Pros: Athletic handling, upscale interior, surprisingly roomy back seat.
Cons: Mediocre engine, undesirable CVT in base model, standard front seats lack support.
What's New: The A4 receives a handful of exterior and interior styling updates for 2013, and the "Audi connect" telematics suite with Google integration is now available. Also, the Avant wagon has been replaced by the new Allroad (reviewed separately).
The 2013 Audi A4 may look a little different with its updated styling, but underneath, it's essentially the same A4 that went on sale back in '09. Well, there's one notable difference: Audi discontinued the optional V6 engine shortly after the current A4 debuted, so the 2013 A4 continues to offer just one engine, a turbocharged 4-cylinder.
Until recently, the 4-cylinder A4 was doing just fine, thank you very much. But now other luxury brands have hopped on the turbo-four bandwagon, and the A4's engine may be outgunned. With a modest 211 horsepower, Audi's "2.0T" motor trails rival turbo fours from BMW and Cadillac by healthy margins, and its fuel economy isn't great, either. Also, Volkswagen's restyled CC features a similar 2.0T engine at a steep discount.
Still, the A4 has a lot to offer. The optional Quattro all-wheel-drive system makes the most of those 211 horses, and the A4 does manage to outperform the new 201-hp Mercedes-Benz C250. Moreover, Audi has worked wonders with the A4's handling, which is now close to class-leading in our estimation. And from its beautifully trimmed interior to its unusually spacious back seat, the A4 is really an exceptionally pleasant car.
So despite the power shortage, we think the 2013 A4 is well worth a test drive. Between the A4's refreshed styling and impressive all-around talents, there's more than enough here to set it apart from the crowd.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Audi A4 sedan is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige.
The Premium comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, a sunroof, leather upholstery (an unusual standard luxury in this class), 12-way power front seats, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, single-zone automatic climate control, the Multi-Media Interface system with a dash-mounted control knob and a ten-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and satellite radio.
The Premium Plus adds 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, LED taillights, auto-dimming mirrors, driver memory functions, Bluetooth and iPod integration, heated seats and tri-zone automatic climate control?meaning the rear passengers get their own separate climate controls (another unusual feature).
The Prestige goes to town with adaptive xenon headlamps that include LED running lights, a blind-spot warning system, keyless entry with push-button ignition, rear parking sensors, MMI Plus with navigation and a console-mounted joystick knob and a 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Many of the higher trims' features?notably Bluetooth and iPod integration?are available on lower trims as options. Among the other available niceties, depending on the trim level, are a Sport package (including sport front seats, a sport-tuned suspension a three-spoke steering wheel, and shift paddles for automatic-transmission cars), adaptive cruise control and the Drive Select system, which allows the driver to adjust settings for steering, transmission (automatic models only) and throttle response.
An appealing new option for 2013 is Audi connect, which employs a 3G data connection to integrate Google Maps into MMI Plus. Additional Audi connect features include Google search with voice-command functionality, real-time weather and travel information and mobile wi-fi connectivity for up to eight devices.
The A4's default front seats are frankly a disappointment, providing little of the contoured lateral support we expect in a European sport sedan. The Sport package's upgraded front seats are much better in this regard, but only Premium Plus and Prestige models are eligible for this upgrade. The tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel has a wide range of adjustability, as does the standard multi-way power seat, so most drivers should have no trouble getting situated. However, drivers with long legs may find their left elbows hanging off the back of the door armrest.
The A4 sports classic analog gauges with that distinctive Audi font for the numerals. Like just about everything else in the A4's cabin, the gauges impart a sense of luxury and sophistication. Ergonomics, however, are hit-or-miss. Try to adjust the climate control's fan speed and you'll see what we mean?it's a two-step process. Whatever happened to a dedicated fan knob that does what it's told? On the bright side, we think Audi has made great strides with the MMI system's intuitiveness, which we discuss in more detail below.
The A4's back seat marks a huge improvement relative to previous A4s. Two adults can now comfortably ride in back for extended periods, which couldn't honestly be said before. And how about the available tri-zone climate control system? Separate rear climate controls are typically the province of executive-class luxury sedans, not entry-level cars like the A4.
