Audiís intent for the fourth-generation A4, which was introduced in 2008, was to topple BMWís rival 3-series from pole position in the premium saloon category. It succeeded, and the A4 quickly became the best≠selling premium car in Germany ó Europeís biggest market at the time.
Today, British drivers can buy one for a little over £10,000, although in view of the extensive choice of models, it is essential to carefully consider which best suits your needs.
First, you need to choose between petrol and diesel. Petrol makes sense if you drive less than 12,000 miles a year, as itís difficult to recover the greater initial cost of a diesel model ó and of its fuel ó through its superior economy.
The petrol range consists of 1.8-litre, 2-litre and 3.2-litre models, which range in power from 118bhp to 261bhp, and there is also a high-performance model, the S4, whose 3-litre motor develops a mighty 328bhp. The petrol engine that best meets the needs of most drivers is the 208bhp 2-litre TFSI, which is quick, refined and ó in spite of its nature ó relatively frugal.
Of the diesels, itís the 168bhp 2-litre TDI that makes the best buy, for its combination of punchy performance and remarkably good fuel economy (it nudges 45mpg overall ó not bad for a car that can cruise Germanyís autobahns at 140mph. There is also a 141bhp 2-litre TDI, and 2.7-litre (188bhp) and 3-litre (237bhp) V6 TDIs.
Having chosen the basic engine type, you should consider four-wheel drive. Audiís quattro system is available on all but entry-level models, and is a boon on Britainís rain-lashed and occasionally snowbound roads. Quattro cars typically cost between £400 and £500 more than the equivalent front-wheel-drive models.
The A4 cabinís build quality is impressive, its splashes of metal, chrome, wood and leather conveying a sense of luxury, while supportive seats and a logically laid-out dashboard make the Audi a car fit for long-distance driving. Cabin space is generous, and the boot has a class-leading capacity of 480 litres. The only real gripe concerns the raised centre squab of the back seat, which is uncomfortable for anyone sitting in the middle.
Reliability and servicing
The A4 can be serviced under one of two regimes ó the long-life service and the annual inspection. With the former the engine uses a bespoke oil whose condition is monitored by sensors. This allows fewer dealer visits to be made, although the average servicing cost is higher.
Under the annual inspection, owners can follow a yearly or 10,000-mile servicing schedule (whichever comes first). You can check which routine a used A4 has followed by asking the dealer who last serviced it. If you want to change the routine, you can do so at the next service. A minor service typically costs £220, and a major service £420.
The A4 has not been the subject of any vehicle recalls, but Audi has acknowledged leaking water pumps on the 3-litre TDI V6, and a faulty oil-level sensor on the 2-litre TFSI petrol, and will carry out the necessary repairs to these for free.
Second-hand Audi A4s hold their value just as well as ó and often better ó than comparable BMW and Mercedes-Benz models. My pick, the A4 2.0 TDI S-line, costs from £16,150 for a 2008 model with 40,000 miles on the clock, while a 2010 version that has covered 20,000 miles costs about £21,000.
Need to know
Dual-sided climate control is standard on all A4s. Higher-spec models also have temperature control for the rear of the cabin
Audi Drive Select
This optional feature allows drivers to choose from comfort, dynamic and sport modes, and modifies steering and engine characteristics as well as ride comfort
The A4 comes with a wide range of transmissions, including a six-speed manual, a CVT, tiptronic automatic, and a semi-automatic (S-tronic)
The A4 scores the top five stars for adult occupant safety and four for child occupant safety in Euro NCAP crash tests
Popular S-line model comes with lowered suspension, revised seats and larger alloy wheels. Check the ride comfort is to your taste
Mileage: 10,000 20,000 40,000
Trade: £16,850 £16,000 £14,400
Retail: £18,595 £17,750 £16,150
Trade: £18,850 £17,950 £16,200
Retail: £20,750 £19,695 £17,950
Trade: £20,150 £19,150 £17,300
Retail: £22,000 £21,000 £19,095
The one to buy
2009 59-registered Audi A4 2.0 TDI S-line with 20,000 miles on the clock
Pay £19,695 at an Audi dealer or £18,750 privately
Or for similar money
Mercedes-Benz CDI BlueEfficiency 2009 59
BMW 320d M Sport 2010 59
Jaguar X-type 2.2d Sovereign 2010 59
Lexus IS 220d F-Sport 2010 10
Volvo S60 D3 SE Lux 2010 10
Figures based on CAP September 2011 edition
© Bumper Media Limited September 2011