Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Aging yet impressive sedan gets enhancements.
The Audi A4 is a premium compact sedan with a brilliant, venerable 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine and a smooth ride. Its classy interior comes standard with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, and other premium features. Front-wheel drive with a CVT transmission is standard, while quattro all-wheel-drive with a Tiptronic 8-speed automatic transmission is available.
Stepping up a performance notch, the Audi S4 holds a supercharged V6 engine.
Last redesigned for 2009, Audi A4 and S4 were freshened on the outside and refined on the inside for 2013, adding electric power steering. They are showing their age following the introduction of new models from BMW, Cadillac, Buick and Hyundai. The A4 Avant wagon was discontinued, replaced by an all-new Audi allroad model for 2013.
For 2014, Audi A4 and S4 gain enhancements and content. The 2014 Audi A4 gets more power: Horsepower from the 2.0-liter engine has been raised from 211 to 220 hp. A Convenience package, now standard on the 2014 A4, includes the Audi music interface, HomeLink, Bluetooth connectivity, and a driver information system.
An S line exterior becomes standard on 2014 Audi A4 Premium Plus and Prestige models, featuring modified front/rear bumper and side skirts, S line door sills, S line fender badging, and new 18-inch 10-spoke RS-design wheels. A new S line Style package is available for A4 Premium models, including 10-spoke 18-inch wheels, xenon-plus front lighting, LED taillights, high-gloss aluminum exterior window trim, S line bumpers, side sill blades, and stainless-steel door sills with S line badging.
New for 2014 is a Black Optic package. Audi's MMI navigation is available on A4 Premium models. Premium Plus models gain Audi's advanced key as standard.
Audi drive select is newly standard on the S4, and included in an available A4 Sport package. Audi side assist, now a standalone option for A4/S4 Premium Plus models, monitors blind-spot areas as well as rapidly-approaching vehicles, up to 150 feet to the rear of the car. For 2014, standard 18-inch S4 wheels have a 5-parallel-spoke Star design, while Premium Plus versions of the A4 and S4 get new 18-inch 10-spoke wheels, with an exclusive RS design.
2014 Audi A4 competitors include the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS, Infiniti G, Cadillac ATS, Buick Regal, and Hyundai Sonata. The A4 does well against its competition in the areas of fuel economy and passenger room, and is superior in all-weather capability. Audi S4 occupies a niche, as many of its competitors are either dated or more expensive.
The styling of the A4 is clean but not dynamic. The grille is more angled in the upper corners, complemented by dynamic hood lines, bumpers with angular air inlets, and sleek headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Optional lighting includes halogen cornering lamps as part of the adaptive system, and LED taillights.
The cabin features a lot of controls, all easy to reach. Seats are excellent, with Nappa leather standard. Dashboard trim includes more chrome than in earlier A4s, with inlays in aluminum, walnut, ash, or oak. It's unlikely you'll find a more appealing interior at the A4's base price.
The rear seat offers 35.2 inches of legroom, which is comparable to the A4's top competitor: the BMW 3 Series. Trunk space is 12.4 cubic feet, about the same as the 3 Series.
On the road, smooth or bumpy, the A4 is solid, firm and stable. Easy and enjoyable to drive, it rides like a larger car.
The A4 quattro is very adept in snow and rain, at the top of its class of models with all-wheel drive, where it performs favorably against the BMW 328iX, Mercedes-Benz C300 4Matic, and Lexus IS 250 AWD. Audi has specialized in all-wheel drive longer than those rivals and has a winning rallying heritage, racing over unpaved roads. With front-wheel drive rather than quattro, the A4's cornering is not as precise as a rear-wheel-drive BMW 3 Series. We recommend quattro.
Audi's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine is silky smooth and the torque range is exceptionally broad, so there's responsive acceleration at any time. All 2014 Audi A4s come with this engine.
The Tiptronic 8-speed automatic is a brilliant transmission, fast-shifting and obedient, with rev-matching downshifting. Opting for the 6-speed manual gearbox, however, turns an A4 quattro into a sporty sedan. Shifting is precise and pleasurable, the clutch is easy, and the redline is way up there at about 6500 rpm. We loved it.
