BUYING AN AUDI A4 - REVIEW AND VIDEO ROADTEST

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AUDI A4 (1995-2001) (stills taken from video road test)

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MY VERDICT:

For: 

  • Great build quality
  • Strong image
  • Good residuals
  • Bulletproof engines

Against:   

  • Limited rear legroom
  • High used prices
  • Audi dealer service is expensive

I've had my Audi A4 1.8 avant SE since 2002 and have covered over 120,000 miles in it. In a nutshell, i cannot sing it's praises enough. It still feels like it has just come off the production line - no rattles, no squeaks, and everything still works as it should (save for a few dead pixels in the information display), its also never boke down on me. The interior has stood up very well too - the seats especially still look virtually new, which is amazing considering the mileage. Mine's the non-turbo 1.8 which is not particularly quick or economical (it's averaged 32.4mpg over 150,000 miles!). In hindsight, i should have probably gone for the 1.8T but i'm used to just plodding about now. It also still has alot of class for an older car so you can turn up anywhere in it without feeling embarrassed, and i guess the proof of the pudding is the fact that i would not hesitate to buy another.  

WHICH ONE TO GO FOR:

The A4 was substantially face-lifted in 1999 so if you can push to getting a later one you will get a more modern looking car that holds it value better. The best engine is the 1.9 Tdi which gives both performance and economy. However, the purchase price will be higher than its petrol equivalent. If you are not a diesel fan the 1.8T petrol is the pick of the bunch as the non-turbocharged 1.6 and 1.6 are underpowered and quite thirsty. The RS4 offers super car performance in something that can lug your family, dog, and shopping around but you will pay for it with high insurance and planet warming economy. The convertible is very classy and offers a more mature and practical alternative to open top motoring. Silver coloured models tend to be more sought after.

RELIABILITY AND COMMON FAULTS:

Generally a solid and reliable car with not too many issues. The 1.8 petrol engines are especially strong and can go past 400,000 miles if looked after. Make sure it has not been in an accident as this can affect the galvanizing which leads to premature rust. Cam belt renewals (every 80,000 miles) are expensive so make sure it has been done or haggle if it needs replacing.

SAFETY:

Although it feels solid and safe to drive the A4 scored an uninspiring 2.5 stars (out of a possible 5) in the Euro NCAP safety tests. It also scored 2 stars (out of 4) for pedestrian safety. One nice touch is the ability to switch the passenger airbag off so a child seat can be used safely in the front.

MODEL HISTORY:

Introduced in 1995 as a replacement for the Audi 80. It was revised in 1997 giving all models passenger and side airbags, alloy wheels, and RDS radio. Revised and face-lifted in 1999 with changes to headlamps, bumpers, boot lid, door mirrors and rear lights. The interior was also upgraded at the same time.

HOW TO AVOID BUYING A LEMON BY USING OUR BUYERGUIDE BELOW.....

An old wise man with a strange hat once told me "time spend on reconnaissance is time seldom wasted" - which when translated into buying a used car means "a little preparation can save you a lot of money and frustration". Seriously, if you are spending thousands of pounds its worth following a few simple points to help you avoid being dissapointed with your purchase......so i hope you find this buyerguide useful.

Before seeing the car:

  • If it is a private sale make sure you view the car at the sellers premises - this will help determine if the seller is genuine
  • Always ask the seller to make sure the car is cold when you come to view it - warm engines can hide a multitude of sins

How to check the mechanics:

  • Before the car is warmed up check for a film of oil in the radiator - the presence of oil would signify internal engine leaks or a blown head gasket
  • Make sure the oil on the dipstick is smooth and has no bits in it or milky scum - again this could mean internal engine leaks
  • On starting from cold make sure the engine does not turn over sluggishly - this could mean a worn starter and or starter motor.
  • Check for oil leaks around the engine and on the ground where the car has been stood - any leaks could indicate expensive gasket replacement

Body and interior:

  • Worn drivers seat, pedal rubbers, and a shiney steering wheel all indicate a high mileage car - check these appear consistent with the indicated mileage
  • Evidence of scratches or tampering around the speedometer is a dead giveaway that the car has been 'clocked' and the mileage is not genuine
  • Check that the tyres have 1.8mm legal tread depth and the exhaust is silent when you cover the end with a cloth whilst the car is running - both can be price negotiating points of replacements are needed
  • Check that everything works such as switches, heater, a/c, windows, mirrors, stereo, interior and exterior lights - fixing any of these things can be a real pain
  • On older cars check for rust on the sills and floorpan (prod carefully with a screwdriver) - unless you are friendly with a welder rot can be expensive and messy to fix.
  • Check all body panels are consistent in colour and fit - if they are not it is likely that the car has been in an accident and has been repaired poorly

Road testing the car:

  • With the handbrake firmly on try to set off in 1st gear. The car should stall instantly - if it does not it is likely that the clutch needs replacing
  • After driving for a short while floor the throttle - a could of blue smoke out of the exhaust indicates worn bores or valve guides both of which are expensive to fix
  • The car should accelerate smoothly accross the rev range - flat spots or hesitation may signify fuel injection and /or computer problems which are notoriously hard to diagnose and fix
  • The car should pull away smoothly from a standing start - if it judders this may indicate oil contamination of the clutch plate and a new clutch will be needed
  • take the car to at least 70mph. The car should drive straight and not pull to one side. If there is significant vibration this may indicate any one of a number of hard to diagnose problems. Do not let the seller fob you off with "its just the wheels that need balancing".
  • When the car is stopped with the engine running turn the steering wheel from full lock to full lock - rough operation or hissing indicates the power steering is faulty

Finally, trust your instincts about the car and the seller and do not let your heart rule your head - if you are not happy just walk away!!

I hope you found this information useful. For a more comprehensive appraisal of the Audi A4 you can also download our full video road test. Want to see how easy the seats fold down? how much boot space there is? what the interior is like? how much leg room there is? what its really like to drive and live with in the real world?..... then just click on the link below.

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