Having dedicated a lot of time, money and resources as of late to expanding its high-end and high-performance vehicles, Audi took what it has learned over the years and revamped its highest-volume model.
|1. The A4 3.2 makes 265hp and 243 ft-lbs of torque and is available only with a Tiptronic automatic transmission and Quattro.
2. The A4 has excellent fuel-economy for its class with 18/27 mpg (city/highway).
3. An all-new body and chassis for 2009 is 4-inches longer, 2-inches wider and features a wheelbase that is 6-inches longer.
4. Optional Audi Drive Select system lets a driver chose “comfort,” “auto,” and “dynamic” modes for the throttle response, shift points and steering feel.
For 2009 the A4 is all-new and is finally a more worthy adversary to the 3 Series thanks mostly to a new chassis, body and suspension. The car itself has more of a presence than in the past and is 4.6-inches longer and 2.6-inches wider. The more important statistic from a driver’s perspective, however, is that the wheelbase has been extended and is now 110.5-inches, much longer than any of the competition. This is the result of some creative engineering by Audi that allowed them to move the front axle six-inches forward, which not only increases wheelbase but also decreases the front overhang – important because past Audis have been notorious for understeer.
The result is a car that is much more tossable than in the past, thanks to these improvements as well as a revised suspension and a reduction in overall weight from the previous model by 10 percent.
Thanks to Audi’s 40/60 rear-biased quattro system (the 3.2 FSI is only available in quattro) my A4 darted with ease into the corners and with the added front wheel grip maintained a steady line the whole way through. Even pinching off a corer at the end resulted in a surprising absence of understeer.
One particular gripe of mine is Audi’s variable ratio steering. At higher rates of speed it is wonderfully tight and responsive, however, I would prefer to keep it that way rather than in the sloppy mode it reverts to at low speeds.
In terms of the suspension, it is stiffer than expected, even with the standard 17-inch wheels. Some of the blame might be with the 45-profile tires. Those who opt for the S-Line package out of pure aesthetic purposes, may find the even-lower profile tires and 19-inch wheels a little bumpy. Performance enthusiasts are, however, certain to appreciate the performance advantages.
PERFORMANCE: 265HP V6 NOT UP TO PAR
If there are two real problems with the A4, they are the price and the absence of power. At $40,400 to start, the A4 with the V6 is priced in accordance with the $42,000 BMW 335xi – and is also down 35hp on the Bimmer. It’s also down tremendously on the 332hp Infiniti G37x that costs a mere $35,000.
For 2009, the ol’faithful V6 powerplant does get an increase of 10hp for a total of 265 – but that’s not enough to play keep-up with the other offerings in the market. Torque is a reasonable 243 ft-lbs.
In terms of acceleration, the A4 doesn’t post overly impressive numbers either. The sprint to 60 mph passes in about 6.5 seconds. That’s not bad, but it’s really just mid-way between the 7-8 second runs of the 328xi or IS250 AWD and the almost five-second runs of the 335xi or G37x.
It also doesn’t help that the A4 3.2 is available only with an automatic transmission. A manual really should be offered in a sports sedan like this (it is available with the 2.0TFSI). Alternatively a double-clutch system would help reduce those acceleration numbers – and while we understand no one else offers such a thing in this segment, Audi did pioneer the technology and should be leading the way.
What the 3.2-liter engine does offer is a 10 percent increase in fuel-economy over the previous model. The car is EPA rated at 18/27 mpg (city/highway), which is better than either the 335xi at 16/25 mpg or the G37x at 18/25 mpg.
I also do have to say that the 3.2-liter V6 engine really makes quite a surprising growl when pushed.
As for the brakes, they were more than capable. For 2009 Audi has increased the size of the brake pads by 20 percent, while reducing the weight of the components. And when combined with the overall reduction in the mass of the vehicle, braking is always plentiful.
