It's no secret that traditional saloons are in a bit of a tough place at the minute.
The rise of SUVs in every guise, from supermini-sized “urban crossovers” to V8-powered super-SUVs has been relentless and even brands with their roots in the saloon market have been quick to join the charge.
Hence why Audi has a Q car for virtually every number in its model line-up and is enjoying plenty of success with them.
But it hasn’t abandoned its origins entirely and still builds a fair few of the large, comfortable, high-end saloon and estate cars on which it built its name.
Model like this A4. Updated last year it slots into the still-competitive executive saloon segment taking on the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, Volvo S60 and Lexus IS.
The update follows the usual theme of gentle tweaks to lights, bumpers and grille on the outside, a refresh of the interior and the addition of some new infotainment and driver assistance technology.
The exterior design remains understated, almost to the point of being dull - a trait it shares with its German rivals. It’s immediately recognisable as an Audi thanks to the one-piece grille and new standard-fit LED headlights, but it’s hardly earth-shattering.
The inside, too has been lightly refreshed, staying true to the idea that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. As before it’s a haven of high-quality design, layout and materials. The seats are fantastically comfortable, there’s plenty of space for four adults and around you it’s a cohesive mixture of gloss black and bright silver trims along with beautifully knurled switches, and leather and soft-touch finishes.
Audi A4 Sport
- Price: £33,050 (£37,630 as tested)
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
- Power: 148bhp
- Torque: 199lb ft
- Transmission: Seven-speed DCT automatic
- Top speed: 130mph
- 0-62mph: 8.9 seconds
- Economy: 42.2-42.8mpg
- CO2 emissions: 152g/km
Instrumentation is taken care of by a 12.3-inch digital virtual cockpit and there’s a new 10.1-inch media and navigation screen. This features the third generation of Audi’s excellent MMI user interface and brings everything from smartphone mirroring and standard navigation to live parking information and Google Streetview into the cabin (although some of these are subscription-based).
The A4 is also set up to take advantage of vehicle to infrastructure communication. It’s in its early stages and only works in certain locations but allows the car to gather information on things like traffic light status to give recommended optimum speeds and alter the adaptive cruise control for best efficiency.
In fact, the only disappointment in the interior is Audi’s move away from the rotary controller, with the infotainment now all controlled via the touchscreen or steering wheel buttons.
Ten years ago the mainstream mile-muching A4s were all diesels and a petrol engine signified a performance model. Now, the “hot” S4 models feature a diesel lump and alongside the range of more run-of-the-mill diesels there’s a basic petrol that’s expected to take up 35 per cent of sales.
The 148bhp, 2.0-litre turbo might lack the torque of diesel equivalents but it still feels ideally suited to eating up big miles in refinement and comfort. Linked to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission it makes smooth, quick and easy progress. Official figures are 42.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 135g/km.
On the road the A4 continues the tradition of trailing behind its BMW rival in the engagement stakes but ups its game in comfort. There’s no doubt the 3 Series is more fun to drive but the A4 is calm and composed and rides far better than any other Audi I’ve driven recently.
In fact, for me, the A4 epitomises what has made Audi such a success, offering a slick, stress-free environment in which to cover big distances. It’s understated, spacious, beautifully built, easy-to-drive and packed with the latest technology.
If you can tear yourself away from the SUV section, there’s a lot to recommend it.
This article first appeared on The Scotsman