The high-performance Audi S4 features a 333-horsepower supercharged V6, quattro all-wheel drive, and sport suspension. S4 looks different than A4, with its own grille, along with a front splitter, rear diffuser, and unique exhaust. It's got a special interior, including well-bolstered seats in Alcantara leather with contrast stitching. Interior options include a flat-bottomed three-spoke steering wheel, high-gloss piano black trim with stainless steel mesh inlays, and Nappa leather.
Every 2014 Audi A4 uses the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, with three transmissions to choose from: an 8-speed continuously variable transmission, a 6-speed manual, or an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic. Front-wheel-drive models only come with the CVT. Three trim levels are available: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige.
Audi A4 Premium comes standard with leather upholstery, power sunroof, single-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, sound system with XM radio and single CD, power windows and locks, halogen headlamps, 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, Convenience package. The A4 Premium comes with FWD CVT ($33,800), quattro 6-speed manual ($34,700), and quattro 8-speed Tiptronic ($35,900). Split-folding rear seats are available for A4 Premium as part of the Cold Weather package.
Premium Plus FWD CVT ($37,300) upgrades with heated front seats with memory, heated mirrors, split-folding rear seat, three-zone climate control, Audi music interface with iPod cable, xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights and taillights, and 18-inch wheels with wider all-season tires. Added for 2014 are an S line exterior and an advanced key. Premium Plus is also available as an A4 quattro with 6-speed manual ($38,200) or an A4 quattro with Tiptronic ($39,400).
Prestige ($42,600) adds adaptive headlamps, MMI navigation, Audi side assist, and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. Prestige is available as an A4 quattro with 6-speed manual ($43,500) or an A4 quattro with Tiptronic ($44,700).
The Black Optic package includes a Black Optic grille with Singleframe surround, gloss-black window surround, 19-inch Tiranium Rotor-design wheels, and body-colored side mirrors.
Audi's S4 uses a 3.6-liter V6 with quattro, and either a 6-speed manual ($48,100) or 7-speed S tronic transmission ($49,500). S4 starts with Premium Plus trim, but includes Alcantara leather, 12-way power driver seat, sport suspension and brakes, and 18-inch wheels with summer tires. Audi drive select has been added for 2014.
The S4 Prestige is available with manual ($54,000) or S tronic ($55,400). Equipment matches the A4 Prestige.
Safety equipment on all A4 and S4 models includes eight airbags, electronic stability control with anti-lock brakes and hydraulic brake assist, crash sensor activation, child door locks and LATCH seat system, and tire pressure monitor. Available all-wheel drive improves handling stability in slippery conditions. An optional rearview camera can help the driver spot a child behind the car when backing up. Rear side-impact airbags can help protect outboard rear-seat passengers in a side impact.
The A4 is a stylish sedan and shows it; the more and closer you look at it, the better it gets. It's clean but not dramatically dynamic. The freshened face added for 2013 tries to keep the A4 from looking dated, as the basic styling has been with the car since its last redesign for the 2009 model year.
Downsized at the edges, the grille backs away from its in-your-face attitude. There's more apparent modernization at the current headlamps, which are well done, sleek and small in the broad face of the car. In fact, they're smaller than the black air intakes at the bottom of the clean invisible bumper. The LED daytime running lights are thin lines around two-thirds of the perimeter of the lamps, and look very cool.
With such a large grille to deal with, a wide horizontal swath across it (part of the bumper) is solid, but it still seems like there are a lot of horizontal ribs in the face of the car. Black bars in the grille of the S4 help this.
The character lines on the sides of the car work, with body-colored door handles. A sharp ridge runs from the rocker behind the front wheel rising to a point at the middle of the rear wheel, and this rise affects motion and accentuates the length of the car. There's another higher line that flows slightly arced over the front fender, straight back under the windows, and tapers down a tiny bit to the taillight; use your imagination a lot, and it rolls like smoke over a car in a wind tunnel. You have to look to see it, and it's most visible from the front three-quarter view, but it can be lovely.
