DETROIT, MI -- When I was in a parking lot getting into my test car, a woman walked up to get in her car and said, "I like this car" then she said "what is it?" I said "it's an Audi" and she admiringly said, "I should have known".
That was significant. With all respect, she was a mature African American woman of 45 or 50ish. She was not someone that I'd expect Audi's advertising and marketing to reach. But she knew the brand and by her response she knew its reputation.
The second point was that I was not driving one of Audi's two seat wonders, or one of its two door coupes, or one of its sedans with the sport package. And I won't even talk about the S performance line or the RS high performance line. I was driving a 2009 Audi A4 Avant 2.0 T quattro Tiptronic.
One of the few things I don't like about Audi is the awfully long nomenclatures for its models. In this instance the A4 Avant is Audi-speak for station wagon. The A4 itself is the model and it used to be Audi's entry level offering but since the A3 came online the A4 has gotten a bit bigger and there is more stuff available.
Anyway, the 2.0 was for a two-liter four cylinder engine and the T was for turbocharger. There was one. Tiptronic is Audi's brand name for its automatic transmission and quattro was and is Audi-speak for its all-wheel-drive system.
At $39,800, The 2009 A4 Avant is pricey but it is also a niche car aimed those folks who want a small station wagon because they're hauling people, often little ones, and stuff on a regular basis. But at almost $40K you are getting something for your money.
First Audi's two 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder is a world class engine. There are few that can match its 211 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 1,500 rpm. That torque curve at that rpm provides oomph from almost any speed. And the engine had an EPA rating of 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway.
This engine was so smooth that I rarely heard it idling, that's saying something for a four-banger. About the only driving quibble I had was with the transmission. It downshifted from third to second and second to first rather harshly at slow speeds. I attributed that to my particular car not to every model.
While I'm at it, the A4 Avant was smooth, it was expressway worthy, the suspension wasn't too firm, it cornered well and I never felt like I was driving a compact car or a big station wagon. The A4 Avant was road worthy as a colleague of mine likes to say. And it was comfortable, too.
Handling was great. That's an aside of all-wheel-drive. Audi's latest generation of quattro sends 60 percent of the torque to the rear wheels and applies the remaining 40 percent to the front pair. Whenever required, the self-locking center differential redirects most of the torque to the axle with better traction.
The car had the traditional Audi driver focused instrument layout, with intuitive controls like for Bluetooth. I didn't understand it but I always managed to connect my phone.
I found two things about my test vehicle really interesting: it didn't have a navigation system. That kept the price down and it did have an open sky panorama roof (read glass) which was standard on this model.
I didn't get the chance to check out the Audi music interface which replaced the auxiliary jack. Until I know what it is, I'd rather have that check for my iPod. The A4 Avant is not for everyone but for those folks who have a couple of bucks and want something small but spacious and utilitarian, it might be just the ticket.