Audi A4 Ultra 2.0TDI24 | 07 | 2014Scotcars rating

    Audi takes its most frugal A4, gives it the 'Ultra' treatment .... and delivers a cracker

    THINK OF AUDI, and what immediately pops into mind? Innovation and pioneering technology are probably high on your response list. Strange then that a company which has set new benchmarks with its diesel-hybrid race car at the Le Mans 24-Hours should find itself trailing behind the likes of BMW and Mercedes on the road.

    Now though, 25 years after the Ingolstadt car maker first launched its TDI diesel engine, it's hitting back against rivals who have stolen ahead in the economy and frugality stakes.

    Over the next 12 months, the German giant — on course for another recordbreaking sales year in the UK, and projected to breakthrough the 150,000 barrier (142,000 in 2013) — will launch 23 frugal Ultra models globally.

    Fitted with further optimised 'clean diesel' TDI engines, a number of these new models will come the the UK. The first — alongside the A6 2.0TDI Ultra, and A5 2.0TDI in both Sportback and Coupe versions, plus the A4 Avant — is the fleet-favourite, the A4 2.0TDI Ultra Technik.

    And there's no doubt the improvements have come just in time for the company which, traditionally, covers every niche and sub-niche you could imagine.

    It's now six years since the current generation 'B8' Audi A4 was launched in 2008, before then being facelifted just two years ago. But in that time, BMW has launched its all-new 3 Series, and Mercedes has introduced its all-new C-Class.

    No surprise then that A4 sales dipped. As the 3 Series model’s market share rose from 16.6 to 20.7%, BMW basked in the pleasure of nicking sales from the A4.

    Related: Scot Allan McNish celebrates double Le Mans win

    Now though, 12 months ahead of the next-generation A4, Audi has hit back with the super economical Ultra family.

    So as it's the most pertinent aspect of the car, let's deal with the technology: and no, I'm not going to give you a science lesson.

    Audi's 2.0TDI has generally been the 'go-to' engine in the UK since it was launched. But while there's already a 2.0 TDIe engine producing 161bhp, the unit fitted to the Ultra is completely new, despite the fact it has the same output.

    Engineered for even leaner burning with super efficiency that has next to no impact on performance, the powerplant works with something called Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). This system removes nitrogen oxides from the exhaust and ensures the new models meet Euro 6 emission standards. So, if Boris Johnson's 'diesel car tax' ever makes its way to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Dundee, you won't have to pay an extra penny because the engine's so green.

    And while it emits just 109g/km CO2, and returns an attractive 67.3mpg — which is better than the rival 3 Series 320d Efficient Dynamics — it's no penny-pinching slouch: it'll hit 62mph from standstill in 8.3sec, and carry on to a max of 140mph … where legal, of course.

    While we're concentrating on the saloon here, as I mentioned, there's also an A4 2.0TDI Avant Ultra. It takes an extra 0.3s to 62mph, and tops out at 134mph, neither of which, in all honesty, will stop you buying the better-looking estate model.

    The improvement in fuel economy is boosted by a combination of taller gearing, which reduces engine revs at cruising speeds, allied to a fast and discrete start-stop system. The Ultra also gets sports suspension which, in addition to enhancing the car's aesthetics, lowers the ride height to reduce aerodynamic drag. Clever, huh?

    Related: New Audi TT on sale

    Hit the motorway and the A4 Ultra will purr along at a relaxed 2000rpm in sixth gear at 70mph. And on A-roads or in town, the standard six-speed manual gearbox is light and satisfying to use, and channels the power swiftly to the wheels. When it needs to, this car can still deliver an impressive punch.

    And don't think sports suspension equates to a choppy ride: it doesn't, and the standard 17in alloys — the only wheels available — are perfectly suited to the car's overall success.

    There are also a number of additional new styling cues both externally, and inside the cabin.

    Audi's perceived ambition to make the narrowest headlights possible continues in the A4 Ultra with the slit-like light pods featuring an LED running strip: there's also optional xenon main bulbs

    At the rear of the car, the lights are — perhaps not surprisingly — sculpted to mirror the look at the front. Opt for the ‘Xenon plus’ light pack, and you also get a homogeneous LED bar.

    Elsewhere, the sharp-eyed amongst you will spot the subtle styling tweaks to the bumpers and the front grille, while the new flat front fog lights boost the strong front appearance.

    The cabin oozes with all that is best in terms of Audi's class-leading build quality. The A4 Ultra gets a fresh choice of steering wheels, and — more importantly — the MMI navigation system has had the number of buttons reduced from eight to four, with a shift function integrated into the volume control dial.

    At £28,320, it's not cheap. But what it is, is a sensible choice with a surprisingly lively performance. Throw in the fact it falls into band B for road tax — meaning £20 a year — and low BIK liability for business users of 16%, and suddenly its attraction grows even more.

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £28,320
    Engine / Power: 4cyls, 1968cc, turbocharged diesel / 161bhp
    How fast?: 8.3sec; / Max 140mph
    How big/heavy?: L4699mm W1826mm H1416mm / 1540kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 67.3mpg combined / 109g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: BMW 3 series, Mercedes-Benz C-class, VW Passat

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