After saying good bye to the brilliant Mazda, we met our next partner. The 2006 Audi A4 Avant, with the 3.2 FSI V6 that debuted in the new A6, is a different interpretation of what a sport wagon should be. Even from the exterior, the A4 offers a solid image with its broad stance and strong lines. It appears to be machined from a hunk of solid steel. Some may call it bland, but we enjoy the understated elegance. Not only does the A4 impress with visual strength, but the features list highlights technical heft as well. Would it be as fun to drive? Would there be any logical value in a vehicle like this? Would it be as engaging as other German wagons? Wait, where are the other German luxo-sport wagons?
Pulling up on the door handle, the car opens with a purposeful clunk. Sliding down into the driver seat, your heart almost skips a beat. The door closes with a well tuned thump, putting you inside a cocoon of leather, aluminum, and perfectly textured plastic. Lately, Audi has built a reputation for their interiors, and this A4 was no exception. Audi had outfitted this model with just about every option check box filled in. The S-line package brought lustful aluminum trim and a sexy leather wrapped steering wheel with ultra-cool stitching to what is already a stellar interior. We’ve never been that pleased with Audi’s steering wheel with its new-grill-inspired center cushion, but it doesn’t look that bad in this car.
The interior also features dual zone climate control, four heated seats, sunroof, beautiful leather everywhere, and the navigation system. In today’s cars, the navigation system is more like a computer than a dynamic, on-the-go navigator. Nope, in order to use it you must park somewhere, enter you destination(s) and move out. Just a quick glance through the commands and the functions reveals gobs of features. The system also has Bluetooth built-in, and you can bet your life we’re going to play with it.
The manual for this gadget on wheels is huge. Not only is the car’s owner’s manual large, but the manual for the navigation system is just as big! In this first day, it seems this car is not for the technologically challenged. That might be a strong statement, and we might be wrong. Kind words have not been bestowed on technology found in other German luxury cars, and it seems a driver could ignore eighty percent of the A4’s arsenal and still enjoy the drive. That’s our plan for the first couple of days anyway.
Besides having an arsenal of gadgets, the Audi possesses some serious grip. All four wheels seem glued to the road like a mutant gecko. It's quick and possesses this unbelievably tenacious traction. You throw it into a corner and let the car do the work. It is effortless to drive quickly, all the while you feel like you're almost a passenger to the Audi's Quattro genius at work beneath your seat. We wouldn't say that it has quick reflexes; it is responsive but not hyperactive to driver inputs. Needless to say, the A4 is a smooth operator.
The S-line definitely gives this car a slight edge over more typical A4s. The S-line package includes a subtle aero treatment, larger 18 inch rims with sticky rubber, and a more aggressive suspension. The wheels and suspension do transmit a sportier ride to occupants, but it is so well controlled that it’s never tiring. Lesser wagons may offer sporty suspensions, but the ride quality compromises can sometimes transmit undue harshness. The A4 has yet to feel like anything but a solid, comfortable car, while providing the driver with a road weapon with limitless grip and useable power.
Audi’s 3.2 FSI engine is a brilliant power plant. The 3.1-liter, direct-injection V6 produces 255 horsepower at 6500 RPM and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3250 RPM. The torque curve is almost flat, so the V6 provides plenty of grunt at any speed. The engine zips right up to red line, and Audi reports the A4 Avant 3.2 FSI will sprint from 0-60 in 6.8 seconds. It feels faster than that, and we’ve seen other publications publish numbers closer to 6.1 seconds. Either way, the 3.2 FSI is about one second faster to 60 than its 2.0T stable mate. The only tick against the 3.2 FSI model is the lack of a manual transmission. The six-speed automatic does a remarkable job of applying the V6’s power, but you could imagine how insane this wagon would be with a manual. The manual-2.0T spec is probably more tailored to this enthusiast, but there is never anything wrong with combining high-powered V6 engines and manual gearboxes. Oh well! When left in S-mode, the transmission does a pretty good impression of an enthusiast driver rowing the gears.
