After trying a late E90 330D last week, I thought it was a bit pointless test driving the A4 today as I'd arranged, but since I've not driven a current A4 or A5, I went along anyway. They managed to find almost the right spec for me to try; a 62-plate (but pre-facelift) A4 saloon in Black Edition form (i.e. 19" 5-arm alloys, as seen on virtually all A3s these days); I'd be after an Avant but otherwise the spec would be what I'd choose. Even the white paint looked good; unexpected.
Didn't faff around fiddling with the car until after I'd driven it. So straight off, the S-Tronic box is basically the same as a DSG and feels really good - smooth but none of the normal auto slurring of ratios. Unlike the DSG Scirocco I tried a few years ago it pulls away without feeling like it's abusing the clutch, though it did rev slightly while changing up a couple of times.
The engine frankly craps on the BMW's 3.0 diesel. It might just be the way it's encapsulated, but it's quieter, smoother, feels more responsive (gearbox no doubt helps) and makes a nicer noise when you extend it enough to hear it. Most unexpected and by no means a disappointment after the 545's V8.
Second surprise was the steering; excellent weighting, and a much nicer steering wheel than the MSport 3-series. It also tramlined less than the BMW despite having 1" larger diameter wheels. The ride was nowhere near as brittle and uncomfortable as I'd expected, so S-Line spec would be fine for me.
Overall, I was intrigued by S-line spec. It's not the crashy sporty model I anticipated; it has a higher basic spec than the SE as well as looking nicer. The seats are more bolstered than the SE but less figure-hugging than the 3-series MSport seats. The leather quality (and in fact the interior in general) is much nicer than the 3-series (E90 or F30); it didn't feel like the step down from my 545 which I was anticipating.
Fuel economy was the bad bit; I didn't drive it far enough to get a proper figure and the car was only 25 miles old, but it was below 30mpg trundling round Solihull Think it would be better when warmed up, run in and not just playing with it to see what it'll do.
Anyway, I really liked it and am fairly confident an A4 Avant S-Line 3.0TDI S-Tronic will be my next car. There are very few around; I can only assume that's because nobody has tried them, because they're really quite brilliant.