March 8, 2009
Audi followed the accepted formula in redesigning its compact A4 sedan.
It extended the wheelbase by 6 inches and stretched overall length by 5 to improve already excellent handling while allowing for more luggage room in the trunk.
It also tweaked the turbocharged 4-cylinder to boost output to 211 horsepower from 200 in the 2.0 T, as well as to deliver 265 h.p., up from 255, in the 3.2-liter V-6. The 2-liter is rated at 21 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway, the V-6 at 17/26.
The rating seems generous on the 4 based on frequent visits we made to the pump. And for those who can't handle the thought of $4 gas returning, be advised the A4 recommends the high-priced premium stuff.
We tested both A4s, the turbo 4 and V-6. The differences are noticeable. The 2.0 T is alert moving into traffic, though there's a little turbo lag when you kick the pedal for a power takeoff. And the exhaust is tuned to deliver a little rumble to benefit the ego of the pilot.
The V-6 is quicker to merge or pass. It's also much smoother and quieter than the turbo 4, without any sound effects to draw attention to itself.
The turbo is sneakers; the V-6 dress shoes. And thanks to Audi for the humor in installing a speedometer that goes up to 180 m.p.h.
With either model, the suspension is tuned for handling. All-wheel-drive, quattro in Audi lingo, keeps the A4 flat and tight in corners—no lean or drift—while electronic stability control prevents unnecessary lateral moves like slipping or skidding. While handling is exceptional, ride is firm and can be a bit too bouncy and bumpy on uneven roads.
But in following the longer, more potent redesign formula, Audi left out one key ingredient. The 2009 A4 is about 5 inches narrower than it had been. Why?
So the cabin is snug, especially in back. Considering the car is 5 inches longer, it's more than a shame knee room is at a premium in back. Long-distance travel would be a chore. The trunk has ample room to hold all the suitcases, but the back seat can't hold the occupants in comfort on the trip.
Simply getting in the car can be a task. Door openings are neither high nor wide. Slipping the legs in isn't bad, getting the head and body in without banging the melon and butt is the trick. Membership to Weight Watchers shouldn't be a necessary option when purchasing a car, especially one in the $30,000 to $40,000 range.
Another annoyance is that A4's controls are almost as complex and confusing as iDrive at BMW. Try, just try to get the dual-zone climate control to heat the zones desired by the passengers. Got it? OK, turn on the defroster. After that, heating the seats, regulating the fan and adjusting the radio take more than a touch of a button.
On the plus side, the console has a cell phone/iPod holder and dual cupholders for big or little pop cans or coffee cups. There's also some stowage under the center armrest, as well as a power plug inside. To conserve space between seats, the A4 has a finger-size emergency brake lever in the console. There's also push-button start/stop.
A driver info center in the instrument panel (optional in 2.0 T) lists the radio station in use, speed, distance traveled and outside temp. All useful and easy to see.
The 2.0 T starts at $32,700; the 3.2, $40,000. A $7,300 prestige package gives the 4 most of the amenities of the V-6 (such as three-zone climate control and heated seats) at the same price. A navigation system would add $2,500 to either.
Both cars offer as standard anti-lock brakes, side-curtain air bags, power glass sunroof, power seats/windows/locks, AM/FM satellite radio with CD player, leather seats and heated outside mirrors.
A4 is for well-heeled singles and young marrieds who don't have worries about job security or mortgage payments—and their ability to slip through a small door and turn the heat on.