The silver that covers the A4 is marvelous. The color silver is getting a little played out, but this brings it right back into our mind. The paint seems to be a mile deep, and sparkles in the sunlight. It is beautiful, and it banishes all silver-car malaise. Add to that the aluminum roof rails, and this A4 stops feeling like just another car. Analogies could be made to fine watches, suits, or other luxury goods. The A4 is beyond the typical commodity-like vehicles we all consume on a daily basis.
It’s a good thing the Audi isn’t like other cars, because an A4 like this is hard to justify. At a touch over $47,000, this is probably the most expensive A4 you can buy. Many will not understand the expense you would pay for a machine like this.
When you look at how Audi has put this car together, it becomes clear that it’s more than four wheels, some seats, and an engine. It is very hard to explain that its aesthetics are top notch. For a compact wagon, there are other ‘cheaper’ options, but when you look at the Audi’s prestigious competition the Audi is actually a pretty good value.
Neither BMW nor Mercedes offer a six-cylinder, all-wheel-drive wagon. Neither BMW nor Mercedes offer a
compact all-wheel-drive wagon with their top-of-the-line engine. Their sedans in the large six-cylinder,
all-wheel-drive configuration, comparably equipped, are priced higher than Audi’s wagon. Not only do they retail for
more, but the Audi A4 has arguably the better interior and higher quality assembly. The quality and sheer
thoughtfulness that went into designing the A4’s interior is mind boggling. There are a couple shortfalls, like the
ultra small door pockets, but overall it’s brilliant.
Alright, we got off track a little on the value proposition of this A4. There are other non-German AWD wagons, such as the wonderful Subaru Legacy. We’re talking about an AWD, turbo four-cylinder, in the case of the Legacy GT. Both the A4 and the Legacy GT have similar horsepower figures, but the grunt and sheer flexibility of the A4’s V6 puts it in another league. Actually, it’s not fair to compare those vehicles either. We hate to gush about the A4’s interior, but it’s worth every penny of the $47k+ sticker price. It may be drab and perhaps a touch uninspired compared to other offerings, but for what it lacks in originality it makes up for in solid quality and finish.
People buy wagons for a lot of reasons. The main attraction has to be the utility. Like other areas of the A4, Audi paid attention in the utility department too.
First of all, there are plenty of little places to squirrel stuff away. The glove compartment is huge, the arm rest doubles as storage, and there is a little drawer under the seats. The door pockets are pitifully small, though. Seriously, what can you fit in here? Our guess is maybe a McDonald’s receipt and a tin of Altoids!
Or you could just throw all your goodies in the back. Even the opening to the hatch is adorned with beautiful aluminum trim. Its touches like this, the above and beyond, that make this such a joyful vehicle. Anyway, Audi’s provided a set of tie down loops, which the elastic net attaches to. You could put a carton of eggs under that net and feel secure enough to scramble your way up Pikes Peak without worry about your Eggland’s Best becoming Scramblers.
The thoughtful touches continue when you fold down the seats. The typical P.I.T.A cargo cover stays attached to the seats, and offers a protective screen to keep your IKEA bookcase from becoming an unwanted front seat passenger. In the car’s manual, there are a variety of different tie down solutions as well, beyond the simple elastic cargo net. And under the cargo floor is a fantastic surprise! A full size spare, but not just a spare, a real, honest-to-goodness spare wheel and tire like the ones on the outside. No more embarrassing space saver for your sleek German sport wagon.
Manufacturers seem to be more and more interested in filling our cars with lots of technological headaches. Audi, on the other hand, has managed to place a well-thought out, actually useful suite of applications into their MMI system. MMI stands for Multimedia Interface, and it’s deceptively simple.
First, you have a series of function buttons that place the system into different modes. There is the typical navigation, radio, and CD choices, plus two other features that we’ll mention later. In each mode, the large wheel button on the right does the selection, and in most cases the wheel on the steering does the same thing. For instance, if the radio is on FM, the system will have a list of tunable stations already up for your perusal. Spin the knob on the radio and push with a click to select. The same can be done on the steering wheel control. And every click of every button in the cockpit clicks with the same pressure and gives the same audible response. Is that brilliant or what? Anyway, back to MMI. Each function has several, sub-functions, and those sub-functions are brought up by pressing on of the four quadrant buttons. Ah, that’s just too easy, huh?
