2008 Audi RS 4 Expert Review:Autoblog
My buddy Chris was beaming as his body pressed into the two-tone Recaro on the passenger side. "This thing is completely unbelievable," he said, his voice a blend of awe and disbelief. Around us, the scenery flicked by as the crisp Sunday morning air was sucked in through the open windows. The radio was on, but the volume was turned all the way down. At the moment, the only soundtrack in which we were interested was the guttural roar coming from the big oval pipes poking through the rear valance. "Chris," I replied, snicking the shifter into third, "This thing is ridiculous." The "thing" in question is the 2008 Audi RS4, and neither of us were exaggerating.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
The current B7 Audi A4 is a lame duck, due to be replaced shortly by a new car on a new platform that promises to bring manifold improvements to Audi's bread-and-butter nameplate. Drive a current RS4, however, and you'll find yourself wondering why the hell they've got to change anything.
Unlike the A4 and S4, which are decidedly non-threatening in appearance, the RS4 radiates a sense of menace. Its bodywork is distinctly muscular, with gills on the lower front fascia merging into bulging wheel arches. The space around the rear wheel openings is equally swollen, helping the car adopt an athletic, wider stance. The rear bumper has a blacked-out insert that's flanked by large oval exhaust outlets. Their openings are wide enough to swallow a Blackberry rotated lengthwise while in its leather case. Our car was finished in Avus Silver and further enhanced by the presence of the Titanium Package. This lets the RS4 get more in touch with its dark side, blacking out the grille and window frames, as well as applying an anthracite finish to the 19" wheels and the exhaust tips. It's not possible to overstate how much better the car looks as a result. This thing is cooler than Boba Fett.
The goodness continues inside, where the seats and trim are finished in a spectacular black-and-red motif, courtesy of the $3,800 Audi Exclusive package. I simply referred to the color combo as "Darth Maul" and envisioned some deep space tannery where Audi prepares Sith hides specifically for use in its sedan über alles. Piano black inserts (also part of the Titanium package), aluminum accents, and RS4-emblazoned floormats finish off the upscale interior. As for the cabin's layout and instrumentation, it's the same as what you'll find in any other A4 variant. The MMI controller is on the audio system, which incorporates an LCD screen and features nav, satellite radio, and the other accoutrements you expect to find in a primo machine like this.
Flick open the familiar Audi switchblade key, twist on the ignition, and a deep exhaust burble penetrates the cabin as the RS-trim 4.2-liter V8 comes alive. There's a reason the same engine also finds its way under the R8 sports car's transparent engine cover: it's awesome. Producing 420 horsepower at 7,800 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque at 5,500 rpm, the relationship between the direct-injected, naturally-aspirated eight-cylinder and the RS4 is the stuff of an eHarmony television commercial.
The road to a suspended driver's license is an easy one to follow. Before you set off, do yourself a favor and press the S button on top of the instrument panel. This turns on the sport mode, which sharpens the throttle response and makes the exhaust louder. You may now begin. Pop the shifter into first (the effort is light and precise) and hammer it. The car accelerates as if it's been shot off a Nimitz-class carrier's steam catapult. Audi pegs the zero-to-sixty time at 4.6 seconds, a figure that sounds entirely reasonable (and possibly conservative) according to our highly sophisticated AAiS (Autoblog Ass-in-Seat) data measurement technology.
More impressive than the RS4's wicked acceleration is the surprising lack of drama that accompanies it. While the ongoing series of miracles occurring in the engine bay conspire to turn your view of the scenery into an impressionist painting, the car's steering, suspension and quattro system are equally skilled at their jobs, keeping the car flat and planted while clearly communicating the road conditions to the driver. This all happens with little harshness, despite the obviously aggressive wheel/tire setup, a further testament to the inherent goodness of the underpinnings and dynamic package as a whole.
There are no surprises, because you are very in tune with the tarmac rushing by beneath you. This makes the RS4 unbelievably easy to drive fast, and more importantly, incredibly fun to goad as the road gets more complex. Road signs advertising turns ahead might as well have pictures of gift-wrapped presents on them. You want snaking curves and undulating hills, because tackling them in the RS4 is an act of joy that the car shares with you. It wants you to toss it; to egg it on.
The last time I had this much fun simply driving a car was the summer of 2007, when Porsche dropped a Boxster in my lap for a week. A lot of those same feelings came rushing back when I had the RS4; the senses of predictability, stability, and confidence. A good sports car does that, and you start forming emotional connections with it as a result. Then it dawns on you. That's what the RS4 is. A sports car. One capable of humiliating other sports cars. Calling it a super sedan does it no justice, because you're pigeonholing it. Pay no mind to the four doors and the familiar, old A4 bodywork. Appearances deceive. It's what's inside that counts. The RS4 is as good or better than high-performance cars twice its price. Maybe not as sexy, but every bit as appealing.
