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Click to view road test review picture galleryAudi’s new A4 is
  bigger, better and has
  a great new 2.0-litre
  TDI engine. But is it
  really good enough
  to make
  — albeit very worthy
of BMW’s 3
  Series and Mercedes’
  Judging by David
first drive
  review, the answer
  is Quite Likely...”

2007 WAS ANOTHER RECORD YEAR FOR AUDI UK, with sales that topped 100,000 units a highly impressive 17.9 per cent more than 2006, which was also a record year. Worldwide, Audi expects to break the one million new car sales milestone in 2009. To help them, they have the new A4 already Audi's best-selling model range in the UK.

So far in 2008 Audi UK seems to be heading for yet another record year of sales. With 11 months still to go they have 25,000 confirmed orders for new cars from their entire model ranges, which already equates to 25 per cent of total annual sales.

The UK is Audi's third largest market in the world (behind Germany
and China) and Audi expects to become the top premium brand in the UK within the next few years. That means overtaking BMW, who sold 121,575 news cars in the UK last year. Mercedes-Benz achieved 82,321 UK sales in 2007.

Much of Audi's growth has been achieved by entering new market sectors with additional model ranges. Ten years ago Audi had 12 model ranges. Today they have 25, and by 2012 they will have 40 — hence their justifiable claim that they will become the top premium brand in the UK.

2008 will be a busy year with new Audi model introductions. In addition to the new A4s, these will include the RS6, the A3 Cabriolet and a facelifted A3 range, the new medium-sized Q5 SUV, the Audi TTS and the huge Q7 SUV powered by a 6-litre V12 TDI engine pumping out 500hp. This ongoing introduction of new model types, each attracting new customers, takes the pressure off Audi to force sales of their best selling A4 range.

Diesel models account for 79 per cent of all A4 UK sales; and one par-ticular new engine — the 2.0 TDI diesel unit — is expected to account for 45 per cent of A4 sales. This is the first application of the new four-cylinder 2.0-litre, common-rail turbodiesel diesel VW engine and it will also soon be used by other brands within the Volkswagen family.

Of the new A4 models we currently know about, the next most popular engine will be the 1.8-litre TFSI turbocharged direct injection petrol unit (expected to account for 20 per cent of sales) followed by the 2.0 TFSI petrol unit and the 3.0 TDI quattro, both each accounting for 10 per cent of sales. The 2.7 TDI unit is expected to appeal to 7 per cent of customers with the 3.2 FSI quattro attracting around 3 per cent.

To date, Audi UK has 4,000 orders for the new A4 models with deliv-eries starting in February for SE saloon variants. The S line saloons will follow in May; Avant estates in the summer. Audi A4 saloon prices start at 22,590 for the 1.8 TFSI (in SE trim) rising to 32,790 for the 3.0 TDI Quattro in S line specification. The most popular model, the 2.0 TDI SE, costs 23,940.

In addition, Audi offers a wide range of extra cost options for the A4. The average spend on extras is 2,000 per car — although it is quite possible to add 12,000 to the final price if more perceived must-have extras are added. Around 40 per cent of Audi A4s are sold with the optional 525 Bang & Olufsen sound system and the 1,975 SatNav system.

The all-new and much larger Audi A4 saloons are almost as large as
the previous Audi A6. The other main sellers in this market sector are the BMW 3 Series and the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class — all larger than the models they replaced, and all from German manufacturers.

The new Audi A4 is 4,703mm in length with a wheelbase of 2,808mm, making it longer than both its main 3 Series and C-Class competitors. The A4 is wider, too, at 1,826mm. This means much more rear legroom (at 909mm) than both it rivals and 480 litres of boot space — again
the best of the three.

The all-new bodyshell is ten per cent lighter than the outgoing A4 range and it has 5 per cent greater torsional rigidity — the bodyshell is constructed of 30 per cent high-strength steel. Some engines are more powerful and some models are faster, but overall the new range has 15 per cent better fuel economy with 15 per cent lower emissions. Commendable.

But advances in bringing the latest technologies to the customers do not stop with the body construction: all the engines are Euro-5 com-pliant; all the petrol engines are direct injection; all the diesel units are common-rail; and all the four-cylinder diesel units are turbocharged.

Technology never comes cheap. Priced from 22, 590, the new A4 saloons are 2.7 per cent more expensive than the models they replace — although with their added specification they are actually 3.2 per cent better value.

