Audi A4 — Some cars simply feel good; almost indescribably good

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

You can’t wait to get behind the wheel. Detours become more the rule than the exception. Every extra mile in the driver’s seat is like slowly and deliciously consuming a bar of rich chocolate after being on a six-month no-sweets diet.

That’s the way it is with the all-new-for-2009 Audi A4.

We drove the 3.2 Quattro loaded with 265 horsepower and the optional Audi Drive Select package, which with the touch of a button can change the entire driving experience.

This is a sedan that’s a delight to drive in any guise and a pleasure to look at. It has a taut, sharply styled exterior that becomes stunning with optional 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels. It features many of the styling traits of its larger brother, the A6, but in a slightly smaller package and with exceptional proportions.

We are doing our best to like the Big Mouth Bass grille. So far, our attempts have failed.

The interior is a great example of how a sports sedan should look, sit and feel. And just as important, the A4 has grown significantly in interior dimensions making it a truly comfortable four-passenger sports sedan. In previous iterations rear-seat passengers were an afterthought or worse. If you’ve lived in an older A4 the big news here is more headroom, more shoulder room and more rear knee and leg room.

Indeed, the 2009 A4 has been infused with growth hormones. The all-new model is 4.6 inches longer than the 2002-2008 iteration, has a whopping 6.6-inch longer wheelbase and is two inches wider.

The new size is particularly evident in the cargo area where trunk space has grown from 13 cubic feet to a class-leading 16.9. Roll-aboard storage blows the competitors out of the water. The BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C-Class both have a miniscule 12 cubic feet.If you are sold on the Audi, but need more space for hauling cargo, the A4 also comes in a completely redesigned Avant wagon. It has 51 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded. For the fun-loving among us, there is a convertible variant, but it is based on last- year’s smaller platform.

Audi did more than just redesign the exterior. The A4 can be optioned out with many of the cutting edge gadgets that are proliferating these days including a blind-spot warning system (very effective), radar- based adaptive cruise control and a park distance control system.

Perhaps the best new option — and the most expensive at $2,950 — is the Audi Drive Select. With the touch of a button the system can modify the car’s throttle response, shift points, suspension-damping, power steering boost and steering ratio.

Going from the “comfort” setting to the “dynamic” setting is indeed an eye opener. The A4 becomes a different car. Like an instantaneous automotive Jekyll and Hyde, the A4 is transformed from a small luxury cruiser into a cutting-edge sports sedan.

In the middle is an “automatic” setting, which will probably be the choice of most people. With this setting the car reads driver inputs and tightens or loosens the variables by the way the car is driven.

We were enthralled with the A4 in dynamic mode on our usual winding, law enforcement-deprived back road test track. The A4 was sharp and right there in the tough turns as measured against the hundreds of cars we’ve taken out for a weekend spin. The tight suspension was compliant enough not to be annoying; the handling was taut and spot-on; tire squeals were held to a minimum as the car glided through the turns flat and easy.

Some of Audi’s great road feel is due to improved weight distribution, gained by moving the engine further behind the front wheels giving the car a 55/45 split rather than Audi’s traditional 60/40 front-heavy configuration.

When our fun was over, we dialed the car back into automatic for a more relaxed ride home.

The A4 comes with two engine choices, both updated for 2009. The base powerplant is a version of the award-winning 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 211 horsepower. It comes in front-drive configuration with a continuously variable transmission.

Optional is a healthy direct-injection 3.2-liter V-6 making 265 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. All six-cylinders are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all come with Audi’s famed all-wheel drive system called quattro.

We very much enjoyed the performance derived from the 3.2, but if Audi falls short in any one area compared to its vaunted rival BMW, it’s with performance. If you’ve simply got to have the fastest German compact sedan on the market, BMW with its twin-turbo inline six has the edge.

For comparison, the Audi V-6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in 6.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 14.6 seconds at 97.8 mph.

One of Audi’s strong suits has been its impeccably furnished interiors. And the new A4 does not let them down. It is stylish with excellent seats and quality materials. Gauges are clear and easy to read and a small information center between the speedometer and tachometer housings offers an odometer reading and outside temperature.

Like most German cars, the Audi comes with multi-function computer controls. It’s called Multi-Media Interface (MMI) in the Audi and it has come a long way since the first such system was introduced to the unsuspecting luxury car buyer by BMW around the turn of the century.

The first such systems were so complicated it took 30 minutes to discover how to tune a radio station.

Not so in this new Audi. The system is very intuitive. Simply choose what function you want. The four buttons around the controller match the readout on the display screen. Push the button you desire and simply follow the on-screen prompts.

If you want the Audi brand of German luxury, the price of entry is not for the light of pocketbook. The 2.0-liter A4 starts at $31,825 including destination charge and can top out well above 50 grand.
Fortunately, all trim levels come with an excellent assortment of standard equipment including leather seating, a sunroof, 180-watt audio system, and an impressive list of safety equipment including traction and stability control.

If you desire all-wheel drive Audi provides it for around two grand.

Move up to the 3.2 quattro and the base price rises to $40,825. Our test car had several options including Audi Drive Select and navigation bringing the bottom line to $49,975.

Audi has done a remarkable job upgrading its bread-and-butter A4. It’s a car you could very happily live with and enjoy driving for years to come.

Base price: $31,825; as driven, $49,975
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6
Horsepower: 265 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 243 foot-pounds @ 3,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.6 inches
Length: 185.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,870 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 mpg highway, 17 city
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Road and Track)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G37

The Good:
• Optional adaptive drive control impressive
• Quality interior furnishings
• New-found passenger and cargo space

The Bad:
• Not as quick as German competitors

The Ugly:
• Options can send price sky-rocketing