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'Close, but no cigar' describes Audi's previous efforts to beat the BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Every time it rolls out a sparkling new A4 Avant that's better in every single way than the car it replaces, its pesky German neighbours go and sneakily raise the bar.
The new A4 is the ninth time it goes up against its rivals, but, for once, Audi might be in with a chance. All-new from the ground up, the new Avant is based on a completely new platform that shaves up to 120kg off the kerb weight - and that weight saving has a dramatic affect on both efficiency and the way the A4 drives.
Best for those who run a car for business is the entry-level 150hp 2.0-litre TDI Ultra 150 that averages 70.6mpg while emitting just 104g/km of CO2. That adds up to a very reasonable 18% BIK tax bill, but most fleets will ignore it and opt for its more powerful brother, the 190hp version, that can still return almost 69mpg while emitting 106g/km of CO2.
A fleet-friendly 150hp 1.4-litre turbo petrol will also join the range, in April next year. Before you hit the road, it's difficult not to be won over by the A4's cabin. For some it will be enough to choose it over a BMW, it's that impressive. For fit, finish and sheer quality it easily eclipses current class best, the C-class.
Then there's the drive. Forget second best, here's an A4 that's very nearly as enjoyable to drive as the very best of them. It might not offer the ultimate involvement of a rear-wheel drive BMW 3-series, but the front-wheel drive 2.0-litre is still engaging, agile and fun when you want it to be and smooth, quiet and refined when you don't.
The more powerful 190hp 2.0-litre diesel is fractionally more vocal when stretched compared with its less powerful sibling, but it makes up for it on motorway inclines where it doesn't need gear changes to maintain momentum. It's also significantly quicker, taking 7.9secs to hit 62mph, from standstill (versus 9.2secs), but you could happily live with both.
Audi hasn't skimped on kit. All versions get a long list of standard equipment that includes autonomous braking, a power tailgate and an excellent seven-inch infotainment system. The only omission is that satnav isn't standard on the base SE spec, but, thanks to Apple Carplay and the Android equivalent, you can connect your smartphone and use your Google maps.
Cementing the decision to consider the A4 over and above its rivals is that it's now roomier inside and boot space is on par with its biggest premium estate rival.
Throw in decent residual values and a cut-throat cost per mile and, for once, it's Audi, not BMW or Mercedes that's doing the bar-raising.
Audi A4 Avant 2.0 TDI Ultra 150 Sport
Model price range £27,300-£40,350
Residual value 40.0%
Service, maintenance and repair £2610
Vehicle Excise Duty £40
National Insurance £2272
Cost per mile 58.5p
Fuel consumption 70.6mpg
CO2 (BIK band) 104/km (18%)
BIK 20/40% per month £91/183
Boot space (min/max) 505/1510 litres
Engine size/power 1968cc/150hp
Vastly improved estate finally beats BMW and Mercedes on costs and ability