UK CAR Road Test

AUDI A4 1.8 20V 1997

 

It's a common argument that Audis can't be intrinsically better than VWs or Seats or Skodas because they are all the same company, share the same platforms, designers and production methods and are merely separated by geographical plant location.

Strange, then, how we all perceive Saabs to be better than Vauxhalls and big German-built cars to be wonderful unless called a Vauxhall and how little of BMW's shield of invincibility managed to rub off on poor old Rover.    

It's an argument we can and do twist to any view point.

It was no surprise that Russians could not build Fiats and Mexicans don't make great Beetles and it will be no surprise to find out long term that Czechs can't build VW Audis. 

It's going to be a while yet until Skoda finish rebuilding its tarnished image (though they have made great strides) and SEAT manages to create any kind of image at all. Despite the fact that we all know that Audis and VWs are, to all intents and purposes, the same products in different wrappers, given a money-no-object choice 99% of us would go for the snob value of Audi's carefully protected image.

Audi A4 1.8 Audi A4 1.8 Saloon.

 

If  you want to pay less try a Seat or a Skoda.  I suspect the difference long term will be quite small as the likes of Audi and VW traditionally  hold their price pretty well.  At the moment it would appear that VAG is trying to hedge its bets. VW is the no-brainer badge, a safe bet without too much thought, Skoda a cheap way to gain entry to the range, Seat a Skoda without the historical joke tag baggage and Audi are for slightly introverted, would-be BMW owners.

Volkswagen, and in particular Audi servicing, is said to be a little on the expensive side. It would be interesting to compare VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda prices to see how they stack up. Long term I suspect such things will come back to bite the badge/platform engineers in the proverbial a***.

This is fairly plain Jane A4, minimum spec = minimum thrills. It's as basic as an Audi can be, there is an even less exciting 1.6 jobbie with a 100 bhp single cam motor which we will resolutely ignore as we don't want to think too much about a poverty struck Audi getting outrun by its bigger engined Skoda cousins.

This is probably, in most people's eyes, the entry level A4.  1.8 DOHC 20 valve motor pumping out a respectable 125bhp.  This is at least enough to endow the Audi with moderately good performance if you ring its neck. It's probably a couple of dozen horses short of exciting but it can generate enough go to keep you happy most of the time. Like most modern multi valve fours, it's a little short of low end torque and high on revs but it pulls happily fairly low down and becomes a little livelier past 3000 revs, the exhaust note hardening past five thousand before getting a little breathless towards its Six and a Quarter Red line. The slick gearbox and short shifter help keep it on the boil, so there's no real excuse to try and grind onwards and risk the motor bogging down.  Whether it's down to the engine, the insulation, the aerodynamics or a combination of all three, the A4 is a quiet machine at all speeds with only the slight intrusion of a little wind noise at well over the national speed limit. Economy-wise, I managed 33mpg with some very leisurely driving conditions. It would probably manage a couple more with a very light foot or less trafficked roads but will probably run out a couple or three less in normal conditions. 

Audi A4 1.8 20 valve Engine. Audi A4 1.8 Boot.

German cars normally have exemplary ergonomics so it's a shame to report one or two quibbles with this one. Myself,  I found that the brake pedal was set a little too high, requiring me to lift my knee (rather than just my foot) to apply it. This wouldn't have been too bad had my knee not then come into contact with the steering wheel. No amount of the limited range of height adjustment would cure it but fortunately the wheel telescopes so I was able to gain clearance with the seat set low and the wheel out. At this point I couldn't actually see the leading edge of the bonnet although I could now wear a top hat inside the car.  It may just be down to the peculiarities of my body but my much shorter other half  found that the seat didn't go far enough up for her liking either so it's probably worth a sit and fiddle before you buy one just in case. 

Otherwise it was fairly faultless with all other controls falling neatly and easily to hand. The only thing I didn't like about it was the Sony radio-cassette, also seen in the Golf, which has buttons far too small and fiddly for comfort.

Construction is to Audi's usual standards. Witness the way that the door pockets are carpeted on the inside to see how little touches give you a real feeling of quality and attention to detail. Twin cup holders by the drivers left hand would be nice if these ones were not so reluctant to actually pop up (a little Mr Sheen would probably fix it).

Audi A4 Dashboard. Audi A4 1.8 Interior

 

Can anyone explain to me what the little flap just forward of the driving mirror is for? Is it really a mini sunshade to block the gap twixt driver and passenger and around the mirror? If it is, it doesn't really work.

The A4 comes only in saloon or estate deviations and has never majored on space. What practicality it may lose to the hatchbacks of the world it at least makes up for with good looks. The boot is bigger than it first appears as it is deceptively long but it is still rather shallow and the lip is quite high.  Space in the front is more than adequate and the rear seat has reasonable, if not amazing, leg room. The seats don't look much with their slim depth of padding and exposed shell but they are comfortable. I couldn't find the lumbar adjustment but, then again, they don't need it so who cares? The material facing looks light and fragile but is of proven toughness and longevity.

Being well built and good looking is all very well but these qualities will pale into insignificance if it's not a pleasant drive. I'm happy to report that it is a pleasant and painless experience. The ride is firm but not so hard as to disrupt over uneven surfaces. On smoother roads that are probably more akin to its home environment it is exemplary with fine body control and barely a trace of roll around corners. The steering is Audi's love-it-or-hate-it super light system, personally I love it around town and hate it everywhere else. Very little feedback comes from the front end despite its front wheel drive and to get only the lightest of sensations fed back to your hands you need to accelerate very hard over fairly bumpy roads.  Most of us probably don't care and would never complain about it but just a little more weight would inspire much more confidence. It does make it very easy to drive and, if  I'm being honest, is perfect for 90% of today's traffic-laden stop/start roads.

I've already mentioned the high-set brake pedal, it may not be perfectly positioned but it sure is effective - light foot pressure from the uninitiated will have the car standing on end, if you think Citroen can make some grabby stoppers then you really should try these! Once I was acclimatised it was no problem until I got back in my own car and discovered that it no longer appeared to have brakes fitted.  

What you get when you buy an Audi A4 is peace of mind.  Yes, it costs a lot but it's a safe, reliable car, solidly constructed and resistant to both rot and depreciation. It's a car that has brought Audi firmly in as a mainstream brand rather than a niche player and if you're of the mind that thinks a VW badge is just a little too down market for your lifestyle expectations, then it's a perfect choice.

 

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