The SE variant A4 saloons are first to market in February and standard specification includes three-zone climate control, multifunction steering wheel and on-board driver information computer, 17-inch alloy road wheels, a 180-Watt, 10-speaker Audi sound system, split/folding rear seats with automatic boot opening, automatic windscreen wipers and automatic headlights, rear parking sensors, daytime running lights (LED R8 style are an option), electronic stability programme, front and rear foglights, alarm, aluminium interior trim detailing and electrically-operated windows and door mirrors.

There is a host of extra-cost technical options available, including Audi Drive Select. This allows the driver to tune the driving characteristics of the vehicle to their choice with Comfort, Auto and Dynamic settings. However, if the satellite navigation package is taken as another option, then an Individual setting is added that allows the driver to specify their very own handling programme based around their preferred sus-pension, steering and throttle response settings. Other options include radar controlled Side and Lane Assist which warns of approaching vehicles in blind spots as well as when closing on a slowing vehicle in front.

The new Audi A4's classy design comes as standard, as does the beautifully-crafted interior and supreme build quality. The larger body-shell now has sharper styling lines and it looks attractively muscular on the road. The much-improved interior space will be enjoyed by all — but in particular by rear sear passengers. This is a serious car and deserves serious consideration by more and more customers, all wan-ting a slice of the excellent Audi brand image.

Star model in the saloon line-up (and it will be in the Avant range,
too) is the 2.0-litre TDI SE, priced at 23,940. Nearly half of new A4 customers will go for this engine — not least because the SE specif-ication makes the most financial sense.

The four-cylinder engine is a huge improvement. Indeed, it bears no comparison with the current VW 2.0-litre TDI unit. Now of common-rail design, with the usual turbocharger, this unit is very quiet. No rattles and no harshness. With 141bhp and 236lb ft torque from 1,750rpm, the engine pulls strongly. It doesn't get stressed or noisy yet it remains really very responsive and flexible.

In its own way, this new engine is just as impressive as the new A4 itself. Top speed is 133mph, 0-62mph is covered in 9.4 seconds and the official average fuel consumption is 51.3mpg — although our test drive on fantastic mountain roads with little or no other traffic reduced that average figure to 37.2mpg. As you can guess, we were pushing the new A4 hard, just to see how good it was. The 2.0-litre engine
is mated with a slick six-speed manual transmission. Automatic trans-mission options — both CVT and torque converter types — will be available on various models in the A4 range.

I also sampled the 2.7 TDI and 3.0 TDI quattro engines and drivetrains. The 2.7 V6 unit returned 26.9mpg and the 3.0-litre V6 with quattro all-wheel drive 27.2mpg, which rather tells a story. The 2.7-litre unit has to be worked harder to get the best out of it while the larger 3.0-litre unit has the torque and power to take it all in its stride — and even powering all four wheels it still returned better mpg figures. However, the star of the show is undoubtedly the 2.0-litre TDI model.

As for handling, like all front-wheel drive Audis, understeer is always present but the grip is predictable. Initial reports from an early press launch held with left-hand drive models in Sardinia was that the new A4's ride comfort was suspect, with the suspension being bouncy and unable to absorb potholes and poor road surfaces. I'm pleased to report that the SE versions I tried didn't suffer in the same way: the ride comfort was excellent, handling was well balanced and the sus-pension absorbed holes and ripples in the tarmac effortlessly. I would suggest that the S line specification will provide for a firmer ride — the optional bigger wheels should be avoided.

So, which is best — the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class? There is no definitive answer; it's simply too close to call. The Audi has the best image for most people, the best interior quality and design, the most passenger space and the best residual values. The BMW has the sportier drive because it uses a rear-wheel drive layout and, for some people, the C-Class has the most desirable traditional brand values.

Its worth noting that, if you're tempted, the high option costs will push up 'your' A4's final price. The only other rider would be not to go for the bigger wheels if you want the best ride comfort. On the plus side? Just about everything — including more passenger space, classy interior design and superb build quality. In addition there's the impres-sive new 2.0-litre TDI engine, handling refinement and, the clincher, sheer Image. On balance I'd say that perhaps the A4 has the most plus points after all. — David Miles

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Audi A4 SE 2.0 TDI | 23,940
Maximum speed: 133mph | 0-62mph: 9.4 seconds
Overall test MPG: 37.2mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 236lb ft

CO2 144g/km | Insurance group 12
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