The sedan comes in 2.0T and 3.2 variants, respectively indicating a 211-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder or a 265-hp V-6. An Avant wagon comes only as a 2.0T. I drove the 3.2 with standard Quattro all-wheel drive on hilly roads around Elkhart Lake, Mich. My test car was a European version, but apart from a few cosmetic changes and features we won't get, it's the car that will arrive here this fall.
The 2009 versions of Audi's A4 convertible and high-performance S4 sedan will be carryovers from the previous generation, which you can compare to the new A4 sedan here. Expect a redesigned convertible, S4 and range-topping RS 4 for 2010 or 2011.
How it Looks
At a glance, the A4's styling changes seem modest, on par with the previous generation's mid-2005 face-lift. The most dramatic changes are in the details: The scalloped headlights have been swapped for more streamlined ones with optional R8-style LEDs around the main bezels. The wide-mouth grille is larger and lower, and the taillights borrow the cleaner look of the platform-related A5 coupe.
Redesigns often bring growth spurts, and the A4's puts it ahead of many competitors. Though still a compact car by EPA dimensions, the sedan has grown about 5 inches in length and 2 inches in width over its predecessor, putting its footprint between its German peers and some of the domestic and Japanese competition. Less competitive is the A4's wide, 37.4-foot turning circle, which trails all but the all-wheel-drive 3 Series.
|Length (in.)||Width (in.)||Height (in.)||Turning circle (ft.)|
|2009 Cadillac CTS||191.6||72.5||58.0||35.0 - 36.0|
|2008 Infiniti G35||187.0||69.8||57.2 - 57.8||35.4 - 36.1|
|2009 Acura TSX||186.1||72.4||56.7||36.7|
|2009 Audi A4||185.2||71.9||56.2||37.4|
|2009 Mercedes C-Class||182.3||69.7||56.3 - 57.0||35.6 - 36.5|
|2008 Lexus IS||180.1||70.9||56.1 - 56.7||33.5 - 35.5|
|2008 BMW 3 Series||178.2||71.5||55.9||36.1 - 38.7|
|Source: Automaker data. AWD variants account for taller heights and larger turning circles. A4's turning circle is with AWD or FWD.|
The 2.0T's grille comes in gray, while six-cylinder A4s wear a glossier black schnoz. In the basic Premium trim, the 2.0T lacks the LEDs, but you can add them by upgrading to a Premium Plus or Prestige edition. The 3.2 comes in Premium Plus or Prestige trims. An optional S-line package adds 19-inch alloy wheels and ground effects, which you can check out in the thumbnails on the right. Lesser A4s have 17- or 18-inch rims.
It's difficult enough to differentiate the dashboards in the A5 coupe and A6 sedan. Now the A4 joins that ilk, which is certainly not a bad thing. A 6.5-inch center display sits beneath the same cowl as the gauges; with the optional navigation system, the display grows to 7 inches. Either way it's controlled by Audi's Multi-Media Interface. Characteristic of most Audis, materials quality is excellent: Most surfaces are soft to the touch, and just about every switch or knob has a low-gloss, well-crafted finish.
I can't enthuse about how the things actually operate, however. I've dinged Audi and sibling brand Volkswagen for this before, but I like my controls to have consistently damped motions when I click or turn them, like those in most Lexus and Acura models. The A4's don't: The window switches and climate knobs operate with vague uncertainty, and some of the other buttons feel downright brittle.
I'm equally perplexed by some of the layouts. The outgoing A4's moonroof dial, a standard-setter for its ease of use, has been replaced by a clumsy knob that isn't nearly as intuitive. Last year's seat-warmers were operated using simple thumbwheels below the temperature controls; now, like in other Audis of late, you can only adjust them after futzing through a submenu on the climate-control screen. The sun visors, like in many European luxury cars, don't extend to cover the full side window. Lame.
