Audi A4 lesson in good taste

Audi's classy A4 compact saloon is a fleet favourite that is a sound and sensible used buy, says Iain Dooley, PA senior motoring writer.

Engines – Over time Audi has built up a bewildering range of petrol and diesel engines. All are good, while some are very good indeed if you're interested in economy. Company-car drivers will always migrate towards the popular four-cylinder oil-burners, while the small-capacity turbo petrol units make a lot of sense for average-mile private motorists.

Exterior – This version of the long-established A4 is a clean-looking car from the outside. Visually it retained much of what made its predecessor popular, too. There's good news for those planning to drive in town, as the A4 sticks to the spirit of its 'compact executive' description thanks to its modest footprint.

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Interior – The A4's compact size does have one drawback, as rear-seat passengers aren't as well catered for as in some rival cars. That aside, those up front fare well with plenty of space. The overall cabin ambience is also good, with plenty of dark, plush materials.

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Driving – While BMW will always be remembered for its 'Ultimate Driving Machine' approach, over the years Audi has done much to sharpen the performance of its A4. Most cars are front-wheel drive and offer a quirk-free experience, with the quattro-branded all-wheel drive cars delivering extra security in slippery conditions. The big attraction for many will be the engines, with the various diesel units providing a good mix of performance and economy to suit all budgets.

Ownership – Despite its upmarket ambience the A4's cabin is a durable one, and should cope well with families and business duties. Opting for a non-S line variant will ensure superior ride comfort over less-than-perfect roads, and there's little need to feel compromised when choosing saloon over estate as the former's boot is surprisingly accommodating.

What to look for – Alongside the pampered private purchase there will always be the hard-worked business machine, although the durable nature of the A4 can sometimes make the distinction between the two a tough one. Pay close attention to the paperwork – servicing printouts, receipts, any finance agreements – to establish the car's history, and when in doubt always walk away. Mileage can play second best to overall condition, which means a test-drive is just as important as numbers on a display. Use all your senses to detect anything unusual and ask plenty of questions.

Model history – 2008, Audi launches the latest version of its popular A4 compact executive model. In saloon form – an Avant estate variant followed – the car boasted a reasonable-size cabin and modest levels of standard kit. Diesel and petrol engine choice grew steadily from launch, plus there was a choice of manual and multiple automatic gearbox options.

Reasons to buy – Brand image, looks, diesel performance and economy.

Reasons to beware – Modest rear cabin space, S line trim and its firm ride settings, modest levels of standard kit.

Pick of the range – A4 2.0 TDi 143 SE.

What to pay – 2008 08 �13,850; 2008 58 �14,250; 2009 09 �14,475; 2009 59 �15,200; 2010 10 �16,700; 2010 60 �17,100; 2011 11 �18,000. Figures relate to showroom prices for cars in A1 condition.

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