Seven days and a couple hundred miles later, the RS4 was taken back, doubtless off to entertain some other journo. Normally, this isn't a big deal. You cut the cord and look forward to the next thing. Sometimes, however, the parting is such sweet sorrow. Like its lesser siblings, it will one day be replaced by a new RS4, and that car will have some seriously big shoes to fill.
Our tester averaged 17 miles per gallon over the week and stickered at $78,335 as optioned. If I had the means, I'd go buy one this afternoon. If you have the means, I don't know what you're waiting for.
Click here to view the 2008 Audi RS4's tech specs at AOL Autos.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
Just about the time that a Misano Red 2008 Audi RS4 Cabriolet arrived in the Autoblog Garage, the very last examples of the breed were rolling off the assembly line at the Quattro GmbH facility in Neckarsulm Germany. During my trip to Germany a couple of weeks prior for the launch drive of the new Audi A4 Avant, we had an opportunity to sit down in Neckarsulm with the General Manager for Development of Quattro GmbH, Stephan Reil. Quattro is Audi's in-house tuner division, comparable to AMG for Mercedes-Benz and the M Division at BMW.
Quattro GmbH has several divisions, one of which is responsible for development and part of the production of Audi RS models such as this RS4 Cabriolet and the new RS6. Another group is responsible for all aspects of a car from development to production and quality control. The first product of this latter team is the Audi R8 that debuted last year. The third group is responsible for accessories like the S-Line products and the last department handles individualization of new cars. When customers order a new Audi, they can have it customized in innumerable ways such as custom colors, upholstery and pretty much any add-on you can think of that adds plenty to Audi's bottom line. There is also a group apart from the vehicle groups that is responsible for lifestyle products, which could be anything from umbrellas to Jeff Kuhlman's (Audi of America Communications Director) favorite, the Audi cigar cutter. Read on after the jump for my impressions of the RS4 Cabrio and to learn what Reil had to say about Quattro and how they came to build this car.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
We had our sit-down with Reil right after our tour of the R8 factory. Audi's Neckarsulm campus includes an array of buildings in which are built mainstream models such as the A4, A5 and A6. One building is dedicated to production of the R8, and all of the RS models also get produced in Neckarsulm. Front and center of course is the Audi Forum. Both the headquarters in Ingoldstadt and the Neckarsulm campus feature a Forum that includes a public display area for both historic and current Audi models, restaurants and a shop where visitors can buy all of those aforementioned lifestyle accessories . Those who have ordered an Audi can visit the Forums to meet with a consultant who will help with any individualization planned for the car. Finally, anyone who orders an Audi, including non-Europeans, can pick it up at the Forum. North American buyers who opt to take delivery at the Forum can fly over and Audi will provide 15 days worth of European insurance so that they can drive their new car while on a European vacation. At the end of the trip, owners can just drop off the car at a shipping center and then pick it up from their local dealer after they get home.
We sat down with Reil in a conference room at the Neckarsulm Forum where he talked about Quattro's philosophy and how the cars have evolved over the years. Reil has been running vehicle development at Quattro for the past decade, and when asked how things have changed over the years he described the first RS4 relative to today's model.
I personally never had an opportunity to drive a first generation RS4. However, when I hopped into the Misano Red RS4 Cabrio, the ride quality was definitely impressive for a car with these performance capabilities. When a car is riding on 255/35ZR19 tires, the minimalist sidewalls really can't be counted on to provide any measurable compliance while traversing uneven roads.
The RS4 certainly didn't feel harsh on the roads in and around Ann Arbor, however when the roads got particularly nasty, one thing became apparent. The removal of the roof structure on the B7 generation A4 chassis does it no favors where rigidity is concerned. On the heavily patched and heaved roads around these parts, the windshield frame vibrates noticeably in directions that are out of phase with the rest of the body. By no means is it as bad as some convertibles from the late '80s and early '90s (the Mercury Capri of that era was a particularly egregious example), but for a car with 420 hp, it could certainly use a little reenforcement.
Speaking of that engine, it's the same unit that motivates the might R8. In this high-output naturally aspirated form, the 4.2L V8 is a prime example of what makes internal combustion engines so appealing. The aural symphony played by this beauty is absolutely scintillating. Putting your right foot down brings forth a roar that says in no uncertain terms that this car is not one with which to be trifled. With the fully lined and fully automatic roof retracted below the rear deck as the mill approaches its 8,000rpm red-line, vibration is virtually nonexistent, but the sound sends a chill down your spine.
