Audi A4 — A refreshening that works

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Competition is fierce in the entry-level luxury sports sedan segment, but we found again as we have in the recent past that the Audi A4 is very capable of holding its own against such stalwarts as the BMW 3-Series, Infiniti G and Cadillac ATS.

The A4, which has undergone a major refreshening for the 2013 model year, is not quite as athletic as some of its competitors. But what it lacks in sporty driving dynamics is more than made up in overall balance and a secure road feel, interior appointments, and impeccable fit and finish.

The refresh is timely keeping Audi’s best-selling car in the U.S. current with the BMW 3-Series, which was all new for 2012, and the Mercedes C-Class, which has been endowed with numerous updates over the past couple of years. Audi sold nearly twice as many A4s as any other Audi model in 2012.

Audi aficionados will instantly notice the exterior changes that include a powerful new grille with angled upper corners, dynamic new hood lines and reconfigured bumpers with angular air inlets. Further changes include redesigned, sleek headlamps and a new LED daytime running light design along with redesigned optional LED taillights. No other car company does LED quite like Audi.

What differentiates the A4 from the aforementioned competition is its lone engine option — the award-winning 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. In this case we equate athleticism with speed, and the small turbocharged engine is certainly no slouch in moving the compact sedan from point A to point B. For higher performance and to match up with the bigger engines offered by the competition, Audi has the answer with the S4, which comes with a 3.0-liter 333-horsepower V-6 as standard equipment. But to get that giant horsepower boost you will have to fork over as much as 15 grand more.

The extra expense is not necessary for a rewarding driving experience. We continue to marvel at the competence of the Audi/Volkswagen turbocharged four, which can take the sedan from 0 to 60 in the lower range of six seconds. It's also skillful in two-lane passing maneuvers and merging quickly into fast-moving highway traffic.

Our test car was aided by a new eight-speed automatic transmission, optional on the Quattro (all-wheel drive) models. A six-speed manual is standard equipment on the Quattro. Standard on the two-wheel drive Audi is a continuously variable transmission (CVT). While purists will love the smooth shifting of the manual, most people we assume will opt for one of the automatic transmissions.

The ride and handling is just what one would expect in a German road car. A new electromechanical steering column removes weight from the front of the car versus the previous hydraulic steering system. Dynamic steering is also available to adjust steering input based on the vehicle’s speed.

Available Audi drive select allows the driver to adjust dynamic steering, throttle response, transmission shift points and suspension settings. Speaking of settings, four are available: auto, comfort, dynamic and individual (that allows the driver to adjust each setting individually). The Audi seemed more planted with very little body sway driving our usual winding road "test track" when using dynamic setting. In this mode, the Audi is on par with the BMW 3-Series.

Among driving technologies, either standard or optional, are: adaptive cruise control, Audi drive select controls, Audi parking system plus, Audi side assist, extended-range radio frequency remote locking system, driver information display, rain/light sensors for automatic windshield wipers and headlights and windshield wipers with four-position adjustable rain sensor rate.

The interior is pure Audi. There are several varieties of leather seating, both standard or available. The fit and finish looks almost hand-crafted.

Audi offers a myriad of electronics. For instance, Audi's new MMI system has Google Earth Maps, Google Points of Interest, Dual SD Card slots, and Bluetooth streaming, and turns the car into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Safety is covered well with the requisite antilock brakes, stability and traction control and a full range of airbags including rear-seat side airbags. Also available as an option is a blind-spot warning system, something we wish all manufactures would include as standard equipment.

There are three sedan trim levels with the A4 (Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige) starting at $33,395 including destination charge. Our test car in Prestige trim carried a bottom line of $45,245.

We think the new A4 will continue to successfully carry the sales load for the U.S. arm of Audi. It's what an entry-level luxury sedan should do.

Base price: $33,395; as driven, $45,245
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 211 @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.6 inches
Length: 185.1 inches
Curb weight:3,685 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 12.4 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.9 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 30 highway, 20 city
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Lincoln MKZ

The Good
• High-quality interior
• Sprightly performance
• All-wheel drive available

The Bad
• Two-wheel drive versions get CVT

The Ugly
• No engine option available