Introduced in the mid 1990s, Audi's A4 delivers German engineering in an upscale car that's compact, well built, reasonably economical, and not too expensive.
After a major redesign for 2002, and a gentle upgrade in 2006, the 2009 model has been transformed. It still looks like an A4, but has received more expressive lines and a roomier, more driver-oriented interior, the better to battle its prime competitors--BMW's 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz's C Class, and the scrappy challengers of Japanese and Swedish origin.
Compared to its predecessor, the new car stretches 4.6 inches longer, on a 6.6-inch longer wheelbase. Width is up 2.1 inches while height is unchanged. The new model seems more massive, especially between the front door and the grille.
Thanks to the longer wheelbase, rear seat passengers gain nearly an inch and a half of knee room, while other vital dimensions expand slightly as well.
Audi produces some of the nicest interiors in the business, at any price. Fit and finish are superb, as is the quality of materials. Like the body, this new inside offers more dramatic styling, a departure from the clean, architectural modeling of the past.
The all-new instrument panel design features two teardrops that extend out from the circular tachometer and speedometer, with the traditional vertically stacked information center between them. The center console starts high and curves around and down asymmetrically, favoring the driver. With the profusion of asymmetrical shapes scattered across the instrument panel and the doors, there is a sense of activity and movement that is different from the subtlety and calm that prevailed in the previous series.
My Brilliant Red test car came with the 3.2-liter V6, the more powerful choice in the A4 line. With 265 horsepower on tap, it zips along through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic. You can select the gears manually, without a clutch.
If you crave a manual six-speed, you'll have to order up the fresh new four-cylinder model with 211-horsepower. Only the four-wheel-drive Quattro model offers the self shifter, the front, wheel, drive model is automatic only. This limitation simplifies build variations at the factory, but it's a departure from before.
The V6 earns fuel economy figures of 17 City, 26 Highway from the EPA, pretty normal for a car this size. I averaged 21.5 mpg in mixed driving. The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide rates the car at 6 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas, just about mid pack. You can push EPA mileage up to 22 City, 30 Highway and the green ratings to 7 and 7 by opting for the aforementioned four-cylinder with the manual shifter.
A4s are luxury vehicles, so all the usual items you'd want are standard, but you can add much more. As a Prestige model, my car's 17-inch wheels were replaced by handsome 18s and I got to enjoy a 505-watt, 14-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system. The $3,300 Prestige package adds heat to the front seats, a real iPod interface instead of an AUX plug, rain sensors for the wipers, and numerous other desirables.
My car's optional navigation system used Audi's Multi-Media Interface (MMI), which is a handy dial surrounded by four flat buttons, mounted on the center console behind the shift lever. If you use a computer mouse, you'll be OK with this after a bit of practice. Depending on the screen you're looking at, the dial permits scanning (by turning) and selection (by pushing). The four buttons streamline the selection process.
I enjoyed the combination of beige, black, wood and satin silver inside my tester. About the only complaint was the cheap-feeling door-mounted power window switches.
My tester featured the optional Audi Drive Select feature ($2,950), which provides one-button electronic control of the throttle, steering, and suspension. The Comfort setting is great for long freeway cruises and has a softer suspension setting, nice on rough roads too. The Dynamic setting tights everything up for back road blasts through the countryside. The Auto setting is somewhere in between. A fourth option lets you custom tune your own favorite configuration.
You can pick up a front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder A4 starting at $31,825, including delivery charges. My V6-equipped tester started at $40,000, and when all the extras were applied, came to $25 short of fifty grand.
Audi's February 2009 sales were down 25.4 percent from 2008 but they are doing better than some other manufacturers.
"While the global outlook is challenging, we feel well-prepared and our focus is to catch the attention of consumers who are in the market for new or pre-owned vehicles," said Johan de Nysschen, President, Audi of America. "The fact that we've gained market share nearly every month over the past year is an indication that our messages of efficiency, design and innovation are connecting with consumers."