Welcome Wagon - 2009 Audi A4 Avant Long-Term Road Test
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2009 Audi A4 Long Term Road Test

2009 Audi A4 Avant: Welcome Wagon

January 24, 2011

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I come from a small family, and have a small family, so wagons have never been on my automotive radar. But on Friday, after picking up the 2009 Audi A4 Avant from its 35,000 mile service, I had it for the weekend. A couple months ago, I was lucky enough to drive the 2011 Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic Wagon for three days. Although these are both German luxury-brand wagons, the contrasts between them are stark.

The Audi A4 felt more agile and responsive than the Mercedes E350 4Matic. When I was driving the Audi, I was calling the shots. With the Mercedes, I felt like the captain of a stately ocean liner, calling down commands to the engine room ("Lane change right!" "Aye, lane change right!"). I was, to be honest, a little intimidated by the Mercedes. It was as though I was driving my rich aunt's car, and there would be hell to pay if anything went wrong. The Audi felt more like a friend had tossed me the key and said, "Have a fun weekend." And I did.

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More contrasts: Although the Audi is just 7 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower than the Mercedes, it feels like a much smaller car -- in a good way. The Mercedes is awash in luxury. The Audi is more tailored, practical and sporty. If the Mercedes is a country mansion dripping in lush appointments, the Audi is a sleek, spare city loft. (Audi is actively exploiting such contrasts in marketing the 2011 Audi A8. Check out its "Good Morning" commercial to see a swipe at Mercedes' version of luxury. Love the yawning mink stole.)

Although my colleague Dan Frio recently complained about the fussiness of the controls in the Audi, I got the hang of them relatively quickly, particularly in comparison to the Mercedes' split-layout Comand multifunction controller. Werner von Braun might understand Comand without an owner's manual -- I couldn't.

All this, you might say, is an unfair comparison: 2011 versus 2009; A $56,000 Mercedes versus an Audi whose 2011 model has an MSRP starting at $36,300. Bigger engine versus smaller, with, I might point out, the related differences in fuel efficiency: the Mercedes does 16 city/23 highway; the 2011 Audi comes in with 21/29.

It's all about personal taste, of course. But if I were in the market for a German luxury wagon and had a generous budget, I'd give both wagons a drive and serious consideration.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @34,500 miles


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