UK CAR Road Test
Audi A4 TDI (110) 1998


Audi's executive Red I express - so what's the big deal?  It's no different to the cooking 90 donkey version, apart from an extra 20 donkeys at peak power.

If you've ever driven the 90 horse sluggard you would probably wonder what all the fuss is about, the normal version goes more than well enough for all legal usage. Would you really pay a premium for a nominal 20 bhp peak of diesel chugger?

On first turn of the ignition key you would think you have bought a pup. At tick-over the A4 is lumpy and grumpy, definitely an oil burner and much more noticeable than the 90 version.  Around town the Red I lacks the punch from tick-over revs of the lesser model.  Once up and running it's barely noticeable other than a reluctance to pull through 90 degree stop/go turns in seconds and the necessity of selecting first in the slick shifting gearbox.

The Red I expresses not so secret weapon Audi seating Audi A4 cockpit

Ignoring the fact that the majority of the time most cars are either running at a steady speed or idling, the real test is still how well it goes when you put the hammer down. The rev counter looks like it has a very low red line and doesn't promise much even for a diesel. The reality is that the Audi is just much more honest than many oil burner tachos, recording fairly faithfully the location of MAX horses rather than the location of impending mechanical destruction.

When you actually get to feel the Red I's power band you realise just how much of it is decisively wider than most competitors. It pulls hard from around 2000 to 4750 which is not exactly an insubstantial advantage over many Turbo Ds which pull from around 2500 and give up just past 4000.

It's not just the sheer width of the power band which marks out the Audi as a little special, no, it's the sheer torque-laden stomp which makes it a real blast to drive. Be warned though, whilst many diesels can't pull the skin off a rice pudding, this one is mightily different. In the slightly damp test conditions, pushing your foot to the floor resulted in wheel spin in both first and second gears as the motor hit peak torque.

As a practical power unit for every day usage the 110 diesel is a perfectly acceptable mill - economical, reliable, long lasting but with just enough devil to make it fun. Sure, there are plenty of cars that put out over 110 bhp; lots and lots of 1600/1800 petrols do the same thing but no small bore petrol can generate it at around 4.5k revs and none can get anywhere near the towering torque that the diesel can put out.

On the road it translates to 110bhp of outright go but probably over 150bhp of drivability.  The turbo petrol unit may be quicker outright but in the real world it would be hard pushed to lose the Red I.

If you're looking for other extra goodies to justify your Red I purchase then you're going to be disappointed but if a standard A4 suits your needs then this one will be just about perfect.

The chassis is not really sporty enough in front-wheel-drive guise to need much more power than this one delivers.  In ease of driving terms it rivals the V6 versions for flexibility and driveability without the downside of huge guzzling, pocket pilfering thirst; an easy 40 mpg even around town and more with a little restraint.

The rest is straight A4 no more no less - slick gear change, over-light steering and immaculate build and ergonomics.

Don't expect a big car though, the A4 is more Escort than Mondeo, which makes the prices look even steeper.

Having driven a couple of A4s there does seem to be a common fault with malfunctioning/non functioning dash lights but it's a small problem. The only things which irritate are the lack of back lighting on the heater controls which makes them a little difficult to use in the dark and the fact that the passenger airbag can only be turned off by an Approved Dealer. That doesn't sound like much of a problem but getting a baby seat strapped into the overly-sensitive rear seat belts is a right royal pain in the butt!

The Audi A4 TDi - a classy, if slightly cramped, family motor.


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