As knob-based setups go, MMI is midpack. It's easier to use than BMW's iDrive, but not as intuitive as Mercedes' Comand. The A4's system follows the likes of Audi's A5, A6 and A8. An array of shortcut buttons allow quick access to the major menus, and four directional keys help sort through the labyrinth of submenus. A well-marked "return" button — something most versions of iDrive still lack — brings you back to the previous screen, and zooming in or out on the navigation map requires just a quick crank of the knob. Not so easy is map scrolling: You have to dial coordinates on an X- or Y-axis, then spin the wheel feverishly to move the cursor east/west or north/south. That alone makes me yearn for the touch-screen setup Lexus and some Infinitis employ.
In other areas, though, versatility is a strong point. The center armrest raises and extends forward to support arms of all sizes, and the tilt/telescoping steering wheel has plenty of range. I found ample legroom and headroom up front, and the leather seats provided decent lateral support — impressive considering they're the most basic offering. Sport seats with larger bolsters are optional, as are even shapelier S-Line seats with Alcantara inserts. Check out the photos at right to compare them.
The basic single-CD stereo boasts 180 watts, 10 speakers and an auxiliary MP3 jack. Premium Plus A4s add full iPod integration, while Prestige models have a 505-watt, 14-speaker surround-sound stereo from Danish pros Bang & Olufsen. My test car came thus equipped. For this class, the audio quality is stunning. I usually stop paying attention to a stereo after a few songs, but here I had to listen to all 10 tracks of "Dark Side of the Moon." Twice. Competing Bose and Harman units just don't come close.
The rear seat is a bit low to the ground, but two adults can fit comfortably. Cargo dimensions lead the segment, and a 60/40-split folding backseat, unavailable on the G35 and Lexus IS, is standard. The resulting opening is enormous and ledge-free, and the outboard seat belts sit within gutters to stay out of the way. The center belt mounts in the seatback rather than the rear shelf, so it stays out of the way when you fold the seat. Few family sedans have it this good.
|Headroom, front/rear (in.)||Legroom, front/rear (in.)||Trunk volume (cu. ft.)||Folding backseat?|
|2009 Audi A4||40.0/37.5||41.7/35.2||16.9||Yes, on all models|
|2008 Infiniti G35||39.1/37.2||43.9/34.7||13.5||No|
|2009 Cadillac CTS||38.8/37.2||42.4/35.9||13.6||Yes, on some models|
|2008 BMW 3 Series||38.5/37.5||41.5/34.6||12.0||Yes, on some models|
|2009 Acura TSX||37.6/37.0||42.4/34.3||12.6||Yes, on all models|
|2008 Lexus IS||37.2/36.7||43.9/30.6||13.0||No|
|2009 Mercedes C-Class||37.1/36.9||41.7/33.4||12.4||Yes, on some models|
|Source: Manufacturer data. All but CTS have moonroofs; CTS specs w/moonroof are unavailable.|
Editor's note: The video linked to the right incorrectly states the A4 and C-Class have similar trunk volumes, as Mercedes originally listed 17.4 cubic feet for the C-Class. The correct volume is listed above.
Cargo room in the Avant totals 17.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 50.5 cubic feet with them down. That puts its cargo area slightly ahead of a 3 Series wagon (16.2 cubic feet), though the Bimmer comes out ahead in seats-down volume (60.9 cubic feet). The Avant comes standard with a panoramic moonroof, and a power tailgate is optional.
How it Moves
The majority of A4 sales will be 2.0T versions. Though Audi hasn't published percentages, spokesman Chris Bokich said the 2.0T's weight distribution should translate to better handling balance than the 3.2 sedan's more nose-heavy setup. My test car wasn't sloppy by any stretch, but for all-out fun, it gives up something to the rear-wheel-drive 335i or G35.