Now, besides having a DVD navigation system, which has a pretty decent directory, the Audi has a surprise behind its monitor. Not just one, but two SD/MMC memory card slots for playing MP3 music files. This is some kind of techno-geeks dream car. Files on the SD card can be brought up under the CD/SD function button.
Not only does the A4 offer these SD slots, but it’s also fitted with Bluetooth. If your phone has Bluetooth, you can pair it with the Audi’s navigation system. Turn your phone on, browse for local Bluetooth devices, enter the passkey and you’re on your way. You can then place the call a number of ways; we had the most luck when we put the navigation system into ‘Tel’ mode. When you press the command button on the steering wheel, the system turns down the ventilation system and the radio, beeps and, if you don’t response with your verbal commands, will give you a list of voice commands to use. It’s surprisingly accurate. The system will also bring up your phone’s address book and allow you to choose contacts in the multifunction display in the instrument cluster.
Overall, the features included with the A4 are all usable and helpful tools to ease the business of traveling. The Avant has all the utility of a wagon with an extra touch of class and thoughtful enhancements. It’s a five-star wagon. The more technologically advanced solutions that Audi has added will be a welcome addition to the techno-savvy without totally alienating those who are not interested in gadgets.
For the price of this sport wagon (over $47,000), Audi has brought to the table a ton of technological and mechanical features that actually add value. For all that is offered, you really feel like the A4 is worth the money. We consider this Audi A4 Avant 3.2 FSI with the S-line package to be the ultimate A4, outside the S4 or RS4 of course. The 3.2 FSI is a brilliant power plant with a vicious roar and powerful thrust. The interior is impeccable, and the exterior, despite its critics, looks delicious in this deeply reflective silver paint. It's a tastefully designed package. The larger wheels add strength to the wagon's stance, and the aero treatment combined with the bright work around the windows and the aluminum roof rails add a touch of elegance.
So how does it all boil down? The A4’s a great car, and there are a lot of other ways to own one. The A4 can be
ordered a wide variety of configurations. This particular formula is expensive, but, apples to apples, it’s priced
better than anything its direct German competition could offer. There are two areas that need to be looked at rather
critically. First, you can only get the brilliant 3.2 FSI with an automatic. As always, the manumatic option is there,
but we have never been happy with the response time or the constant electro-babysitting manumatic transmissions offer.
There is a sport mode, which pretty much shifts how we would, but it’s not the same as rowing the gears yourself. This
omission spills over into our other gripe.
Clearly, BMW is the benchmark in the steering feel department, and if someone wants to really play against the boys from Bavaria they need to step up their game. How disappointing the A4 is in this case. Actually, the Audi possesses a wonderful steering wheel behind a perfectly weighted and assisted steering gear, but you can feel where it fails. The A4 has a front wheel drive bias, and you feel it in the steering. You can’t help but wonder, gee, if Audi put a little less power to the front wheels, this whole package would feel so much better. It’s a good thing the rest of the vehicle is so potent. Toss this wagon into a turn and hold on. It’s a point and shoot affair, and perfectly acceptable for most occasions. You just wish, for Audi’s sake, that they could take it that one step farther. Reports of the latest comparisons between the M3 and RS4 show us that Audi is closer with their latest super sedan, so maybe soon people will be talking about the engaging experience offered by BMW and Audi. We would say the Audi A4 is behind the BMW in driving experience, but ahead of just about everyone else in this class when it comes to providing a luxurious sedan or wagon with that’s filtered in a way that special driver-centric way.
