The release of the A4 in 1996 marked an important change for Audi. Better-looking and sportier than the Audi 90 it replaced, the A4 was a worthy competitor for the BMW 3-Series. More importantly, it began to draw a larger audience for what had been a struggling brand. For 2009, Audi redesigns the A4, making it larger, improving balance and offering an efficient new engine. The more appealing A4 will almost certainly continue to draw even more customers to Audi.
The 2009 Audi A4 lineup includes 4-door sedans, 4-door wagons called Avants and 2-door convertibles called Cabriolets. The sedans and wagons are redesigned for 2009, while the convertible carries over with the 2008 body style. The Avant is offered as one model called 2.0T, while the sedan comes as the 2.0T or the 3.2. The Cabriolet is offered as the 2.0T, the 3.2 or the S4 with a 4.2-liter V8 engine. This review covers the redesigned sedan and wagon.
Standard equipment on 2.0T trims includes leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, the usual power accessories, an 8-way power front seat, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a sunroof, an 180-watt AM/FM/stereo with 10 speakers, an auxiliary input jack, Sirius Satellite Radio, fog lights and P225/50R17 tires on alloy wheels. Wagons also have roof rails for a rack or other cargo carrier.
Audi A4 3.2 trims add heated front seats, memory for the driver’s seat and mirrors, a 6-disc CD changer, an iPod adapter, a Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, a trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights and P245/45R17 tires.
A Premium Plus package is offered for the 2.0T. It includes much of the 3.2 equipment, plus 3-zone climate control, heated front seats and xenon headlights. A Prestige package for both trims adds keyless access and starting, 18-inch wheels, Audi’s Blind Spot Alert system and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system with 14 speakers.
Standard safety equipment on all versions includes dual front airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags, a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and automatic brake drying, traction control and electronic stability control. Rear side airbags, a rearview camera and Audi’s Blind Spot Alert system are optional.
Under the Hood
The redesigned A4 is offered with two engines and a choice of front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), which Audi calls quattro. While the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that Audi offered in 2008 was powerful and fuel-efficient, Audi has redesigned it for 2009. This version uses a timing chain instead of a timing belt and is both more powerful and more fuel-efficient. It produces 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, compared with the 2008 version’s 200 ponies and 207 lb-ft of torque. FWD versions come with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while quattro models use a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic with Audi’s Tiptronic manual shift capability. Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 23/30 mpg (city/hwy) for the FWD sedan with the CVT, 22/30 for the quattro sedan with the manual, and 21/27 for the sedan or wagon with the automatic.
Audi A4 3.2 trims have a 3.2-liter V6 engine that makes 265 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque. It comes only with the 6-speed automatic transmission and quattro, and EPA fuel-economy estimates are 17/26.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased. Under normal conditions, it sends 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels and 40 percent to the front. When slip is detected, an automatic locking center differential can send most of the power to the axle with traction.
Audi has been the industry standard for interior quality for years, and the 2009 A4’s cockpit is better than ever. In my opinion, the dashboard is one of the most attractive available today. The only hard plastic is the trim piece that surrounds the instrument cluster. The dash is made of a solid, soft-touch material, the armrests and center console are padded, and the trim is either aluminum or wood. The electroluminescent gauges are easy to see and read, and red lighting around the controls makes them easy to find at night.
Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) is standard. It comes with a dashboard screen, and it controls the radio and car settings, and, when equipped, the navigation system. Audi has refined the MMI over the years, making it easier to operate. While this version is not too hard to figure out, it still complicates some controls, meaning drivers may have to look away from the road for longer periods. An available iPod interface, however, lets drivers control their iPods through the dashboard screen, which is safer than looking down at a small device.
True to its sport sedan intentions, the A4 has supportive seats that keep drivers in place during aggressive cornering. The optional sport seats provide even more support. A standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel, plenty of seat controls and good headroom and legroom make it easy to find a tailored driving position.
The 2009 A4’s increased length benefits back-seat space, which has been a problem for the A4 in the past. Two adults can fit back there unless the front-seat passengers push their seats all the way back, and three children will fit as well. Headroom is good for all but the very tall, and there is plenty of toe space under the front seats.
The sedan’s trunk also grows for 2009, from 13.4 to 16.9 cubic feet. That’s enough space to fit three or four bags of luggage, but large boxes won’t fit because the rear opening is rather short and tight. A standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat allows for loading of longer items. The wagon has much more space, but it’s small for a wagon. With the rear seats up, it has 17.3 cubic feet of cargo space, and with them down, it has 50.5 cubic feet, which is about 10 cubic feet less than the BMW 3-Series wagon.
On the Road
The A4’s premium qualities extend to its ride and handling characteristics. The 2009 model is 4.6 inches longer overall and 6.5 inches longer in wheelbase. Audi says the extra length allowed engineers to move the front axle 6.1 inches forward and the engine back toward the center of gravity. In addition, the new model has a 1.8-inch wider track. These changes give the A4 some much-needed stability at high speeds and better turn-in response. It feels smaller than its size and is nimble in quick changes of direction. While it still isn’t a match for the BMW 3-Series on twisty roads or a racetrack, the difference is negligible on the street.
The ride quality is quite good as well. Pockmarked streets don’t interrupt passenger comfort with the base version’s 17-inch wheels. The available 18s also ride comfortably, but the 18-inch Sport package starts to make the ride hard, and the 19-inch Sport package is best for those who drive on smooth roads. The available Drive Select package has three "ride" modes, Comfort, Auto and Sport. It adjusts the steering effort, throttle mapping, suspension damping and transmission program. Those who want quicker steering and throttle response will like the Sport mode, but this is an expensive option ($3,000) that really isn’t needed considering the fine settings that come with the base car.
The A4’s base engine is also its best engine. The 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder provides maximum torque as low as 1500 rpm. That means the A4 2.0T is sprightly from a stop and has willing passing response. Zero to 60 mph takes only 6.5 seconds with the easy-shifting manual transmission, and as little as 6.7 seconds with the smooth and responsive automatic.
The 3.2-liter V6 comes only with the automatic transmission, and it propels the A4 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. While that’s faster than the 2.0T, it’s not much faster, and the added price and reduced fuel economy conspire to make the V6 an unwise buy. On top of that, the 3.2 is far outperformed by BMW’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6.
Right for You?
If you want sportiness and luxury, plus frugal fuel economy, the Audi A4 is an excellent choice. The interior is the nicest in the class, and the base 2.0T engine provides useful power and sips gas compared with the base engines in many rivals. The sedan has enough space to carry four adults comfortably, and the wagon offers the utility that active-lifestyle types will find useful.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.comand Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.