Audi has no immediate plans to offer the 3.2 with a manual transmission. Quattro all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic are standard. Both should prove adept partners for confident acceleration — not the sort of gut-flattening punch you get in the BMW or Infiniti, but enough to swap lanes with a direct-injection CTS. The automatic upshifts smoothly but sometimes holds stubbornly to higher gears when you need a lower one. A Sport mode solves much of this, but I'd prefer if it downshifted on deceleration a bit more aggressively. Brake hard coming into a corner, and it often sticks to third or fourth gear, leaving you flat-footed accelerating out.
Fortunately, Audi's capable Tiptronic manual mode allows drivers to override this tendency. It hammers off quick shifts, complete with downshift rev-matching, and it won't dally in the intermediary gear if you want to skip two gears at a time. Steering-wheel paddle shifters are optional, but the tiny gear indicator within the gauges is too small to see at a quick glance.
The 2.0T Quattro sedan also comes with a six-speed automatic, but in early 2009 there will also be a stick-shift option. Audi will also market a front-wheel-drive sedan with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The Avant wagon comes only as a Quattro automatic. Thanks to a number of upgrades, the four-cylinder actually delivers more torque across a lower rpm band than the V-6, and according to Audi's acceleration figures it's nearly as quick with the stick shift.
|2.0T sedan||2.0T wagon||3.2 sedan|
|Engine||2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder||2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder||3.2-liter V-6|
|Horsepower @ rpm*||211 @ 5,300 - 6,000||211 @ 5,300 - 6,000||265 @ 6,500|
|Torque (lbs.-ft. @ rpm)*||258 @ 1,500 - 4,200||258 @ 1,500 - 4,200||243 @ 3,000 - 5,000|
|Drivelines||AWD or FWD||AWD||AWD|
|Transmissions||6-speed manual or 6-speed auto (AWD); CVT auto (FWD)||6-speed auto||6-speed auto|
|0 - 60 mph (sec.)||6.5 (AWD manual); 6.7 (AWD auto); 7.1 (FWD CVT auto)||6.9||6.3|
|*With premium gasoline; regular diminishes output somewhat.|
Source: Automaker data
The A4's double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension comes in base or sport-tuned setups. There's also an adaptive option with variably damped shock absorbers, which my test car had. The latter setup is a centerpiece to Audi Drive Select, an option with either engine that allows drivers to alter steering precision, automatic-shifting response, suspension settings and accelerator sensitivity between three possible settings. Audi isn't the first to offer such a feature, but competitors often relegate it to their high-performance variants, so it's nice to see the technology making its way to the (affluent) masses.
Dial ADS to its cushiest levels and the A4 is an easy driver, with light steering, a comfortable high-speed ride and modest body roll in quick maneuvers. At the other end, Dynamic mode, the steering becomes weightier at low speeds — though not as weighty as a 3 Series or G35 — and, thanks to variable steering assist and ratio, delivers noticeably sharper turn-in precision. The transmission engages Sport mode, and the car's cornering is significantly flatter. Bumps bring more noise into the cabin, but ride quality stops short of outright brittleness.
Even then, the A4 never feels quite as balanced as some of its rivals. Throw it into a corkscrew turn, and the front wheels swing wide with understeer. Quattro defaults 60 percent of power to the rear wheels, but even with the electronic stability system off it's nearly impossible to kick them wide. Not every all-wheel-drive system trades hang-the-tail-out fun for stability, and in any case the A4 feels nose-heavy — not as much as a front-wheel-drive Acura TSX, but certainly less balanced than the segment's best rear-wheel-drive cars.
When active, Audi's Electronic Stability Program can be rather intrusive. Coming hard into an uphill corner, the system abruptly cut my throttle and upshifted — not the sort of response I want in a performance-minded car. The brakes, in contrast, strike a nice balance between performance and daily driving. The pedal feels stronger than that of the C-Class; it isn't as confident as the brakes in a 3 Series or G35, but its linear response makes theirs seem unnecessarily grabby. After a couple hours of hard driving, I noticed only slight brake fade.