Speaking of comparison tests, the latest one from Car and Driver did not treat the A4 too kindly. The lack of a manual transmission and V6 combination seemed to hurt it in this particular test. They don’t openly say that, but every other vehicle in their test group, save the Lexus IS, is equipped with a manual transmission. The Audi finished 5th behind the Acura TL, Infiniti G35, Lexus IS, and BMW 330i. The Lexus undoubtedly has a horsepower advantage which probably overshadowed the mandatory slushbox, but all the others are equipped with manuals. Like we said, manual transmissions play to the driver’s desire to be ‘involved’ in the experience of driving, and we would certainly give the A4 a ho-hum ranking against the row-your-own vehicles. We have to wonder if the Audi would have faired better against a fleet of automatics. The A4 was also blasted for being bland and out-dated. We think that’s not entirely fair, especially considering the very relatively recent redesign. The A4 is more about understated elegance than flash anyway. It has a beauty about it, like a fine watch.
This is an excellent buy if you can afford it. It’s quiet, luxurious, fast, and handles beautifully. It’s a good option for those who want the feel and character of a traditional German compact sedan, but who don’t want a BMW or Mercedes. For us, we’ll continue to dream, and maybe scheme up some plan to get our own 2.0T Quattro with a manual or maybe an A3 with DSG.
New Car Test Drive
Refined sedans, wagons and convertibles.
The Audi A4 is one of the better cars in a crowd of smaller sport-luxury sedans that, dollar-for-dollar, offers some of the best, most appealing vehicles in the world.
To be sure, Audi's A4/S4 line is more than sedans. For 2007, all-new convertibles augment the existing four-door models and wagons. Also new is the ultra-high performance (and at $66,000, expensive), 420-hp RS4. From the enthusiast driver's perspective, it's one of the best sedans ever.
The A4 line is complex, with 21 variants. The key is thinking according to priorities: body style, engine size, front- or all-wheel drive, transmission type. All are nicely balanced, enjoyable automobiles.
The A4 2.0T, still priced well below $30,000, is fun to drive. Its turbocharged, 200-hp four-cylinder is one of the better small engines going, with satisfying response and spry acceleration, particularly with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It corners like a sports sedan, and high-quality construction is evident inside and out. Audi's optional quattro all-wheel drive system can help keep the driver on the road regardless of the conditions or situation, and buyers don't have to choose a big engine or special model to get it.
Going up the line, there's a smooth V6 and two powerful V8s. Those who frequently carry gear, dogs or cargo will appreciate the A4 Avant, which offers the extra space of a wagon while maintaining the A4's sporty driving character. The new convertibles are stylish, sexy and reasonably practical, and they don't have to cost an arm and a leg. The S4 models will appeal to enthusiast drivers who crave their lusty power and sporty handling, for a lot less cash than the RS4.
Every A4 should appeal to techies. State-of-the-art engines feature direct fuel injection: the cleanest, most efficient means yet devised to blend gasoline and air in an engine's cylinders. Transmission choices include a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual-shift feature and an efficient continuously variable automatic (CVT) that delivers truly seamless shifting. Sophisticated suspension technology is augmented with electronic stability control, which can help the driver avoid a crash. The A4 is stuffed with safety features and offers rear side-impact airbags, while most cars in its class don't.
Unlike other tech-heavy cars, the gizmos blend nicely in the A4, enhancing comfort, convenience and safety, and improving the driving experience.
The A4 can be pricey and it's relatively small. On the other hand, you'll have to look long and hard to find a car that blends driving satisfaction, safety, convenience, practicality, great finish and reasonable ownership cost as well as the A4.
The 2007 Audi A4 line features a vast array of sedans, wagons and convertibles with four-cylinder, V6 or V8 engines, front- or all-wheel drive and a choice of six-speed manual, conventional six-speed automatic or continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmissions. The line includes more than 20 separate variants, including the S4 models.
The A4 2.0T sedan ($28,240) is the least expensive model, powered by 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 2.0T Avant ($31,340) and other wagons come only with quattro, which is included in the price. The standard upholstery is cloth. Also standard: dual-zone automatic climate control with cabin filtration, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver's seat, auto-on running lights, a 10-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Option packages for 2.0T: The Premium Package ($1,900) includes a power glass sunroof and 17-inch wheels. The Convenience Package ($1,900) adds driver's seat position memory, Homelink remote transmitter, rain and light sensors, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, auto-dimming and power folding outside mirrors and Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting.