The driver's work environment in the RS4 is all business, but at the same time lacks for nothing in terms of luxury. The seats offer a multitude of ways to adjust and hold you securely in front of the thick leather wrapped steering wheel. Even on a cold late April morning, the thermal enhancement of the seats keeps you comfortable when the top is down, allowing you to focus on carving corners instead of keeping warm. The also seats provide excellent support in all the right places, behind the shoulders, under the thighs and around the torso. They are ideally suited to the task at hand. Unfortunately, that lessening of structural integrity can also be felt through the helm in the form of some shake on rough pavement.
When Reil was questioned about creating more stripped down elemental cars along the lines of a 911 GT3, he responded that a few years ago they built a special version of the TT (that of course never made it to the U.S.). This "club sport" edition of the first TT coupe had the rear seat removed and replaced with a bar and a net like those put in the windows of race cars. The net was only there to keep luggage from hitting the driver under braking. It also had a lighter sport seat, no air conditioning and most of the comfort features discarded. All told it was about 200 lbs lighter than a standard TT and had 20 hp more for a total of 245 hp.
In the RS4 and RS6, weight reduction possibilities are limited because of what customers expect in this type of car. "It makes sense in a sports car like the TT and in the future maybe on an R8. An RS model has to have outstanding handling performance, the car must be able to have have good records on not just daily driving but also on a race track. All Quattro GmbH cars go through a durability test on the Nurburgring NordSchliefe for 8,000km. That's where we check the racing abilities and the durability. On an RS you also need outstanding quality on the details. That means the materials, how it's crafted..." As is typical of Audis, the RS4 has excellent interior fit and finish. The black leather seats are accented with white piping while a strip of carbon fiber traverses the dash from door to door and another piece surrounds the shifter.
Reil discussed how Quattro distinguishes Audis from its competitors like BMW M and Mercedes AMG models. "Audi has three distinct levels with standard A models like the A4, A5 and A6 with a range of engines from small to medium sized. The S models (such as the S4) are defined as the sporty versions of the A cars, and then above those we have the RS4, and this is defined as superior performance, handling and showing the technically possible. This suits very well when you compare to the competitors cars.Of course we have one thing that they don't have and this is the Quattro drivetrain."
With 420 hp, the base front-wheel-drive setup of the A4 clearly would not do in an RS. The quattro all-wheel drive does a great job of putting the power down via a 6-speed gearbox. Even with all that torque to transmit, the clutch effort is relatively light making around town motoring easy. The shift mechanism is smooth and precise making it also easy to find the right gear. Cruising around town with the top down is a pleasure, something that can't be said for the R8 with the R-Tronic transmission, but that's a story we've already told.
One issue that all European manufacturers face in the next few years is CO2 emissions limits. "The relevance of an RS model on global CO2, you can just forget it!" says Reil because of the relatively few RS cars built out of Audi's total volume and the fact that most accumulate fewer miles than mainstream models. "That doesn't mean we ignore that issue", he says, "There will be no chance to have a 500hp car with a CO2 of 140g/km, this is technically and physically impossible" (at least with internal combustion).
"What we will do is to have the most efficient engine, the most efficient drivetrain, the most efficient car that is possible at that time." With the new RS6, Audi has a 130-hp increase in power along with 100Nm more torque and fuel consumption that is reduced by 15 percent compared to the previous generation. In absolute terms of course, all high performance cars get comparatively poor fuel economy. However, when comparing specific fuel consumption, they have improved dramatically over the past few decades and any time you can get more from less, it will ultimately help performance, too.
Reil also discussed with us the difference in philosophy between Quattro and AMG. In recent years, AMG has installed basically the same 6.3L V8 engine in almost very Mercedes car, which can cause confusion about which is the flagship. From a performance standpoint, if you put the same engine in several cars, the smallest and lightest will be the fastest. In the case of the C63 AMG, it's also the cheapest.
Instead, according to Reil, "Our philosophy is to develop the whole package in that car line, for what the customers expect, what is the right thing that we would see in that category. This is the reason why we are driving in the RS4, a V8 high-rev, naturally aspirated engine, because in a small light car, you can position that car louder, I mean louder not by noise, but louder by positioning the car. It can look a little more extreme, it can perform a little more extreme, it can handle a little more extreme."
The acceleration of the RS4 definitely matches up with this positioning. Even though as a convertible the example I drove was heavier and less rigid than the sedan that Alex reviewed a few weeks ago, it was very fast and tracked through corners precisely. The RS4 cabriolet managed about 15 mpg during its time in our garage, which is nothing to write home about. Not spectacular, but then again, if you can swing $85,000 for this beast you probably won't care, and relative to some other machines capable of launching to 60 mph in the mid 4-second range, it's actually pretty good. For those looking for maximum performance with room for four, the sedan may be the better option. For those looking to show off with only a slightly less sharp edge, the RS4 Cabriolet is a great way to go. And only with the top down can you truly appreciate that glorious sound! We can't what to see what the team at Quattro devise for the next version.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
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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