has been pushed forward to improve balance, and the handling is much more composed than its predecessor, with weighted steering and good driver feedback. Whatever the road conditions, the ride remains comfortable.

Of all the variants, the winner has to be the relatively modest 2.0TDI. It now uses common-rail rather than Pumpe Duse technology, and benefits from greater refinement as a result. It still has enough low-down torque to push the car along easily, and will be the company car user-chooser’s favourite. While the larger capacity diesels may be better sprinters, they’re noticeably noisier.

In comparison, the petrols cannot compete on efficiency. The 1.8FSI is lively but lacks the pull of the diesel when accelerating uphill. The 3.2FSI is gloriously quick and confidence-inspiring but buyers will pay the price in fuel economy.

Price: £22,590-£30,290
Engines: 1.8FSI: 160bhp; 3.2 FSI: 265bhp; 2.0TDI: 143bhp; 2.7TDI: 190bhp; 3.0TDI: 240bhp
Performance: 0-62mph: 6.1-9.4secs; top speed: 134-155mph
Transmissions: 6sp manual, Tiptronic, 8sp Multitronic
Efficiency: 30.7-51.4mpg, 144-219g/km CO2
CAP RV: TBA
Rivals: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Saab 9-3
Strengths: Styling, dynamics, value, strong RVs
Weaknesses: 9,000 mile service intervals

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