The A4 3.2 sedan comes with the CVT automatic ($35,540) and FronTrak front-wheel drive; the 3.2 quattro comes with all-wheel-drive and the six-speed manual ($36,440) or CVT ($37,640). The 3.2 Avant ($37,440) comes with the manual or the Tiptronic six-speed automatic ($38,640). The A4 3.2 models feature a 255-hp V6 and come standard with leather upholstery, a sunroof, and 17-inch wheels.
Options for the 3.2 models include a Cold Weather Package ($1,000) with heated seats and a ski sack, and Audi's S-line Sport Package ($2,750), which adds 18-inch wheels with performance or all-season tires, sport suspension, brushed aluminum trim and S-line styling tweaks.
The S4 sedan ($47,500) and S4 Avant ($48,500), which feature a 340-hp 4.2-liter V8 and standard quattro. The S4s offer the DTM Appearance Package ($1,500), which is named for Germany's equivalent to NASCAR racing and includes carbon-fiber spoilers.
The A4 Cabriolet, or convertible, has only four seat belts, and is available in five models that roughly correspond to the sedans and wagons: 2.0T CVT ($39,100); 2.0T quattro with conventional automatic ($41,200); 3.2 quattro with automatic ($46,950); S4 manual ($55,700); and S4 automatic ($56,900).
The are lots of stand-alone options for all A4 and S4 models, including a navigation system ($2,100), a Bose stereo upgrade ($1,000) with XM satellite radio receiver, Parktronic distance warning ($350), special wood trim packages ($400) and headlight washers ($150).
The RS4 ($66,000) sits atop the entire lineup. This is a high-performance sedan of the first order, with a 420-hp 4.2-liter V8, manual transmission only and a special quattro system that biases power delivery to the rear wheels. It also includes most of the comfort and convenience features offered across the line.
Safety features that come standard include front-seat front and side-impact airbags, curtains-style head-protection airbags front and rear, and advanced, full-feature electronic stability and anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Rear-seat side airbags ($350) and a tire pressure monitor ($250) are optional.
The Audi A4 looks like a premium-grade car. It's classy and assertive, just short of overtly aggressive, with a tidy, well-planted stance that oozes presence. That presence is strong enough to disguise the A4's dimensions.
This is a relatively small car: considerably smaller than competitors like the Cadillac CTS or Infiniti G35, and very close in most measures to the compact Honda Civic.
The eye immediately settles on the A4's big, tall grille, of which opinions vary. The only consensus seems to be that it's different, and it immediately identifies the A4 as an Audi.
The headlights give the front-end an assertive look, with lenses that angle upward as they wrap around the fenders. Laterally split intakes below the body-colored bumper and outboard of the grille do double duty, housing fog lamps and channeling air toward the front disc brakes. A modest hood swell, which designers call a power bulge, carries the grille's vertical outlines back to the roof pillars. On the ultra-high performance RS4, the hood and fenders are fabricated from aluminum to reduce weight.
The A4's profile shows a sharply creased shoulder line running the length of the car, from the trailing corner of the headlights to the leading edge of the tail lights. The side windows are nicely proportioned to the body mass, atop a relatively high beltline. A bump strip breaks up the expanse of the lower door panels. The painted door handles look great, but they are hard to grab and can snap away from your fingers when you're in a hurry.
The A4 Cabriolets look good with the convertible top up and much better with it down, which is probably the way it should be. The fully automatic, electro-hydraulic roof will open or close at speeds up to 19 mph. That's handy if a rain squall sneaks up while profiling through town. The soft top is thickly insulated, with a glass rear window and defroster, so it shouldn't be too big a detriment in cold climates.
The premium-grade look outside the Audi A4 carries through inside, thanks to clean, elegant design, generally rich-looking materials and good finish work. Colors combinations tend to be muted, and a choice of wood trims or aluminum inserts complement the leather, cloth and plastics.
