You can't say Audi didn't try with the all-new 2009 A4 2.0T Quattro. Run through the list of past A4 complaints, and you'll find that they've largely been addressed this time around. Tiny backseat? Not anymore. At 185.2 inches from stem to stern, the A4 is now a whopping 7 inches longer than its BMW 3 Series nemesis, and it's got the accommodating rear quarters to prove it. Nose-heavy weight distribution? Audi has pared it back to a 55/45 front/rear split, which joins forces with the rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system to banish performance-sapping understeer from the A4's repertoire. Laggardly performance? Also taken care of, on paper at least, as the A4 2.0T's newly amped-up turbocharged-4 enables it to run neck-and-neck with the 328i to 60 mph. In other words, the new 2009 Audi A4 exhibits none of its predecessor's vices -- usually a sure recipe for success.
However, it's an open question whether this A4 is good enough to close the sales gap with the 3 Series, which outsold the Audi by almost 3-to-1 in 2008. Our skepticism centers on the engine bay, where Audi once again sends its turbocharged four-cylinder power plant up against the six-cylinder competition. While the revised 2.0T gets the job done at the test track, it sounds like a Civic, and the steering wheel vibrates with four-cylinder fervor at full throttle. We suspect many shoppers will want a more refined engine at this price point, particularly given the polished company the A4 keeps.
If you require the versatility of all-wheel drive, though, the A4 2.0T Quattro becomes considerably more appealing. In this regard, it's actually something of a bargain relative to the rest of the field (our preposterously priced tester aside), offering all-wheel-drive security at a rear-wheel-drive price. Moreover, the A4's inspired styling inside and out is bound to please those who find its rivals staid or derivative, and its driving dynamics easily meet our expectations for a contemporary sport sedan.
At the end of the day, the 2009 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro is a good car in a segment that's full of them. It's not a knockout, but it is an appreciable improvement over the previous A4, and that should help its chances in this highly competitive arena.
The all-wheel-drive 2009 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that cranks out 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque -- increases of 11 hp and 51 lb-ft over last year's A4. Our test car was equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. At the test track, our A4 leapt to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, an impressive showing indeed for a 211-hp sedan weighing nearly 3,800 pounds.
While the 2.0T has an admirably linear power delivery that belies its turbocharged identity, it doesn't feel that quick in real-world driving -- our seat-of-the-pants impressions had us expecting a 0-60 time in the low 7s. What gives? Turns out Audi has stacked the deck by endowing the transmission with an unadvertised drag-strip mode.
If you deactivate stability control, depress both the brake and throttle and then release the brake when the engine speed stops rising -- a process known as "brake-torquing," which is standard procedure for our track drivers -- the transmission bangs off uniquely quick and harsh upshifts that occur at least 500 rpm sooner than usual, presumably to keep the turbo boost from tailing off near redline. The resultant eye-catching acceleration times mask the fact that the A4 feels a step behind its six-cylinder rivals outside the confines of a racetrack.
We could also do without our test car's pricey and needlessly complex Audi Drive Select system, which allows the driver to specify steering effort, shift response and suspension settings. There are three preset modes -- Comfort, Auto and Dynamic -- as well as a customizable Individual mode.
Confoundingly, the Drive Select system brings with it a unique shift lever layout -- while mechanically identical to the base unit, the Drive Select transmission lacks a separate Sport gate, so if you want to put the transmission in Sport, you'll have to go to the Drive Select control panel and choose either Dynamic or Individual (provided the latter has been configured with the Dynamic transmission setting). Adding to the confusion, Sport locks out 6th gear, so if you're in Dynamic, say, you'll have to cycle over to Comfort or Auto to enable 6th on the highway -- or flick the lever into the manual gate and grab 6th yourself. Got all that? No? Frankly, we don't get it either.
Electronic madness aside, our A4 acquitted itself well on twisting canyon roads. This is a car that goes where you point it, and the steering's spooky parking-lot lightness gives way to a communicative weightiness at speed (in Dynamic mode, that is). Our tester evinced some excess body motions in hard cornering, but that's nothing the available Sport package can't fix. Moral of the story: Say "yes" to the Sport package and "no" to Drive Select -- that's the A4 to have.
The driving position in the 2009 Audi A4 is satisfactory, but its cowl is notably higher than that of the 3 Series, so forward visibility isn't quite as expansive. The Germans usually get their dead pedals right, and the A4 is no exception, providing a robust platform with ample space for larger shoe sizes. We dutifully cycled through Drive Select's adaptive suspension settings over a variety of surfaces, and we found that our A4 rode well in Comfort and only marginally less so in Dynamic; impact harshness was minimal either way. Wind and road noise are remarkably muted.
The front seats were comfortable but rather featureless; some of our editors prefer the Sport package's similarly comfy and more supportive chairs. The center-console armrest is thickly padded, but lanky passengers will find that their elbows fall aft of the armrests on the door. Rear-seat comfort is an A4 specialty -- thanks to the new platform's additional length, taller adults will be happier back here than in rival rear quarters, particularly in terms of headroom.
The A4's gauges are straightforward, though the speedometer design is such that the needle is barely at 9 o'clock when you're doing 65 mph. Other controls aren't so simple. Adjusting the fan speed requires pressing a separate button to activate that function, for instance, and tuning the radio manually is a potentially befuddling three-step procedure. Some drivers might also dislike the location of the stereo's power/volume knob, as it's located on the passenger side of the center console (there is a convenient volume knob on the steering wheel, however). As for the standard MMI (Multi Media Interface), it's still one of the best of its breed. The learning curve is easy enough that most people won't need the owner's manual to operate it, and MMI allows plenty of vehicle customization.
The optional navigation system guided us to and fro flawlessly, though its absurdly stilted female voice evokes images of alien landings. The Bang -- Olufsen stereo is a useful upgrade over the base setup, providing impressive clarity and a notably fuller sound stage, but it was plagued by a driver-door rattle at higher volumes. In our real-world usability tests, the A4 2.0T's enormous 16.9-cubic-foot trunk swallowed everything we threw at it, accommodating our standard suitcase and golf bag with room to spare. Child safety seat installation is doable, but the usual compact-sedan caveat applies -- front passengers may have to pull their seats forward to make it work.
Design/Fit and Finish
The sleek exterior of the 2009 Audi A4 2.0T will no doubt be a selling point for many consumers. Inside, the dashboard layout is busy but attractive, with comprehensive red cockpit illumination at night. Materials quality is class-competitive but not extraordinary -- for example, the tacky silver-painted plastic around the display screen and instrument panel looks as if it were lifted from a bare-bones Subaru. Our tester's speedometer and tachometer needles were slightly misaligned at rest, and the gap between the center console's wood and plastic sections was a bit ragged, but build quality was solid overall.
Who should consider this vehicle
Shoppers who value the 2009 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro's all-weather versatility and style over the smoother performance of some rivals.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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