Review: 2009 Audi A4 Avant 2.0T quattro Tiptronic
In this era of ongoing economic malaise, even those with a taste for German luxury are often finding themselves having to cut back. Or perhaps, they just need something a bit smaller than the A8, 7-series or S-class, yet still befitting of a luxury garage. For those of you, Audi offers up its mid-sized A4. Less than a year ago Audi introduced a completely redesigned A4 to the US market. The latest edition of the A4 is built on an all-new platform that addresses of the complaints of past models and makes this a much more credible competitor to BMW's iconic 3-series.
The A4 is available in two different body styles, a four door sedan and the example that we drove, an A4 Avant. Avant is Audi terminology for what Americans typically call a station wagon. In Europe, this body style is often referred to as an estate, touring car or shooting brake. Whatever, you call it, ever since Audi introduced the 100 Avant in the '80s its wagons have been among the most handsome on the road, and this latest A4 is no exception. Learn what the A4 Avant is like to live with after the jump.
Gallery: Review: 2009 Audi A4 Avant 2.0
Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The single biggest difference between the new A4 and the previous generation is a 6 inch longer wheel base. While some of this extra space goes toward the passenger compartment, much of it went to moving the front axle forward relative to the engine. Audi's have long been based on a front wheel drive architecture where the engine hangs out in front of the front axle. The result is a heavy front weight bias that while beneficial for poor weather traction, didn't do much for the handling. Aesthetically, that layout also resulted in long front body overhangs especially when viewed in profile. The new front proportions aid the A4 and the related A5 coupe both stylistically and functionally.
The A4 is an excellent interpretation of Audi's current design language. All the usual design elements are there from the massive trapezoidal grille to the tapered taillights. One of the most distinctive features of recent Audis including the R8, A6 and A5 is the LED running lights in the head-lamp clusters. Audi designers refer to this row of white LEDs as the "eye-liner." Each model has a slightly different implementation from the straight horizontal row across the bottom on the A6 to the curved line on the A4. The eye-liner gives Audis an appearance that makes them instantly recognizable when coming at you even in the dark. Below the headlamps are scooped air intakes that look like more subdued versions of the intakes on the high powered RS models.
Compared to the previous generation A4, the latest model has a more sculpted body with a shoulder ridge that Audi designers call a "Tornado line." A second ridge rises up along the lower body that continues into the rear bumper. From a stylistic point of view, most traditional station wagons tend to have a comparatively vertical tailgate that allows for an expanded cargo volume, but also creates a utilitarian look. One of the consistent themes of the Audi Avants from that very first 100 in the 1980s up to this A4 is the forward sloping rear glass and tailgate. While this takes away from the maximum storage volume, it looks more sporting and aggressive.
Considering that most people rarely load anything above the car's belt-line this probably won't be much of a problem. For those times when you find that treasure at an estate sale folding the back seats expands the already commodious 17.3 cubic feet under the cargo cover to a maximum of 50.5 cubic feet. With the rear seats up, two adults can easily be accommodated for any trip with a third squeezing in for shorter trips.
Over the past 15 years or so Audi has developed a reputation for having some of the best executed interiors of any manufacturer the A4 lives up to expectations. While the A4 doesn't have an interior completely swathed in leather, the soft touch surfaces of the dashboard are handsome and remarkably free of seams. Many manufacturers mold their synthetic materials with something meant to replicate the surface grain of a leather. However, those textures are often so exaggerated they come across like something closer to an elephant hide. The A4's surfaces are much more subtle and feature a matte finish that is both attractive and resistant to reflecting in the windshield.
The thick rimmed steering wheel, shift lever and seats are all covered in a lovely black leather. The front seats are well bolstered and comfortable although the lower cushions are bit on the short side as is so often the case. The fore-aft, seat cushion and seat back angles are all power adjustable with two position memory. A panoramic sun-roof provides exposure to the sky for both front and rear seat passengers.
Mechanically, the A4 has inherited a lot the technology developed by Audi in its racing efforts over the past quarter century starting with the world rally championship program of the 1980s. The original Quattro coupe featured one of the first high performance all wheel drive systems to make it to wide adoption on road cars and this A4 Avant was so equipped. Earlier versions of Quattro split the torque 50/50 to the front and rear axles. The new version adjusts the nominal split to 40/60 front to rear for better balance and a more sporting feel. When things get slippery the center differential can lock itself to send the drive torque to whichever axle has more grip.
Under the hood, Audi currently offers Americans two engine options in the A4, a 2.0-liter four cylinder or a 3.2-liter V6. For the 2010 model year, Audi is discontinuing the V6 since only about 10 percent of buyers have been opting for it. That's fine because the four is an excellent engine that offers better fuel efficiency and its lighter weight also improves the overall balance of the A4. Both engines feature the direct fuel injection that Audi debuted earlier this decade in the R8 race car. In addition the 2.0-liter adds a turbocharger bringing the power output to 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Thanks to the direct injection and turbocharging, the four cylinder has a remarkably flat torque curve that peaks from 1,500 to 4,200 rpm.
The quattro versions send power through a 6-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and quickly. Moving the shifter from Drive to Sport induces even snappier shifts and quicker throttle response when the gas pedal is pressed. For those intent on being more active in the driving process, tapping the shift lever to the right side of the gate allows manual shifting by tapping the lever forward and back. On twisting country roads, the steering provides good feedback and the rear biased quattro system provides more neutral responses than past Audis. The multi-link suspension systems at each end of the car also provide a good well damped ride that never feels either floaty or harsh.
With gas prices on the rise again, the 2.0-liter four cylinder provides decent but not exceptional fuel economy. The EPA rates the A4 Quattro wagon at 21 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. During our week with the car, we averaged 25.5 mpg. The all wheel drive wagon bases at $34,500 and our test unit priced out $39,800. For those interested in picking up an A4 with a V6 engine, you'll have to pick one up soon before all the 2009 models are gone. Later this year, Audi will be adding the new S4 with a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 with 333 hp.