The standard A4 seats are well bolstered, with plenty of lumbar support. We found them comfortable. The sports seats in S and RS models have big side bolsters that are harder to slide over, but the payback is Velcro-like grip on a driver's backside and torso. The standard cloth upholstery feels durable and provides a bit of grip itself. The optional leather surfaces are elegantly stitched and fit our posteriors well. The seats, mirrors, steering column and other features adjust in every conceivable direction, helping drivers find a comfortable seating position.
Interior space, however, is not one of the A4's strengths, even compared to some sedans with similar exterior dimensions. To be sure, there is more than adequate space for average-sized adults to adjust, move and stretch in front, without pangs of claustrophobia. But the A4 may not be a car for the truly full-figured, or people who rise taller than six feet, two inches. On a regular basis, the smaller space in the back seat is best reserved for children and pre-teens.
All of the A4's controls are focused on the driver; with few exceptions, they're ergonomically configured and intuitively located. The steering wheel hub repeats the grille's trapezoidal outline. A minimalist set of secondary controls on the wheel spokes manages audio and other functions. Column-mounted stalks operate the usual array of features and are clearly marked, except for the rear wiper/washer switch on the Avant, which is controlled by the right-hand lever. We like Audi's lane-change signal feature, which delivers three turn-signal blinks with a tap on the lever. It works much better than some other manufacturers' efforts to re-invent the turn signal, most particularly BMW's.
The A4's gauges are shaded by a hooded panel and easily viewed through the top half of the steering wheel, regardless of how the wheel is adjusted. The TFT information display, reporting such data as radio frequency, trip mileage and service interval warning, separates the tachometer and speedometer, with fuel and coolant gauges tucked down in the corners.
Knobs and buttons for the audio and climate controls are clustered in the center stack, all easily deciphered and within easy reach. The climate system is easy to operate, but the air conditioning struggled to keep up on a 95-degree day driving through the desert. It was about then that we noticed that, at certain angles, the sun reflected up off of the silver trim surrounding the shifter on an A4 2.0T sedan.
When the navigation system is ordered, the stereo panel gives way to the map display, which then doubles as stereo controls. The display is one of the best available, and system controls are readily understood. It's easy to orient the cursor and shift the map scale, while on-screen telltales steal very little real estate from the map. The map offers both a flat, two-dimensional and a bird's-eye perspective, the latter with a distant horizon visible across top of the screen.
The premium stereo has MP3 capability and a pair of slots for Secure Digital memory cards. Unfortunately, only volume and pre-set radio stations can be changed without first pressing Accept on the opening menu every time the car is started. We find it annoying to sign the electronic equivalent of a liability waiver just to turn on the radio. Also, the stereo is on all the time the navigational system is active, and it's annoying. You don't turn it off, you just turn it down.
There are other minor annoyances with the A4. We wish the beep confirming the remote lock would sound more promptly, as we constantly found ourselves pausing for a momen.
The Audi A4 offers good handling and response, making it a lot of fun on winding roads. It's extremely stable at high speeds, as one might expect from a bigger, heavier car. Its engines range from spry and economical to Holy Cow! with gas guzzler tax.
The A4 is Audi's counterpoint to the BMW 3 Series, and we'd venture that each is the other's most obvious, direct competitor in the market place. The A4 is clearly competitive with the 3 in the quantifiable, objective measures. Much of the subjective and visceral is present and accountable, too. Even where it follows a different track, it doesn't stray too far. But in one measure, it's far ahead. Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system is almost legendary, and much better sorted than the all-wheel-drive systems offered in the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Meanwhile, the Acura TL and many other cars that compete in the sporty, near-luxury class only come with front-wheel drive.
The A4 lacks the quiet, almost Zen-like solitude afforded by some of its competitors, but those who appreciate its lively traits will find it more than quiet and smooth enough. Wind and road noise are nicely filtered in the sedan, less so in the Avant, where the large cargo space amplifies the hisses and rumbles. The same large volume of air works well with the stereo, however, giving the bass tones a nice, deep resonance in the Avant.
