Used Audi A4 review: 2002-2013
September 16, 2014
For years Audi struggled to gain equal footing with BMW and Mercedes in Australia, but that has all changed and sales have been climbing at double-digit rates for several years now. Though the Audi range is extensive and growing even larger all the time the A4, with its smaller brother the A3 at its side, has generally been in the vanguard of the charge.
The Audi A4, sold as a midsize sedan, Avant station wagon and two-door cabriolet. Its styling was on the dull side in early years but leapt forward with the introduction of the what Audi calls the 'single-frame grille' in the B7 series from 2005.
Interior design is a longtime hallmark of the Audi marque and the A4 has the sort of quality you normally associate only with top-grade furniture.
These mid-sized Audis are sold in a bewildering range of engines, with four, six or eight cylinder engines, fuelled by either petrol or diesel. Naturally all the diesels are turbocharged, but an increasing number of petrol engines also get force feeding. The turbos are generally there to reduce fuel consumption, but some sporting turbo variants are set up to squeeze extra power out of the engine.
Six-cylinder engines use a 'V' arrangement and are sold as petrols or diesels, capacities range from 2.4 up to 3.2 litres.
The big power V8 has a displacement of 4.2 litres and provides powerhouse performance for the very serious driver. Though the car will generally look after the driver, some of these V8s should probably be kept out of reach of inexperienced drivers as they can be stunningly savage at times.
Similarly there is a wide range of transmissions, mainly automatic, though some pure sports models do come with manual gearboxes. The automatic transmissions come as conventional torque-convertor units, as well as double-clutch and continuously variable (CVT) systems.
Audi was an early adopter of tiptronic automatics, with the driver able to use manual-type overrides when they felt that was necessary. These have become increasingly common over the years.
Most Audi A4s use front-wheel drive for greater space efficiency, many of the high-performance versions use Audi's all-wheel-drive 'quattro' system for improved handling and acceleration.
However, space efficiency isn't as good as you would anticipate from a front-driver and the back seat may not be suited to large adults if the front seats are set well back. Later models are better than the original ones, but try the rear area during your personal road test.
The front-heavy mechanical layout makes for more understeer than we like in early models, but Audi answered criticisms over the years and later models are much better balanced.
Insurance costs for the Audi A4 are often higher than average, with some companies adding a considerable amount to the premium if the car has a turbo engine, and even more of a loading if it's one of the full-on sports variants. So if you are still young and/or inexperienced shop around carefully for that policy early in the purchase process. Audi dealers should be able to point you in the right direction.
These modern Audis are complex machines and the amateur mechanic shouldn't attempt anything more than the most basic servicing. Audi's Australian dealer network is well established, though relatively limited. We have heard of no real complaints of parts availability or pricing.
You may also like to consider the Audi S4 and RS4 sports variants of the A4. Though considerably more expensive, they do give you a lot more performance, both from the engine and the heavily revised suspension, steering and braking systems. But see the above note on insurance premiums before falling in love with one of these stunning machines.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Interiors feature quality materials and are built to a very high standard. Unless treated badly they should still be in good condition years down the track. If not, be suspicious of the A4's previous life.
An engine that has done a lot of work or which hasn't been serviced correctly may prove difficult to start and blow smoke from the exhaust when accelerated hard. Get a professional to check it out.
If you suspect an A4 turbo has been given a hard life listen for a high pitched whining sound.
Automatics had problems in some earlier models. Check that all gear changes are smooth and quiet and that the transmission doesn't change up or down unnecessarily, or suddenly stop working. The Australian importer generally fixed cars under warranty, even outside the normal warranty period.
Manual gearboxes are generally trouble free. Make fast third-to-second downchanges and listen and feel for crunching.
Audis have exceptional corrosion protection and are unlikely to ever give trouble. It's still wise to have a good look over the car in case it has been incorrectly repaired after a crash.
CAR BUYING TIP
Some paint colours fade more than others, reds and blues are the worst, with yellows not far behind. So you can use the condition of the paint as an initial guide as to how well a car has been looked after, and whether it appears to have been garaged most of its life.