Gas mileage with either engine is impressive. Another bonus: Audi, like Infiniti and Acura, merely recommends premium fuel. BMW, Mercedes and Lexus require it. Cadillac does one better, actually recommending regular fuel for the CTS.
|Gas Mileage (city/highway, mpg)|
|Audi A4 2.0T||23/30 (auto)||21/27 (auto), 22/30 (manual)|
|Acura TSX||21/30 (auto), 20/28 (manual)||--|
|Lexus IS 250||21/29 (auto), 18/26 (manual)||20/26 (auto)|
|BMW 328||19/28 (auto), 18/28 (manual)||17/25 (auto and manual)|
|Cadillac CTS 3.6||18/26 (auto), 16/25 (manual)||17/25 (auto)|
|Mercedes-Benz C300||18/25 (auto), 18/26 (manual)||17/25 (auto)|
|Lexus IS 350||18/25 (auto)||--|
|Audi A4 3.2||--||17/26 (auto)|
|BMW 335||17/26 (auto and manual)||17/25 (auto), 16/25 (manual)|
|Cadillac CTS 3.6 DI||17/26 (auto), 16/25 (manual)||17/26 (auto)|
|Mercedes-Benz C350||17/25 (auto)||--|
|Infiniti G35||17/24 (auto), 17/25 (manual)||17/23 (auto)|
|Source: Manufacturer and EPA data for 2008 sedans; A4, CTS and TSX data are for 2009 sedans.|
The new A4 has yet to be crash tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The car's six standard airbags include the required frontal devices, side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. Traction control and an electronic stability system are also standard; side-impact airbags for the rear seats are optional.
Standard antilock disc brakes sit at all four wheels, and a brake drying feature keeps the discs dry in wet weather. An optional Dynamic Steering system can vary power assist and steering ratio, not unlike BMW's Active Steering. It can also lend a hand to maintain stability: Get into a skid, and the stability system can direct Dynamic Steering to actively countersteer. Active Steering lends assistance in a similar fashion, though BMW says it won't correctively steer if the driver does nothing. Audi's system will.
Optional adaptive cruise control maintains a programmable distance behind the car ahead, and its radar system can sound a tone and tap the brakes to alert the driver if an obstruction looms. (Note that the warning system works even if a cruising speed hasn't been set, but Audi says cruise control itself has to be switched on. Some drivers like that feature to be fully off when not in use.)
Features & Pricing
Excluding the destination charge, the 2.0T Premium with Quattro all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission comes nicely equipped at $32,700. Standard features include leather upholstery, power front seats, 17-inch wheels and a moonroof. Premium Plus and Prestige editions add ascending features, while the aggressive S-line sport package comes only on the Prestige. Expect a loaded 2.0T to run just over $50,000. In any edition, the 2.0T Avant commands a $1,800 premium.
The 3.2 sedan comes in Premium Plus and Prestige editions starting at $40,000. Expect a fully loaded 3.2 to run about $55,000; features at that level include a navigation system, a power rear sunshade, Bang & Olufsen audio and a backup camera.
The A4 goes on sale this fall. Audi has yet to announce pricing on the front-wheel-drive or stick-shift sedans, which arrive early next year, but you can expect both to undercut the current $32,700 sticker by a significant amount.
A4 in the Market
A fine line runs between dynamics and comfort. Stray too far to one side, and you'll have a rip-snorting Sunday driver that runs you ragged by Wednesday's commute. Run too far to the other, and you have — well, the new TSX. In many ways, Audi redefines the balance: It makes par for visceral driving enjoyment, and it comes out way ahead for the daily drive.
The idea behind a sport sedan has always been to package athletic moves with passenger-friendly confines — namely backseats, trunks and a few luxury goodies. In its redesign, the A4 sets the bar for just how far that concept extends. If you're shopping the competition, think hard about Audi's contender.
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