The third-generation Audi A4 returns to the soft, rounded edges and organic fluidity established by the original. Due to the way the government mandates mode year assignment, there are actually two 2005 models. Cars built in early 2005 are the last of the 2002 to 2005 second-generation model, while those built later in the year are from the new third-generation A4. To avoid any confusion, just shop for a 2006 or newer model. Audi debuted a new, larger fourth-generation A4 sedan and wagon for the 2009 model year, but the convertible continued on the previous platform that year before being discontinued for 2010.
Although the third-generation A4 was completely new from the ground up, it retains the previous model's overall dimensions. 2006 is the first year of Audi's new front-end styling language which includes a long grille that dips down below the front bumper and a more A6-like profile. The 2006 model also gets a new line of engines and transmissions.
Why you want it
Audi's premium midsize sedan can often inspire a love/hate relationship. The A4 is a lovely machine with a rich, warm interior, wonderful ergonomics (the way you fit into the car and interact with all its features) and sizzling performance. Unfortunately, the A4's past repair history is less than exemplary, particularly the gear-less CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic (front-drive models only) and the electronics system in general.
Still, find a good, low-mileage example – preferably one still under warranty – and the A4 has a lot to offer. A smallish rear seat makes the sedan a poor choice for growing families, but if the kids aren't too big, the Avant wagon would be the A4 of choice. However, with a sedan and convertible (2007 and up) also available, along with a choice of a turbocharged four-cylinder or naturally aspirated V6 engines, plus front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive, there is an A4 to suit almost every taste and budget.
Notable features and options
The A4 2.0T is the least expensive of the lineup, but far from spartan. Standard equipment includes an AM/FM/CD stereo, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 12-way adjustable power driver's seat, fog lights, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The 3.2 model adds standard leather seating, larger wheels and more creature comforts. Available options include all-wheel drive, Bose audio system, DVD-based navigation, rear park assist, power sunroof, heated front and rear seats, bi-xenon headlamps, headlight washers, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, power passenger seat, premium upgraded leather and rear side airbags. Standard safety equipment on all versions includes anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, front side-impact airbags, and front and rear head curtain airbags.
2005: New model debuts featuring new styling, engine and more interior space.
2007: The standard audio system loses its cassette deck, but gains an MP3-compatible CD player. The 2.0T is stripped down slightly, giving up its 12-way power driver's seat and heated rear seat option, while the 3.2 gains a power sunroof and new wheels.
2008: All models receive the S-line package as standard, which adds more aggressive-looking exterior parts and an integrated trunk spoiler.
Engines and performance
The 2005 to 2008 Audi A4 offers a choice of two engines: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 200 horsepower, or 3.2-liter V6 delivering 255 hp. The 2.0-liter turbo is amazingly robust, exhibiting no signs of lag or lurching. Power comes on smoothly and remains strong right up to the tachometer's red line. Those who demand faster starts and more passing power will want the added torque provided by the 3.2-liter V6.
The front-drive sedans offer a choice of six-speed manual or CVT automatic, while all-wheel-drive Quattro models offer a six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic automatic. Fuel economy is in line with competitors: highway consumption in the mid-20s for the V6 and around 30 mpg for the turbo four.
In front-drive form, the A4 is a competent handler, but does exhibit some plowing when pushed hard into tight turns. The steering also feels a bit over-assisted and not as precise as the BMW 3-Series or Infiniti G35. The Quattro all-wheel-drive, however, provides sure-footed grip in all conditions.
Recalls, safety ratings and warranties
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) currently has no recalls for the 2005 to 2008 third-generation Audi A4.
Safety-wise, the A4 earns good marks from the government, achieving four out of five stars for the driver and passenger in the front end collision test and five stars for the driver in the side-impact test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the A4 its highest rating of Good in its frontal offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
The A4 comes with a four-year/50,000-mile basic and powertrain warranty and a four-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance warranty. Audi also offers additional warranty protection through its Certified Pre-Owned Vehicle program. CPO vehicles undergo a 300-point inspection and come with a six-year/100,000-mile warranty (effective from the date the car entered service). If you buy a used A4 whose original warranty is still intact, it remains in effect until its expiration date, at which point the CPO warranty would add another two years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Word on the web
This is where the whole love/hate thing comes into play. Searching the web unearths owners and consumer groups who love the A4's tight chassis, all-wheel drive, stylish good looks and premium panache. They rave about the Bose audio, the comfortable (if somewhat snug) seats and the way everything lights up on the dash when the sun goes down.
The love starts to fade a bit regarding the complex navigation system or sometimes-erratic electronics. And while Consumer Reports gives the 2006 to 2008 A4 excellent scores for engine and transmission reliability, there are still enough online complaints to wonder if the CVT has exorcised all its demons.
The BMW 3-Series is the A4's closest competitor. Both offer sharp styling, good handling and premium features, but the 3-Series tends to be the enthusiast's choice due to its more performance-oriented nature. Infiniti clearly has the 3-Series in its sights. The G35 matches the 3-Series' rear-wheel drive and powerful six-cylinder engines, but at a more attractive price. The CTS is the roomiest car in this group, and Cadillac tuned its handling on Germany's famed Nurburgring race track. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class provides a smooth, comfortable ride and plenty of luxury amenities.
The 2.0T has a great combination of power and fuel economy to make it the logical choice. Unfortunately, front-drive versions tend to suffer from noticeable understeer and only feature a CVT automatic transmission choice. For this reason, go with a Quattro A4. You'll love the handling, the way it ignores snow and ice, and the fact that it offers a conventional automatic with a much more reliable long-term repair history.