When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
All roads lead to Audi
5:22pm Friday 28th March 2008 in Motoring
T he new Audi A4 saloons will be competing against the BMW 3 Series and the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class - all from German manufacturers. Which of these Teutonic challengers will come out on top?
The new Audi A4 is longer and wider than its main 3 Series and C-class competitors. This means it has much more rear legroom than both it rivals and 480 litres of boot space, again the best of the three.
The all-new bodyshell is lighter than the outgoing A4 range and it is has greater torsional rigidity. 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.
Advances in bringing the latest technologies to Audi customers don't stop with the body construction. All the engines are Euro5 compliant, all the petrol engines are direct injection, all the diesel units are common-rail and all the four cylinder diesel units are turbocharged.
But technology doesn't come cheap. Priced from £22,590, the new A4 saloons are more expensive than the models they replace but, according to Audi, with their added specification they are actually better value.
The SE variant saloons were first to the 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 ten-speaker Audi sound system, split folding rear seats with automatic boot opening (which makes the saloon even more versatile), 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 that can be ordered, 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.
But if the satellite navigation package is taken as another option, then an individual' setting is added where the driver can tailor in their own exact handling requirements and these cover suspension, 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 slowing vehicles in front.
The new Audi A4's classy design has sharper styling lines and it looks muscular on the road. The rounded bland shape has gone.
The much improved interior space will be enjoyed by all but in particular rear sear passengers. This is a serious car and deserves serious consideration by more and more customers wanting a slice of the Audi brand image.
Star model in the saloon line-up in the Avant range is the 2.0-litre TDI SE, priced at £23,940. The SE specification makes the most financial sense both for the purchase price and the related company car tax bill.
The four-cylinder engine is a huge improvement, indeed it bears no comparison with the current VW 2.0-litre TDI unit. This unit is very quiet, no rattles and no harshness. In its way it is just as impressive as the new A4 itself. Top speed is 133mph, 0-62mph is covered in 9.4 seconds and the published 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, but we were pushing the new A4 hard just to see how good it was. The engine is mated with a slick six-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmission options will be available on various models in the A4 range.
The 2.7 TDI and 3.0 TDI quattro engines and drive-trains were also available at the media launch. Petrol models are still in production. 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 returns better mpg figures.
However the star of the show is the 2.0-litre TDI model.
As for handling, like all front-wheel drive Audi's 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 unable to absorb potholes and poor road surfaces.
The SE versions we tried didn't suffer in the same way. The ride comfort was excellent, handling was well balanced and the suspension absorbed holes and ripples in the tarmac effortlessly. I would suggest that the S Line specification will provide for a firmer ride and the bigger optional wheels on offer should be avoided.
So which is best, the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class? Sadly there is no definitive answer - it is 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 is rear-wheel drive layout and the C-Class has the most desirable traditional brand values for some people. But perhaps the A4 has the most plus points.