There are five wheel designs. The standard 17-inch wheels are 10-spokes, and they look classy and terrific; ironically, the optional five-spoke 17s for wider tires are horrible, in our view. Both of the 10-spoke 18s, for all-season and summer tires, are unique, and that's hard to do nowadays. The 19s lack the distinction they should have. We're not a fan of the biggest wheels and tires anyhow. They stick nicely but don't ride so well, and both tires and wheels cost a lot to replace. The 17-inch tires with taller sidewalls are better for rough roads.
The S4 turns heads, with a presence befitting its power. Its stance is low in front thanks to a sport suspension, and shows off an aluminum hood, black grille and air intakes, splitter below the front bumper, four exhaust pipes with rear diffuser, and more aggressive wheels and tires. It looks great in red from the front, with the black contrasts there.
It's quite busy in the Audi A4 cabin, but not in a bad way. There's just a lot that's available to control, and thankfully it's all fairly easy to reach. The console and center dash are angled toward the driver, and the center armrest top slides forward, enhancing ergonomic comfort.
The chrome-ringed speedometer and tachometer aren't cluttered by graphics, and the instrument lighting is easy on the eyes, but the gauges lack the pristine functional beauty of the BMWs; same for the three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, however there's an optional cool flat-bottomed Audi wheel. There are controls on the steering wheel, thumb wheels that spin and click through what you need, in particular on the display located between the speedo and tach. It can show the transmission gear, radio info, fuel range and economy, temperature and more. On the Prestige model, trip computer data, cruise control distances, and navigation data are added.
The seats are excellent, standard in black or dark gray Nappa leather; standard leather is not something that all the A4's competitors offer. And the S4 sport seats are even more excellent, for their bolstering, Alcantara inserts and embossed S4 logos. Contrasting stitching also highlights the seats, as well as the leather-covered shifter and flat-bottomed steering wheel. Standard interior trim is brushed aluminum; options include stainless steel, carbon fiber, or wood.
The A4 seats come with driver lumbar adjustment, and the headrests raise and lower; the angle isn't adjustable, but not many are. Often we wish they were. The tilt-telescope steering wheel enables drivers to find a place that works for them.
Automatic climate control with manual ability is standard on the Premium model. On Premium Plus and Prestige models, there's three-zone climate control: both front seats and the rear. The standard audio system handles most inputs, while the optional Bang & Olufsen system offers 505 watts and 14 speakers. Even with so much packed into a small four-door, storage spaces still show up all over the place, from seatbacks to center armrests to a roomy glovebox.
We think the shift lever is awkward and bulky, it doesn't fit smoothly in your palm and feel good like the BMW; also, the gate for the manual mode on the automatic transmission shifter should be on the left, the driver's side, not the right.
We like that the optional MMI Navigation function has had the number of buttons reduced from eight to four, although the round control itself is big enough to block the view of the two buttons on its far side. We're getting used to Audi's Multi Media Interface, and it's getting easier, so this time we can say: no issues in getting the information on the 6.5-inch color screen, or setting the climate control. But, having driven BMWs with 10-inch screens that can display navigation and audio at the same time, we like screens bigger.
The rear seat is okay for two people, with 35.2 inches of legroom, about average against its BMW competition but two inches less than the Buick Regal (which makes it on a wheelbase that's three inches less than the Audi's). The floor hump in the center will keep an adult from riding there, but kids can endure it. The rest of the time, a good center armrest folds down with cupholders and storage. A nice touch is LED footwell lights. The rear headrests don't get in the way of the driver's rear visibility in the mirror.
Trunk space is 12.4 cubic feet, versus the Regal's 14.2 cubic feet, and way less than the Sonata's 16.4 cubic feet. But with the rear seats folded, you get a vast 34 cubic feet.
During a long high-speed blast, the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine really showed its silky stuff. It's long been the smoothest and best 2.0-liter out there, although we were blown away by how smooth and fast Hyundai's available 2.0-liter turbo is, for the Sonata. The Hyundai turbo makes 274 horsepower, compared to the Audi's 220 horsepower. The Audi engine is praised for its torque, 258 foot-pounds, but even there, the Hyundai delivers 269 foot-pounds.