The 2.0T suffers from turbo lag, a trait that's amplified when paired with the Tiptronic automatic that comes with quattro. The Multitronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive is a competent package, but it's a combination that doesn't deliver what we look for in an A4. The A4 2.0T's four-cylinder engine works best with the six-speed manual gearbox and that's the combination we'd order here, though we wish the shift throws on the manual were a little shorter.
With the 2.0T turbocharged engine, there's not a lot of power down at the very bottom of the rev range. The manual allows the operator to keep the engine running where the torque comes in greater quantity. Yet even with the manual, the turbo is not great for squirting at a moment's notice, so passing a train of cars on a two-lane road can be a challenge. It's fantastic for winding roads, however, and we had a blast with it on a winding hill climb out of California's Carmel Valley.
The 2.0T does very well on the highway, feeling comfortable cruising at high speeds all day. We did this and got 27 mpg. An A4 2.0T Quattro is EPA City/Highway-rated to get 22/31 mpg.
The 3.2-liter V6 is a much better choice when ordering an automatic transmission. The V6 is smoother and more refined than the 2.0T. With the V6, the six-speed Tiptronic automatic is almost as responsive as the six-speed manual, and by far more accommodating in day-to-day traffic. We prefer to put it in Drive and go, and we suspect most people will rarely, if ever use the Tiptronic manual shift feature.
Those who do will find the Tiptronic falls a bit short in the manumatic game, mostly because it will not allow full manual control of the shifts. An algorithm in the powertrain management computer shifts up a gear to put the engine at the optimum point in the torque curve, and a button beneath the gas pedal shifts down a gear when mashed, as when passing or accelerating up a grade. This is an impressive application of computerization, but it mocks the Tiptronic's promise of a manual-override automatic. In practice, the downshift is occasionally helpful, but the upshift is disconcerting when it occurs in the middle of a corner.
All the A4 models offer crisp steering response with comforting directional stability. All feel planted and confident at high speed. There's less pogo over undulating pavement on fast and narrow winding roads than in other cars. Quick left-right-left transitions are handled with finess.
The Audi A4 is fun and spirited in any of its 21 variations. It delivers plenty of power, respectable gas mileage for its class, state-of-the-art sound and, above all, an integration of various systems that give it depth and a high level of driving satisfaction. Interior space is tighter than in many competitors, but Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system remains the benchmark. Prices range from the very-high $20,000 range to just past $70,000, when loaded with options. If you plan to look at entry-luxury sports sedans, we recommend that the A4 be one of them.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Tucson, Arizona; with Mitch McCullough in Monterey, Greg Brown in Los Angeles, and J.P. Vettraino in Detroit.
Audi A4 2.0T FrontTrak manual ($28,240); 2.0T FrontTrak CVT ($29,440); 2.0T quattro manual ($30,340); 2.0T quattro Tiptronic ($31,540); 2.0T Avant manual ($31,340); 2.0T Avant Tiptronic ($32,540); 2.0T Cabriolet CVT ($39,100); 2.0T Cabriolet quattro Tiptronic ($41,200); 3.2 FrontTrak CVT ($35,440); 3.2 quattro manual ($36,440); 3.2 quattro Tiptronic ($37,640); 3.2 Avant manual ($37,440); A4 3.2 Avant Tiptronic ($38,640); 3.2 Cabriolet Tiptronic ($46,950); S4 manual ($49,700); S4 Tiptronic ($48,700); S4 Avant manual ($48,500); S4 Avant Tiptronic ($49,700); S4 Cabriolet manual ($55,700); S4 Cabriolet Tiptronic ($56,900); RS4 ($66,000).
Options As Tested
Convenience Package ($1,800) includes driver's seat position memory, Homelink remote transmitter, rain and light sensor, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, auto-dimming and power folding outside mirrors and Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting; Bose Audio Package ($1,000) with XM Satellite Radio; Cold Weather Package ($1,000) includes heated seats and ski sack; S-Line Package ($2,750) includes 18-inch cast alloy wheels with performance or all-season tires, sport suspension, S-Line badges, front and rear bumpers and steering wheel, and brushed aluminum trim; California Emissions ($150).
Audi A4 3.2 quattro ($36,440).
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