All cars feel lively and fairly responsive, but the ride is too firm
The dash is fussy and the offset pedals create an awkward driving position
Plenty of kit, though you'll have to pay extra for some of it
Okay but not much more
One of the roomiest estates of this size
Entry-level SE cars have all the kit you'll need
The A4 Avant is pretty good to drive: it feels both agile and stable, and while the steering is a bit light, it weights up at speed. The 134bhp 2.0 TDIe diesel version is both punchy and economical; the bigger diesels and the two petrols pile on more power but increase consumption too. The cabin is quiet on the whole, although there's a touch too much tyre noise. However, the real downsides to the A4 Avant are its hard ride - even apparently smooth surfaces send judders into the cabin - and the off-set pedal position that can play havoc with driver comfort.
A first glance the Audi's cabin looks great, but on closer inspection some of the cabin materials aren't quite as special as you might expect. The layout of the dash is quite busy but the controls are actually quite logically arranged and Audi's central control system - which uses a main controller knob to access the car's various systems - is fairly intuitive to use. There's not as much headroom in the A4 as in some rivals but legroom is generous and the large boot is a usefully square. You can expand the luggage area by dropping the rear seats but bear in mind they don't go completely flat. Basic SE trim would be our pick: it comes with 17-inch alloys, three-zone climate-control, cruise control, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, and automatic headlights and wipers. Other trims are available depending on which engine you choose; just bear in mind that S line cars, and other models with larger alloys, get a ride that brings the expression 'bone-shaker' to mind.
Audi's reliability isn't always as good as buyers expect, and owners rated the A4 below average on this point in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey. As for safety, it comes with six airbags and stability control as standard, but you have to pay extra for rear side airbags. At least you can also opt for several systems to help prevent an accident in the first place, such as lane-departure and blind-spot alerts.
Provided you find the driving position and firm ride acceptable, the A4 is a perfectly sound choice. It's spacious for occupants and their luggage, and it's a good place to put your money, too. The A4 is cheaper to buy than the BMW 3 Series Touring or Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate and, when you come to sell it on, you'll get back a relatively good proportion of what you paid for it. Most of the diesel engines are cheap to run, too.