The A4's trunk capacity is about average at 12.4 cubic feet.
The base A4 doesn't come standard with iPod or Bluetooth connectivity, but those are easy enough to add as standalone options, so we're not too annoyed. More objectionable is the absence of a USB port?if you typically rock out to a flash drive full of mp3s, prepare to alter your routine in the A4, though it's admittedly not that hard to buy an SD card and use the A4's standard SD slot for your mp3s instead.
In any case, the technological nerve center of the A4 is the MMI system, which comes in two forms. In standard spec without navigation, MMI is controlled via a knob on the center stack that requires an uncomfortable reach from the driver's seat. If your budget can handle it, we recommend stepping up to the MMI Plus system, which includes navigation, a more sophisticated display screen and a control knob that's conveniently mounted precisely where your right hand rests on the center console.
Audi has greatly improved the intuitiveness of MMI's menu structure, and the Plus version's console-mounted knob now features a nifty joystick-like top section that aids operation. Moreover, the introduction of Audi connect for MMI Plus delivers revolutionary new connectivity options, from Google Maps and voice-activated search to mobile wi-fi hotspot capability.
Performance & Fuel Economy
Every A4 is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 211 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic (CVT) are standard, while the optional Quattro all-wheel-drive system brings a choice of a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic.
The CVT is kind of the A4's dirty secret. Although the Quattro-equipped models get all the press, the front-wheel-drive A4 with the CVT is the "price leader"?the one Audi's ads refer to when they proclaim a starting price under $33,000 for the A4. We've found this transmission neither responsive nor particularly refined, and it seems to sap some of the engine's power. Although Quattro will cost you another grand or three, we think it's well worth the upgrade, as both of the Quattro models' transmissions are satisfying devices.
Fuel economy for the base A4 with the CVT is 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway, which isn't very impressive these days for a 211-hp sedan. Surprisingly, adding Quattro has basically no effect on fuel economy with the 6-speed manual?rated at 22/32 mpg?while the automatic yields a marginally worse 20/30 mpg. But when you consider that the BMW 328i gets up to 22/34 mpg from its 240-hp turbo four, not to mention the 274-hp Kia Optima SX's 22/34 mpg, you might start to wonder why the A4 isn't more efficient.
The A4 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side-curtain). Rear side airbags are optional on Premium Plus and Prestige.
In government crash-testing, the A4 received four stars out of five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five in all other categories. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the A4 its highest rating of "Good" in every category.
The A4 has a more delicate feel than the rival 3 Series?the steering-wheel rims have a thinner diameter, and the car generally feels lighter on its feet, even though the scales say otherwise. The base suspension calibration is fairly conservative by sport-sedan standards, however, so we advise enthusiastic drivers to step up to the Sport package, which elevates the A4's handling to near class-leading status (and adds those superior sport seats) without compromising ride quality overmuch. On the highway, the A4 is a champ, tracking straight and true with nary a vibration at any speed. Particularly with the softening of the latest 3 Series, the A4 has emerged as one of the top driver's cars in this segment, though the Audi's power deficit holds it back.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 3 Series: The recently redesigned "3er" sedan boasts an amazingly strong and efficient turbocharged inline-4 in 328i trim, and you can also get a formidable turbocharged inline-6 in the 335i.
Cadillac ATS: Is there a new champion athlete in this segment? Cadillac thinks so with its Nurburgring-tuned ATS, and having driven it ourselves, we're tempted to agree. But as an all-around package, the A4 still gives the Caddy a run for its money.
Mercedes-Benz C-Class: The C250 sedan's turbocharged 1.8-liter inline-4 actually makes the A4's engine feel powerful, but the Mercedes also offers muscular V6 power if you want more urge.
We suggest avoiding the front-wheel-drive A4 with the CVT and targeting the Premium Plus Quattro with the Sport package. It won't be prohibitively expensive, and you'll get to enjoy one of the most capable and rewarding vehicles in this class.