Updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class gets new gearbox and extra standard equipment
Audi A4 Avant S Line 3.0 TDI Multitronic review (2012 onwards)
Model: Audi A4 Avant S Line 3.0 TDI Multitronic
Bodystyle: five-door estate
Engine: 3.0 TDI turbodiesel
Transmission: CVT automatic
Date of test: February 2012
First drive: Audi A4 (2012 onwards)
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What is it?
It feels like the big German brands have had the compact executive car market cozily divvied up among themselves since the nation's thrusting young go-getters were still wearing bones through their noses and hitting their dinner with clubs. How have BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi managed to achieve their apparent eons of dominance? Why, with cars like this of course!
The latest Audi A4 is a prime example of what Audi and its Teutonic rivals do well and it boils down to a tenacious desire for progress. This is facelifted version of the A4 Avant, £32,000 worth of compact executive estate equipped with the 3.0-litre TDI diesel engine and the Multitronic CVT gearbox. Compared to the previous A4, this one is cleaner, greener, cleverer and quicker; its problem, however, is that, compared to their own distinguished forbears, the latest Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series are too.
Where does it fit?
The world car market is defined by rapid progress but in the compact executive sector, the ferocious rivalry and the lucrative spoils awaiting the victors make things particularly frenetic. The effect is a kind of office car park arms race where the protagonists push their rivals to ever greater feats of engineering in a bid woo the company car users who spend most of the money spent on cars like the A4.
Among the highlights of today's A4 Avant are styling revisions that bring a more purposeful edge to the A4's exterior. The Audi staple LED running lights are bolder than ever while the creases and angles of the bumper and bonnet are more sharply defined. It looks suitably professional and there are similar tweaks inside but of more relevance is the electromechanical power steering that's now standard and a series of efficiency improvements.
Is it for you?
While the efficiency-focused four-cylinder diesel engines will do most of the A4's business, the 3.0-litre V6 option is an attractive alternative for anyone wanting more overtaking muscle. In Avant estate guise, it will hold a little more appeal for private buyers than the typical A4. With 201hp, 295lb ft of torque and a 490-litre boot, first impressions suggest a practical, capable and classy family car.
What does it do well?
If you get it in a four-wheel-drive quattro version of the A4, the 3.0 TDI engine has 241hp but the front-wheel-drive car we tried gets the less potent 201hp version. Not that it feels less potent. Audi's TDI diesels have come on a lot in recent times and while it might not have the rousing growl of BMW's finest, it's beautifully smooth and quiet at all but top revs.
When you're plugged into the thumping mid-range torque, this A4 feels sports saloon fast
Push hard, there's a pleasant mechanical whoosh from the engine bay and the 0-62mph surge can take just 7.3s. When you're plugged into the thumping mid-range torque, gaining speed like a boulder on a black run, this A4 feels sports saloon fast.
The car's relaxed but capable character is helped by the Multitronic gearbox. It's a CVT but don't discount the belt-driven technology based on the ponderous installations found in some small cars. Audi's Multitronic works really well with the abundant puling power of the 3.0 TDI engine.
In auto mode, you barely notice it's there and paddle shifters are provided for quick, controlled manual shifts when you feel like them. For driver enjoyment it's no substitute for Audi's S Tronic twin-clutch auto but Mutitronic does the job in this athletic and laid-back estate.
What doesn't it do well?
Audi's new electromechanical power steering is now standard on the A4 and it's a fine system. The weight comes out of the helm for parking and low-speed turns before returning to give a reassuring meatiness at speed. What it can't overcome is the fact that this is a front-wheel-drive car with a big diesel engine sitting in the nose.
Audi has been at pains to point out its efforts to improve weight distribution by mounting its engines further back in the car but replicating the response and feel of the rear-driven setups favoured by BMW and Mercedes is still a bridge too far.
The A4 handles tightly enough with plentiful grip but in the inevitable comparisons with the 3 Series and C-Class this front-wheel-drive car is likely to be found wanting. Our A4 had a hefty feel on the road and the S Line sports suspension was too busy over the bumps.
What's it like to live with?
Audi's interiors are, as a rule, first class
Audi's interiors are, as a rule, first class and although the cabin in the latest A4 does feature some plastics that look less than luxurious, it still has the classy, modern ambience that buyers seem to love. The controls have been simplified a touch on the latest models with fewer buttons for the class-leading MMI infotainment system.
The Avant estate body is reasonably roomy with adequate rear legroom for passengers. The boot itself is only 10 litres larger than that of the saloon but its 490-litre capacity is far more usable thanks to the tailgate and is extendable to 1,430 litres by folding the seats (the saloon offers only 980 litres with the seats down).
Adding to this user-friendliness in the rear of the car was the optional load securing system and a parcel shelf mounted on runners that slides and lifts out of the way as you open the tailgate, improving access.
How green is it?
All the A4s now have Start-Stop and brake-energy regeneration as standard. Go for the Drive Select option and there's also an Efficiency mode added alongside Comfort, Dynamic, Auto and Individual, which adapts the steering and gearbox settings to save fuel more.
a convincing package with strengths that could outflank the competition
It all helps this potent compact executive diesel turn in 55.4mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of just 135g/km. That's an excellent showing which gives this A4 a crucial edge over its rivals.
Would we buy it?
Audi has clearly calculated that the finer points of handling finesse aren't a major issue to its customers and it's probably right. This front-wheel-drive A4 isn't the most composed or tactile car in its class to drive but it's still a convincing package with strengths that could outflank the competition.
The look and feel of the latest A4 mark it out as a class act and the 3.0-litre TDI engine marries formidable pace with 135g/km emissions that yield the kind of tiny tax bill a rock star might relocate to the Channel Islands for. Lots of buyers spending £32,000 on an A4 will want the security of quattro but this front-wheel-drive diesel auto shouldn't be overlooked.
First drive: Audi A4 (2012 onwards)
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