November 12, 2008
An entry on the 2009 Audi A4 Avant long-term blog page read, "There's just something endlessly appealing about the wagon. It's that magical expression of utility, only in something that doesn't look like a box.
"Though we make fun of a wagon's domesticity, it never really goes out of style, does it? Think of the enduring good taste expressed by the Volvo wagon through the decades. Even the 1955 Studebaker Conestoga Wagon that I saw on the streets of Santa Monica the other night still looks pretty interesting.
"But let's not get too heated up by the practicality of a wagon. Plenty of people will tell you that a wagon can take the place of a crossover, yet I'm not too sure. And the dimensions of the 2009 Audi A4 Avant make the point."
Why We Bought It
Our test of the 2009 Audi A4 Avant was more than just an excuse to own what may be the most attractive wagon ever built. For 2009 Audi redesigned its cash cow, the A4. It was revised and reengineered to be larger, faster and more fuel-efficient than the car it replaced. The new A4 was a big deal.
And after decades of dominance by SUVs and then CUVs, it was high time we looked into whether the smaller, more aerodynamic wagon was back in fashion. Only 10 percent of the A4s sold in the States were Avants but that didn't stop us. We also bought one for a glimpse into the practicality of its design over that of the traditional CUV.
We looked forward to 12 months and 20,000 miles with the newest Audi. But it wasn't long before the scope of our test grew. Before we knew it, more than two years and 35,000 miles had passed.
We enjoyed the 211-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo powering the Avant and piloted the Audi for many a road trip. But we hoped for a little more. Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh shared his sentiments: "When leaving a signal or stop sign in our long-term A4, things don't happen instantaneously. First, the initial tip-in response of the throttle is too soft. Then the revs climb high and hold as the torque converter tries to let the engine build boost. It makes for dignified, though not particularly hasty, departures. Once you're under way and the torque converter is fully locked up, there's ample sauce underfoot."
Editor in Chief Scott Oldham put into words what some of us felt when he explained why to avoid the sport suspension. Oldham wrote, "This little wagon just rides too firmly for me. Fact is, I think it's sprung stiffer than our S5, yet it doesn't really have the engine or the high-performance vibe that makes such a sacrifice in ride acceptable. Instead it just feels like a wagon with a small engine that is sprung too stiffly, and insists on crashing over even the smallest road imperfection. No point except discomfort, which is no point at all. But there is an easy fix for this. Don't pay for the Sport package. I've driven 2.0T-powered A4s without it and they ride wonderfully."
Power delivery and ride quality aside, it was the atmosphere inside the cabin where the Audi left its impression. Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans reflected, "I really like our A4's interior. Even though our car's interior is trimmed in black, it's welcoming and premium in appearance. The wood highlights are tasteful and not overdone. The control layout, including MMI, is pleasing, sophisticated and largely intuitive. It looks and feels like an entry-level luxury car should."
But our back-burner comparison to the CUV arose multiple times. There wasn't quite enough space. Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds weighed his car options prior to a family vacation. "Four suitcases fit. This would work for a 3-to-4-day trip but not this 13-day trip. Positives: navigation system, double sunroof, full-function iPod connection. Negatives: general lack of breathing room and space for the kids, road stuff in this compact backseat, rear seats are hard and don't recline and there is no place for a small cooler. Probability of whining: High."
If we learned anything from almost two and a half years with the 2009 Audi A4 Avant, it is that Audi maintenance is not cheap. We miss the free schedule maintenance program. Four routine service visits to Santa Monica Audi averaged $245. And one of those was free. We spent another fistful to replace four Bridgestone Potenza RE050As ($1,190) and front brake pads and rotors ($670).
One unexpected issue of note involved a pronounced steering wheel vibration. Our A4 and an S5 we owned concurrently were part of a service bulletin concerning the Servotronic steering. The TSB involved swapping out both front lower control arms under warranty. Doing so remedied the problem completely. We had just two more surprises before the test was over. A careless motorist rear-ended us and a clueless fawn front-ended us. Sorry, Bambi. Body repairs cost us 15 days and $550.
Total Body Repair Costs: $554.47
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 29 months): $981.61
Additional Maintenance Costs: $1,864.32 for new brakes and tires
Warranty Repairs: Front lower control arms replaced, visor clip replaced
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 4
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 2 for Servotronic TSB and new brakes
Days Out of Service: 18
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We tested the A4 twice, as we do with all long-term cars. It performed significantly better at 1,000 miles than its final test at 35,000 miles. Some tests showed more degradation than others.
Acceleration from zero to 60 mph took 6.3 seconds (with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip), and the A4 completed the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 90.5 mph. Both milestones were 0.3 second slower than before. Braking distance from 60 mph grew to 108 feet, an increase of 5 feet from its first go-round. Lateral grip around the skid pad lessened ever so slightly, from 0.90g to 0.89g. Slalom performance dipped nearly 2 seconds, to 67.5 mph. Nonetheless, seat-of-the-pants calculations did not reflect the actual numbers. Road Test Editor Mike Monticello drove the A4 during its final test. He noted, "The A4 flat-out sticks as you weave around the cones. The suspension has little roll, the steering tightens up and offers good quickness and accurate turn-in while the tires just grip and grip. The all-wheel drive makes the final cone as easy as flooring it and holding on."
We averaged 21 mpg during our test, which equaled the EPA city mpg on the window sticker. Our best single tank was 30 mpg, though we exceeded the estimated 27 highway mpg on multiple occasions.
Best Fuel Economy: 30.7 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 14.2 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 21.0 mpg
We purchased the A4 Avant in October 2008 for $42,000, a tick above invoice price. By the end of our test it had more than 35,000 miles and Edmunds TMV® calculated its private-party resale value at $28,797. We set our asking price just above that at $29,500 and advertised on Auto Trader and Craigslist. Two days later we had an offer. After minimal negotiation we sold the Audi for $28,000 to a gentleman from Canada.
True Market Value at service end: $28,797
What it sold for: $28,000
Depreciation: $14,000 or 33% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 35,484
We bought a 2009 Audi A4 Avant to test its utility. Were its wagon-size proportions enough to justify its practicality beyond a normal A4 sedan? Better yet, was that enough to justify shopping the Avant over a competitive CUV?
Our eyes saw the matter one way. As Senior Editor Erin Riches praised, "Whenever I look at our long-term A4 Avant I think, well, that's it, no one else should ever bother trying to build a wagon because it will never look this good." There was no denying this was an attractive wagon. We also couldn't argue that look and luxury would make this A4 quite a success in its segment. But we were stretching a bit to think it could compete with crossovers.
Cargo storage in the wagon was not significantly larger than the trunk space in the A4 sedan. That is, assuming the rear window is not grossly obstructed with sundries. So extra storage room didn't justify buying an Avant over a sedan. Along those lines, there was no chance the wagon could compete with taller, boxy CUVs. As Editor in Chief Scott Oldham concluded, "The A4, although larger than before, is still too small for real family duty." It may be true, but we challenge anybody to name a better-looking station wagon on the road today.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.