The A4 comes standard with ABS and EBD. An optional braking guard system is also available and comes as part of the Automatic Cruise Control option that allows driver’s to set the distance they want to keep from a vehicle ahead. The same sensors are used to detect if a collision is imminent and if one is detected an “early warning gong” will chime and a light will flash on the dashboard. Meanwhile the brakes will prime, allowing immediate full brake pressure. If the driver ignores the warning then the car will apply a jolt of brake to alert him.
SURPRSINGLY BLAZÉ INTERIOR
Sliding into the driver’s seat I was, for possibly the first time in an Audi, disappointed – although I might be able to lay most of the blame on the light gray leather, which no matter how hard any manufacturer tries, always manages to look more like cheap vinyl.
For the record, BMW interiors don’t impress me either, but this was certainly a step down from the cockpit of the Infiniti G37 (looks-wise anyway).
Standard interior items include leather, three-way climate control, power front seats with a four-way driver lumber support and memory function, Audi’s advanced key with push button start/stop function, a 6.5-inch LCD screen, Bluetooth, cruise control, as well as steering wheel mounted stereo controls.
And while I do really like those scrolling controls, I’d still really like to have buttons for the usual six preset radio stations.
Absent on my tester were several of Audi’s more advanced features including Audi’s backup camera, Audi Drive Select and Dynamic Steering. The Drive Select function allows drivers to choose between “comfort,” “auto” and “dynamic” modes that change the throttle response, steering and Tiptronic shift points. A fourth mode is also available where the driver can customize the vehicle’s dynamics from a range of settings.
The Audi Drive select can also control the optional CDC (continuous damping control) shocks and the Audi dynamic steering, which adjusts steering ratio in accordance with vehicle speed and the Audi Drive Select mode.
An ingenious feature of Audi’s Dynamic Steering is its ability to prevent accidents by interacting with the stability control. The system will actually make the steering less direct in the case of detected understeer, thus preventing the driver from increasing the understeer due to the natural reaction to turn harder in the desired direction (which will only reduce the car’s ability to go in that direction). Genius!
My tester was, however, equipped with Audi’s Side Assist system, which warns a driver through lights on the inside of the mirrors about hazardous lane changes by monitoring the blind spots and areas behind the car for roughly 150 feet. I found the system more hazardous than not having it, as several times I swerved to avoid cars that were actually a safe distance away. I like the idea behind the system, but it needs some work. It went off incessantly when changing lanes on the highway and often warned me when traffic in the other lane seemed to be approaching too quickly, when it wasn’t.
A final gripe was the absence of paddle shifters, which while optional really should be standard equipment.
A WINNER IN THE DESIGN DEPARTMENT
Outside, I have to say the new design of the A4 is more luxurious than in the past and Audi has done a great job with the looks of their highest volume car. There is a definite resemblance to the A8 now. This new body also has a significantly reduced coefficient of drag, with a rating of 0.27 cd versus 0.31 for the old model.
The LED headlight bars add a touch of class and a signature look to the car and all V6 cars come equipped with a sporty black front grille – which is, unfortunately, all-too-often ruined by a license plate.
Xenon headlights are standard, although an optional xenon plus package lets the lights increase in range at high speeds.
SAFETY & STORAGE
In the safety department the Audi has the usual array of airbags and comes standard with stability control and earned a Top Pick rating from the IIHS as well as a 5 Star rating from the NHTSA. Cargo room is plentiful with a massive 17.3 cu.-ft. trunk and a total storage space (with the rear seats down) of 50.5 cu.-ft.
PUTTING QUATTRO TO USE
During my time with the A4 3.2 I had the opportunity to test it in several days of snow-covered commutes and here it shone brilliantly. Not only did it accelerate effortlessly, it cut through the built-up piles of snow between the lanes as though they weren’t even there. A word of caution, however, having all that grip when others do not can be a serious exercise in frustration.
Vastly improved for 2009, the A4 3.2 suffers from the drawbacks of its V6 engine. Significantly down on power from comparably priced vehicles it makes for a tough sell, even with the fabulous luxury-looks and the vastly improved handling.
Solid new luxury sedan look Vastly improved handling Excellent AWD fuel-economy
Expensive Uncompetitive 265hp engine Disappointing interior