Overall rating: 4/5
The Audi A4 has just received a mid-life update in time for 2012 sales. The newest collection not only looks different; there are changes under the skin resulting in the most efficient versions of the A4 so far - we try the popular 2.0-litre TDI model.
In the Metal:
Like a charcoal grey suit, the Audi A4 is never going to stand out in a room, but it's still a classic looker in its own right. The facelifted version is no different; sure the lining is a bit flashier, but the cut of the cloth is much the same. Outside there are changes to the headlights and bumpers, but that doesn't make it a catwalk king.
It's a similar story from behind the wheel as well, with the beautifully constructed cabin sticking with a 'if it isn't broken, don't fix it' approach. So there's some extra chrome trim and less buttons, and a new texture is available for the wood, but on the whole we've seen it all before. That's no bad thing.
The Audi A4 has always been more smart-casual than sportswear when driven, and the latest revisions haven't changed that. Modifications to the engine not only make it more powerful, but it's now slim fit - being much more efficient as well. In fact, be gentle with your right loafer and thanks to the standard fit stop-start the official combined consumption is well under 5.0 litres/100km.
That 2.0-litre diesel engine is silky smooth, more refined than before (especially below 2,000rpm) and boasts a beautifully linear power delivery. And though it can't match the fancy footwork of the new 3 Series through a bend, the A4 is stable and confident on its feet.
There's a deeply unfashionable sounding thermal management system, which shortens the warm up phase of the gearbox oil, but this doesn't alter the notch-like shift action. Another technical highlight of the A4's specification is the electromechanical power steering, which unfortunately dulls the feedback through the wheel.
Still, regardless of the above, the A4 can still strut its stuff on the road. And while it might not be as fast or as daring a mover as some of its more fashionable rivals, it's competent and assured, and anything but 'last year'.
What you get for your Money:
The standard specification is adequate, nothing more, but the A4 does have a massive amount of options up its sleeve - enough for you to tailor the car to your exact taste. Not only are there 15 colours outside, but also eight shades to choose from for the cabin. The new layered oak wood is probably best avoided though, looking more suited to a yacht than a car.
With prices starting at €33,040, it's broadly comparable to its main competitors, including the forthcoming 3 Series. Low emissions mean road tax is very reasonable, even with the post-Budget hikes, and the Audi A4 should prove a safe bet come resale thanks to strong residuals.
The new car heralds the introduction of some clever technology to the firm's compact exec that should reduce the possibility of having an accident. In combination with the adaptive cruise control, if the system thinks the driver hasn't reacted to the car in front slowing or stopping, the device will sharply apply the brakes to alert the driver. At speeds lower than 30km/h it can use full braking force to bring the car to a stop, often helping avoid contact altogether.
It's not cutting edge, but neither is it vintage second-hand either - the new Audi A4 makes a strong case for itself against some talented rivals. If you're happy to blend into the background, rather than stand out, it proves incredibly competent. Plenty of space, classy looks, efficient engines, a composed chassis and quality cabin make it a superb all-rounder.