Audi A4 (2012) review
by David Finlay (29 February 2012)
When a new range goes on sale it's common for manufacturers to introduce the core models first and gradually add others over the first year or so. Audi is going about things rather differently with the 2012 A4. On sale on March 1 (though it's been available to order since last November), the A4 is offered right from the start in no fewer than 110 forms, including saloons, Avants, semi-SUV allroads and the very sporty 328bhp S4. The only planned addition is the even faster 444bhp RS 4 Avant, which is due to arrive in September and bring the total to 111.
Impressive though it would no doubt be to discuss the first 110 individually, I'm sure we all have better things to do, so let's concentrate instead on the changes. The suspension has been revised, for a start, while more efficient electromechanical power steering is standard on all models and the optional Audi Drive Select adaptive dynamics system now has an Efficiency mode to go with the existing Comfort, Auto and Dynamic.
These things are part of a general drive towards better fuel economy and CO2 emissions, of which the most startling example is provided by models using the 134bhp 2.0 TDIe turbo diesel.
Such an A4 may, depending on body shape, emit just 112g/km of CO2 on the EU combined cycle, leading to annual VED payments from year two onwards of just £30. The same also applies to the 161bhp TDIe, which in some forms has a CO2 rating of 115g/km. Both have official fuel economy in the mid-60s mpg, bettering that of the previous-generation 134bhp versions.
This is impressive stuff, though of the three cars I drove at the media launch the 161bhp TDIe (actually an Avant, with a 120g/km CO2 figure which puts it in the same VED band) was the one I liked least. I am slightly at variance here with a colleague who drove the same car; he thought the ride quality was not great, but not too bad either, while I thought it was irretrievably awful.
I have driven a great many A4s over the years and been delighted by quite a few of them, but this one was so clumsy and uncomfortable on roads around Ascot that I will be quite happy to avoid it in future. Both the allroad and the S4 which I also tried were, despite obvious compromises for different reasons, much more composed and, yes, relaxing.
That A4 also has a nasty trick of not being able to get its turbo up to operating speed if you press the accelerator pedal moderately hard at engine speeds below about 1500rpm. The tendency is then to press harder, at which point the car takes off because the turbo is now working properly. This can be awkward, and didn't improve my opinion of the car one jot.
If you really, really don't want a diesel, or don't think you're going to rack up enough miles to make the better economy balance the higher list price, there's always the revised 168bhp 1.8 TFSI petrol turbo, which despite being more powerful than its 158bhp predecessor is also quite a bit more economical (49.6mpg) and, in CO2 terms at least, cleaner (134g/km, well down on the older car's 169g/km). There's also a 118bhp 1.8 TFSI if you don't mind relatively modest levels of performance.
The allroad I tried was fitted with a 2.0 TDI in its most powerful 175bhp form. I quite liked this one, partly because the engine is very meaty and partly because although there's a certain amount of bounciness caused by the greater ground clearance the ride quality is still quite good.
My only objection was to the panoramic sunroof, not because it's anything other than a nice thing to have but because it reduces headroom to the point where my skull regularly came into contact with the headlining. Then again, I'm six foot three tall, and if you're shorter than that - as any right-thinking person ought to be - you're unlikely to have trouble.
I assume that the allroad performs decently off-tarmac but I can't swear to it because no opportunity to attempt this was offered. Similarly, there's not a lot to be said about the handling of the S4, since there's no road within reach of Ascot where you can explore this (or if there is I haven't found it).
It does feel very well planted, though, and my word it's quick when you want it to be. But it's also very docile when all you need or want or have opportunity to do is burble around gently, as I think should be the way with all high-performance road cars.
Like all the others fitted with the Drive Select system, the S4 has those four modes, though I didn't notice much difference when I switched to Comfort. Dynamic, on the other hand, has the major effect of reducing the steering assistance to a very low level. In this situation the S4 has the heaviest steering I've encountered in a road car for ages and ages. I don't object to it myself, but you do have to be prepared to put in a lot of armwork.
Practicality is about the same as it was before, the saloon offering 480 litres of space with the rear seats up and 962 when they're folded while the Avant and allroad have 490 and 1430 litres in the same situations.
For A4s rather than the S4 there's a quartet of trim levels, starting with SE. SE Technik adds £1100 to the price, for which you get leather upholstery, DVD satellite navigation, an iPod connection and front and rear parking sensors.
S line cars have 18" alloy wheels, sports suspension, xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED rear lights and various styling upgrades. Black Edition models are like S lines except that, for an extra £1250, they have 19" titanium finish wheels, a black styling package and, in the case of the Avant, black roof rails and rear privacy glass. The audio system is also upgraded and includes DAB digital radio.
The substantial list of extra-cost options includes a mobile phone interface for the satnav, which among other delights offers Google Earth imaging and the creation of a wi-fi hotspot allowing up to eight devices to be connected to the internet simultaneously. Adaptive cruise control, which lets the car brake to a halt from up to 18mph if it senses an impending accident, is also optionally available.
Pricing ranges from £23,625 to £38,405 for the saloon, £24,825 to £39,640 for the Avant and £31,475 to £36,480 for the allroad (which has a much smaller engine range). The S4 starts at £38,665.