Fuel economy for the Audi A4 quattro is an EPA-estimated 20/29 mpg City/Highway with 8-speed automatic, 22/32 mpg with 6-speed manual. With front-drive and CVT, the estimate rises to 24/32 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended. The comparable Sonata is rated 22/34 mpg, the Regal 21/30 mpg, the Acura ILX 24/35 mpg, and the BMW 320i 24/36 mpg.
However, the exceptional thing about the A4 engine is its broad torque range, so you have acceleration any time at any speed. Zero to 60 mph is reached in 6.7 seconds with the manual transmission, 6.4 seconds with the Tiptronic.
We loved driving the A4 with the 6-speed manual transmission the most, especially since redline is way up there at about 6500 rpm. It's so easy to transform the ordinary A4 into a way fun sporty sedan, by opting for quattro with the manual transmission. Shifting is precise and pleasurable. The clutch is easy. Starting on a hill, the brakes are held on while you move your foot from the brake to gas pedal, so even novices can manage an uphill start.
Not that the Tiptronic 8-speed automatic isn't a brilliant transmission. It's fast-shifting and obedient, with rev-matching downshifting. Sixth gear is the direct drive (1:1 ratio), so 7th and 8th gears are for high speeds and fuel mileage; so when you're working the transmission with the paddles in the twisties, you really only use maybe 2nd through 5th. In Sport mode it will take hard downshifts, and won't change gears unless you ask it to.
The brakes were up to the task, as well. We like the feel of the pedal, which didn't soften during aggressive downhill applications. Well, not much. Discs are ventilated in front but not in rear.
Introduced more than 30 years ago, quattro comes on most A4s. Until a wheel starts slipping, 60 percent of the drive goes to the rear wheels, for ideal driving dynamics and balance. Quattro also uses differential locks for best low-speed traction. Quattro all-wheel drive isn't just for traction in snow, ice and rain. It improves the handling on dry pavement too.
Meanwhile, the mundane CVT continuously variable transmission in the front-wheel-drive 2.0T feels different. Engine speed matches how hard you're pushing the gas pedal, rather than how fast the car is going, so it feels like a car with a manual transmission whose clutch is slipping. Some buyers resist this weirdness, so carmakers have been fixing it with a Sport mode that allows the CVT to shift in steps. There are eight of them with the A4's CVT, which you can shift through with the shift lever or paddles, and it all feels fine.
The A4 isn't a lightweight when compared to other cars in its class (BMW 3 Series, Hyundai Sonata, Buick Regal are all lighter, in that order). This is true even though most of the suspension pieces are forged aluminum, as is the front crossmember. The rear suspension is based on the larger A6, with trapezoidal links and separate spring and shock mounts that allow a lower floor but more suspension travel, a win-win situation. For better balance, Audi mounts the battery in the trunk. The A4 corners well, although both the Sonata and Regal have a wider track, while the BMW 3 Series is about the same as the Audi.
The optional sport suspension makes the ride firm but never stiff, and raises the fun quotient. At the highest level, the Drive Select system with dynamic steering and variable damping, which calculates shock rates 1000 times/second, gives the widest spectrum of ride and handling.
Audi S4 is another animal. It's powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 producing 333 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, mated to a standard 6-speed manual transmission or available 7-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission, which uses dual input shafts and dual clutch packs to execute computer-controlled gear changes in just 0.2 second.
The S4 engine is fueled by direct injection and breathes through four valves per cylinder; additionally the V6 employs a two-stage intake manifold for maximum flexibility. An optional active rear differential overdrives the outside rear tire in corners, forcing the front end to turn in more quickly. It also communicates with the vehicle's Drive Select system and stability control to help maintain control in emergency maneuvers. The S4 accelerates from 0-60 mph in just 4.9 seconds and gets an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 17/26 mpg City/Highway.
The Audi A4 sedan is proven. Its drivetrain is beyond reproach, especially the engine and quattro all-wheel drive, while its styling is smooth and interior high quality, especially for the price. The A4 has been a top choice among premium compact sedans, but there are new challengers, the Buick Regal and Hyundai Sonata, that top the A4 in some areas.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the A4 models in Colorado.
Audi A4; S4.
Options As Tested
Audi A4 Premium quattro ($33,400).
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