2016 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra review

Combining practicality and premium quality, the Audi A4 Avant is one of our favourite estate cars. This fuel-sipping Ultra version aims to add a healthy dose of economy to the formula by combining a frugal diesel engine with low-resistance tyres and suspension that has been lowered to reduce aerodynamic drag.

Two power outputs are available, 148bhp and 187bhp, promising combined fuel economy of 70.6mpg and 68.9mpg respectively. We’re driving the 148bhp car in Sport specification with a manual gearbox, although cheaper SE trim and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox are also offered.

What’s the Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra like to drive?

The Ultra 150 may be the most economical Audi A4 Avant you can buy but it’s also the slowest, taking 9.2sec to reach 62mph. In practical terms, though, it still offers reasonable performance, pulling strongly from fairly low revs and really getting into its stride at just 2250rpm. There’s a little turbo lag, but in normal driving you’re unlikely to notice it much.

Refinement is a strong suit for the most part. The engine is impressively smooth, even at higher revs, at which point it gets louder yet doesn’t sound harsh, but it does chug a bit when sitting at idle and the car shakes noticeably when the stop-start system revives the engine. When cruising in top gear on the motorway, the engine is almost silent, although you’ll need to downshift to fifth to gather speed.

The manual gearbox is smoothest when shifted slowly, while faster shifts can feel a little awkward. It’s a minor complaint, though. For those who prefer the convenience of an automatic, the seven-speed S tronic gearbox is a very capable alternative. It costs £1530 extra and makes no difference to the car’s emissions and combined economy figures.

Despite being front-wheel drive (quattro isn’t an option on Ultra models), the car’s steering wheel doesn’t shimmy about during hard acceleration. The front tyres might scramble a bit in first gear if the surface is damp, but traction is otherwise not a problem. Cornering grip is good, too.

The steering is relatively light, even in heavier Dynamic mode, and has a dead patch around the centre that aids smoothness on the motorway but means the car doesn’t turn into corners as sharply as the 3 Series Touring, for example. It can also go light during cornering and it lacks the feel of the BMW’s set-up, too.

Ultra models use lowered Sport suspension to improve aerodynamics, but an associated spin-off is respectable body control, allowing country roads to be tackled comfortably at speed. The downside is a firm, but not hard-edged ride, which causes the car to bobble about a bit over uneven surfaces, even at motorway speeds. You can go for optional Adaptive Sport dampers at £900 to bring a broader range of ride quality, but the much more forgiving Adaptive Comfort set-up isn’t available on Ultras.

What’s the Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI 150 Ultra like inside?

Interior quality is a strong feature of the A4 range, and this model is no different. There are plenty of expensive-feeling materials spread around the attractively designed cabin, from soft-touch plastics atop the dashboard and door trims to textured, satin-effect silver inserts and our car’s optional leather and Alcantara upholstery. Reach down to the door bins and you’ll find harder plastics, but they’re no better or worse than those in other cars in this class.

While electric seat adjustment is a cost extra, there are plenty of manual controls to help you get comfortable. The steering wheel adjusts vertically and horizontally, too. The seats themselves in this Sport specification have prominent side bolsters to keep you in place during fast cornering but are still forgiving enough to be comfortable.

The switchgear feels solid, with details such as the toggle buttons for the air-con adding a touch of class. The controls are sensibly laid out for the most part, though one niggle is that the drive mode buttons are an outstretched arm away from the driver. Infotainment comes via Audi’s familiar MMI system that uses a centrally mounted 7.0in colour display and is operated by a rotary controller.

It’s a fairly slick system, if not quite as easy to use as BMW’s iDrive, and unlike the BMW 3 Series Touring, sat-nav is not standard across the A4 Avant range. The Audi has the edge with smartphone integration, though, offering control of both Android and Apple phones for navigation, music and communications via the MMI screen.

The A4 Avant also beats the 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class for rear space, and two six-foot occupants will find just enough room to sit unimpeded. A middle-seat passenger of the same height will have enough head room but will struggle for knee and shoulder space.

Boot space is slightly greater than in the BMW and Mercedes, but all fall well short of the much cheaper – if less premium – Volkswagen Passat Estate and Skoda Superb Estate for outright volume. Both the tailgate and load bay cover rise electrically as standard, giving access to a space that’s wide and uniform in shape, though there’s quite a large lip at the boot mouth and the rear seats (which split 40/20/40 as standard) don’t fold totally flat.

Should I buy one?

Those seeking a bit more overtaking punch might want to consider the more powerful Ultra 190, which also achieves impressive economy and emissions and costs just £900 more. But the 150 is more economical still, and its superior benefit in kind tax rating of 18% matches that of the £3000 more expensive BMW 320d ED Plus auto.

Equipment levels are good, too, although the electric front seats, leather upholstery and reversing camera that are included on the Mercedes are all cost extras in the Audi. The main advantages of choosing Sport trim over SE are sat-nav, a better sound system, sports seats and subtle exterior and interior upgrades, which looks like decent value at £950.

If you’re prepared to sacrifice some premium appeal for more space and a lower list price, the VW Passat 2.0 TDI is also worth considering, and the Skoda Superb is bigger and cheaper still, but against direct rivals, this economy-focused A4 Avant is hard to beat.

Richard Webber

What Car? says…



Rivals

BMW 3 Series Touring

Mercedes C-Class Estate