Audi's revised MK5 model A4 is at its most accessible in base 35 TFSI petrol guise. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Almost all Audi A4 buyers opt for a 2.0-litre TDI diesel. For around £1,750 less though, there's the option of this 1.5-litre '35 TFSI' petrol model that develops the same 150PS output and still manages to return over 42mpg on the WLTP combined cycle and around 129g/km of NEDC-rated CO2 while running on cheaper green pump fuel. Is it a better bet?
If you're after a compact executive saloon - say a BMW 3 Series, a Mercedes C-Class or, as in this case, an Audi A4 - you opt for a diesel. It's a given isn't it? Well not necessarily. In revising its fifth generation A4 range, Audi has placed renewed emphasis on petrol power, including within the line-up a 2.0-litre TFSI 190PS petrol engine that offers an astonishing balance between power and frugality. And, slotting in just below that unit, there's the powerplant we're going to look at here, the 1.5-litre powerplant that features on the base 35 TFSI variant.
Buyers in this segment aren't used to seeing engines with capacities this small, but this TFSI unit seems to punch above its weight, offering 150PS, the same as you'd get from the volume 2.0-litre TDI diesel. Is it a realistic option? Let's find out.
Back in 2015, Audi managed to shed around 120kg of weight from this fifth generation A4 and that's one of the reasons why even this base model feels quite lively. The turbocharged 1.5-litre 150PS engine can accelerate to 62mph in 8.6 seconds and top speed is 139mph, in line with its nearest rivals. There's the choice of either 6-speed maniual or s tronic 7-speed auto transmission
With this 1.5-litre model, you don't get the option you would further up the range of quattro 4WD. Still, the improved six-speed manual stick-shift feels quite slick and the hi-tech MLB Evo chassis has given Audi the opportunity to develop a sophisticated fully-independent five-link front and rear suspension arrangement that delivers superb standards of ride. Ultimately, what all this creates is a more comfort-orientated compact executive contender, but it's still one that can be hurried quite quickly through the bends thanks to very little bodyroll and superb traction.
The external changes made to this fifth generation A4 are relatively slight. The full-LED headlamps have been re-designed and flank a broader, flatter Singeframe grille complemented by re-sculpted bumpers. Otherwise, it's as you were, which - to remind you - sees this MK5 model A4 riding on a light, stiff MLB platform and boasting the lowest drag coefficient in its class. As ever, there's a choice of either saloon or Avant estate bodystyles, the latter offering 505-litre boot - or 1,510-litres with the rear seats folded.
The interior's been updated too and gains the brand's latest classy centre-dash 10.1-inch 'MMI touch' infotainment display, though unfortunately, that means you lose the previous lower-set rotary controller. The voice control system has been improved and, as before, you get access to the full suite of 'Audi connect' media features. They include online traffic sign and hazard information, an on-street parking search function and newly introduced traffic light information functionality.
You view another screen through the steering wheel; Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' TFT 12.3-inch monitor has now been standardised, so you have to have virtual dials. Overall, you wouldn't call the appearance of this A4's cabin exciting but it would certainly be a soothing environment for long journeys.
The £30,000 price point makes the Audi A4 35 TFSI an interesting proposition. You're looking at a £1,750 saving on the equivalent 150PS '30 TDI' 2.0-litre diesel version. We'd also though, want to look at find a couple of thousand extra for the 190PS '40 TFSI' 2.0-litre petrol model which offers a lot more performance with no real efficiency downside. If you want the Avant estate bodystyle, there's a £1,400 premium over the saloon. In terms of direct rivals to this A4 35 TFSI model, BMW's 318i is the obvious candidate but Audi may just have priced this car low enough to tempt buyers out of more mainstream cars like the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo.
Standard equipment includes alloy wheels of at least 17-inches in size, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights, acoustic glazing, auto headlamps and wipers, rear parking sensors, an alarm and a chromed exhaust. Thankfully a spare wheel's provided too, rather than one of those irritating tyre repair kits. Inside, there's 3-zone climate control, a 'keyless go' push button starter, cruise control with a speed limiter, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and the 'drive select' system that allows you to tweak throttle and steering to suit the way you want to drive.
We've mentioned the Turbo part of the TFSI moniker, but the 'FSI' part plays a big role in making this car's 1.5-litre engine so efficient. 'Fuel Stratified Injection' means the optimum amount of petrol is directly injected into the engine cylinders at the critical moment instead of being mixed with air in a carburettor and sucked in as part of the normal combustion cycle. The effect of this, in tandem with the turbocharger's recycling of exhaust gases, means this engine can deliver the same performance as a standard powerplant but in doing so, use 10-15% less fuel. As a result, the A4 35 TFSI can return 42.2mpg on the WLTP combined cycle. With NEDC-rated CO2 emissions of 129g/km, annual BiK tax will be affordable for those who choose the A4 as a company car. In comparison, an A4 30 TDI 150PS diesel model manages 55.4mpg (WLTP) and 103g/km (NEDC).
All A4s come with a three year 60,000 mile warranty which can be extended to four years/75,000 miles or five years/90,000 miles for a fee. Audi residuals are some of the best in the business, assuming you pick a desirable engine and trim combination. Some restraint on the all too tempting options list will help too.
The Audi A4 35 TFSI 150PS model is more affordable than you might expect a premium mid-sized executive model to be. Costing from just over £30,000, it may even be an attractive proposition for Mondeo segment buyers. Loaded with advanced technology including autonomous driving aids and a smartphone-compatible multi-media interface, the entry level A4 represents reasonable value for money. And the modern, understated exterior is matched with a comfortable, contemporary interior, designed to make the time spent on the road more enjoyable.
But does the package all add up? We're not so sure. It's not that there's anything wrong with this 1.5-litre petrol variant: it's just that the models above it in the line-up are so impressive. The '30 TDI' diesel version with its 103g/km of NEDC-rated CO2 emissions. Or the 190PS '40 TFSI' petrol variant that's almost as frugal, yet much more powerful. Frankly, we'd be wanting to stretch our budget a little further and buy into the A4 in these guises. Still, if you're restricted in budget and this 35 TFSI has to fit the bill, you're unlikely to be disappointed.