IAIN ROBERTSON

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Bearing in mind that Audi is a UK best-seller, because in its ranks, writes Iain Robertson, exists the fantastic A4 model and regardless of the parameters by which it is judged, or the ‘blindness’ by which it might be acquired, it is a real market leader.

Ever since Audi made its break as an independent marque within the greater VW Group, in the mid-1990s, it has been a brand in the ascendant. Okay, the recent downturn in registrations has had more to do with political and economic uncertainty than anything Audi has failed to do but its upwards trajectory, under all normal circumstances, has been the envy of the entire motor industry for around two decades now.

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A distinct mind-set seems to be adopted by those persons drawn inexorably to the Audi brand. In the majority of cases, they know what they are getting; the rest are blind, not physically but automotively. They are the same people that would refuse a Skoda, even though it has not had a rear-engine and been produced from Soviet scrap for three decades. Perception of the ‘Four Rings’ is what carries the brand’s repute. It has the class of a ‘Three-Pointed-Star’, or a ‘Black, Blue & White Propeller Roundel’, and operators of Audis will swear by them, even against great adversity.

The A4 model, tested here for the first time in its new engine format ‘40’ designation, which is virtually the default motor, in S-Line, S-Tronic trim, is the median choice of company car and, what the Americans call ‘premium’, executive sectors. In many respects, it has been the ‘fall-back’ model for those people acquiring this class of car, in a head-on battle with both BMW 3-Series and Merc C-Class. Core engineering by VW Group is a main attraction, despite the ‘dieselgate’ issues, which most people seem happy to skim over. Yet, Audi has earned a sound reputation for dependability, with fine engineering being a vital secondary lure.

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Focusing on just two minor aspects, its driver’s door mirror and the ducktail rear spoiler, while VW may have pursued a door-closing route to quality management, as evinced by its long run of TV adverts (when it is not telling fibs about exhaust emissions), are prime examples of Audi attention-to-detail that is second to none. The mirror housing contains a number of purposeful strakes that carry out three main functions: to upset the surrounding airflow, to provide clear air across the side windows and the mirror face and to reduce extraneous noise caused by the resultant turbulence.

It may seem like an impossible task but Audi achieves it. It is also airflow that has led to the creation of a delightful in-built ‘ducktail’ rear spoiler, rather than one produced from adhesive rubber, as it used to be. While the metal forming for the boot-lid, which includes that of the rear wings, is more demanding in the press shop at Ingolstadt, the resultant improvement in straight-line and higher speed stability is noticeable.

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The rest of the car is standard Audi fayre; impeccable build quality, fine Nappa hide, real aluminium trim panels and the customary plethora of driver and safety aids. Its ride quality on 19.0-inch diameter alloy wheels (245/30 profile tyres) is excellent in ‘Normal’ chassis mode (where it is best left, to be appreciated), although it can become truly nuggety in ‘Sport’ setting. Grip levels are fantastic, despite the lack of quattro 4×4 technology, aided by the stability and traction controls, although the inevitable step off-the-line will result in a small amount of tyre scrabble, until they find their base. The A40 corners confidently, roll-free and tracks true consistently.

The 187bhp version of VW Group’s venerable 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, now as clean as it can be (up to EU6 emissions standards), provides 0-60mph acceleration in around 7.4s, allied to a stated top speed of 150mph. The CO2 emissions are pegged at a lowly and tax-friendly 120g/km (assisted by a 24-litre tank of AdBlue urea, an oxidising catalytic converter, diesel particulate filter, exhaust gas recirculation and an SCR catalyser) and around 50.4mpg (on the official WLTP combined test cycle) is a figure that is not just achievable by any driver but can also be exceeded by a decent margin. You see, Audi almost got its fingers burnt by the VW diesel debacle. It appears that the shit does not stick to Audi’s blanket, for which it is probably most grateful.

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The 7-speed S-Tronic automated-manual gearbox (DSG) is a typical delight to use, either manually (using the neat steering wheel paddles), or left to its own devices and the A4 cruises at 60mph with little more than 1,500rpm showing. Refinement level are high.

List-pricing it at £42,105 (as tested) would be a stumbling-block, did Audi not offer some useful, discounted lease rates. Personally, I think that car pricing, not least from the entire VW Group, which seems to change its prices as frequently as it does its socks, to make its customers pay for its misdemeanours, is irrelevant in today’s new car scene. Dealers will give hefty discounts, just to grab the sale. Where you need to take care is with PCPs and lease rates. Do not get caught in a high-rent car, when the market turns, as it surely will in coming months. Yet, in terms of value-for-money, I have to say, with some regret, that Audi is competitive with its key Teutonic rivals. You can make up your own mind about ‘value’.

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The actual list price of the A4 in this specification is £36,445, to which you must add £675 for the lustrous and orange-peel-free Tango Red paint job. The lovely, supportive sports seats, finished in luxurious Nappa leather, cost £800 extra. Audi Side Assist and rear-end collision mitigation costs £775, electrically operated front seats (memory on driver’s side) add another £800, while the Tech Pack is £1,395 and the auto-dimming and memory door mirrors factor-in a further £325. However, we are not finished there, as delivery with a half-tank of diesel is £630, road tax is £205 and the first registration fee is an inescapable £55 levy, which totals the sum mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Conclusion:    If you want ‘it’, then Audi possesses ‘it’ in abundance. It is understandable why the A4 is leader of the pack. The company is very keen to ensure that customers return to its hallowed halls (well, the chrome and glass showrooms) with regularity. The A4 is a superb motorcar, of that there is zero doubt.

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