Audi Redesigns Its Bread and Butter
The muscle-bound 40-something is obviously talking to us, but we can't hear him over his T-shirt that reads, "THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES."
He takes a couple of steps in our direction and tries again. "Your A4, is that the 2009 Audi A4?"
"Yes, it is," we say, pulling the pump's nozzle from the car. "You like?"
"You know," he says, quickly folding his arms. "There's only one thing wrong with this car." He pauses and looks right at me. "My BMW 335i can blow its doors off."
Our mind races for a comeback, but before we can respond he turns and walks away. Considering his T-shirt and Hulk Hogan-esque biceps, this is probably a good thing. Instead, we just stand there, dumbfounded, watching our rival climb into his black 335i and drive off.
"What an a-hole," we say as we return the pump's nozzle to its cradle, spin on the A4's gas cap, click, click and then land our buns into the Audi's perfectly shaped driver seat.
And then it hits us. That a-hole is right. Absolutely right. There is only one thing wrong with the 2009 Audi A4, and it's the simple fact that a BMW 335i can blow its doors off.
Still No Slug
Not that the A4 is a slug. Our test car's 265-horsepower 3.2-liter V6 is the more powerful of this all-new sedan's two engine offerings, and it has enough grunt to keep this 2009 A4 feeling sporty.
As before, the engine's power delivery is smooth and linear all the way to its 7,000-rpm redline. This is due in part to its direct injection and Audi's revised variable valve lift system (AVS), which allows the engine to breathe more deeply. Still, peak torque doesn't arrive until 3,000 rpm, so the V6 has to be worked fairly hard before you feel any real forward thrust.
At our test track, the A4 accelerates to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds (6.6 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and makes a quarter-mile pass in 15.0 seconds at 94.7 mph. This is a full second quicker in both tests than the last V6 automatic Audi A4 we tested way back in 2005. Trouble is, it's just OK performance in 2009. It's also a bit lethargic considering our test car's lofty sticker price.
The same $45,000 will buy you the 300-hp BMW 335i that hits 60 mph in 5 seconds flat when equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission like this A4 — and it's faster with the standard six-speed manual. The BMW's 13.6-second quarter-mile run also leads this class.
But the Audi isn't outrun only by its Bavarian rival. Despite a V6 that supplies 10 more hp than last year, the A4's oversize grille will be left in the dust by Aunt Sue in her Camry V6.
We can't help but be a bit disappointed. The A4 is all new, outside and in. Underneath, too. But its powertrains are not. When the A4 hits the U.S. market this fall, the 300-hp BMW 335i, 306-hp Lexus IS 350 and 306-hp Infiniti G35 will remain the heavy hitters in the class.
No manual transmission is available with the V6, only Audi's excellent six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is also standard.
This is good. Quattro has been around since the earth cooled, and we're fans. In its present form, the purely mechanical system sends 60 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. In abnormal conditions, the A4's self-locking center differential redirects that power to the axle with the best traction.
It's not the world's most advanced all-wheel-drive system, but it works. The A4's high-speed stability is excellent and its initial turn-in is sharper than Beldar's head.
To further improve the A4's ride and handling, Audi's engineers increased its wheelbase by 6.6 inches. This has allowed them to move the front axle forward 6 inches, effectively moving the engine farther back in the car's chassis for better weight distribution. They also moved the battery to the trunk to remove even more weight from the car's nose. Finally, the A4's steering rack has been positioned lower and farther forward for increased feel and precision.
Our test car is equipped with the optional 19-Inch Sport package, which includes a firmer sport suspension and stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Tires. It also lowers the car about three-quarters of an inch. Just to make things confusing, however, our test car was mistakenly equipped with the 18-inch wheels and tires from the 18-Inch Sport package.
Awesome in the Turns
Despite this mix-up, this is the best-handling A4 we've ever tested. Its slalom speed of 70 mph and skid pad performance of 0.86g essentially match the numbers generated by the super high-performance Audi RS 4. Impressive. And the A4 feels good doing it. This is a very sharp, communicative sedan and it's fun to throw around.
Exhibiting impressive pedal feel, consistent response and minimal idle stroke, the A4's new brakes are also fantastic. They not only stop the sedan from 60 mph in just 107 feet (that's supercar territory), but they never overheat.
But don't trade in your BMW 3 Series just yet. The Audi's all-wheel-drive system might add stability to its road manners, but it also adds weight. At 3,870 pounds, this small sedan weighs 300 pounds more than its rival BMW, and you can feel that extra mass when wringing its neck on a mountain road.
Terminal understeer at the limit also remains a problem with the A4, but that's to be expected in an all-wheel-drive car with 55.5 percent of its weight over the front tires.
Still the Best Interior
That additional wheelbase does more than improve the 2009 A4's ride and handling, because it also gives this little sedan some useful rear-seat legroom at last. No, we're not kidding. Human adults with actual lower extremities now fit in the A4's rear seat.
Still, the place you want to be is behind the A4's three-spoke steering wheel. The sedan's interior is all-new and now resembles the larger A6 sedan and Q7 sport-utility. No bad thing.
The design of the A4's interior sets a new standard for small premium sedans. Not only is it fantastically comfortable, but also it looks beautifully modern and wonderfully constructed — nothing feels cheap. Every switch, knob and surface has been executed with the same wonderful obsessive-compulsive disorder we've come to expect from Audi's interior design geeks.
Function is improved, too, especially the controls for Audi's optional MMI (Multi Media Interface), which has a wide range of functions, including the car's navigation and sound systems. It makes iDrive seem like a cruel joke. Our test car is also equipped with the optional 505-watt Bang & Olufsen audio arrangement that feeds 10 channels of sound through no fewer than 14 speakers. We have no complaints.
Plenty of Gizmos
Our test car has also been equipped with the optional radar-supported automatic cruise control (ACC), the company's parking system (APS) and Audi Side Assist (ASA), which warns you if there's a car in your blind spot. They all work as advertised, but seem unnecessary if you just pay attention and drive well.
We can't say the same for the optional Audi Drive Select (ADS) system. Oh, it, too, works as advertised, but it also makes this a better driver's car. With the push of a button the system will vary the engine, transmission, steering and suspension characteristics to suit the driver's preferences. There are three settings for each: Dynamic, Auto and Comfort.
After much experimentation we found ourselves setting the engine, transmission and steering in Dynamic for the most response, and the suspension in Comfort to take the edge off the ride harshness in the city. Our only problem with the system is that it defaults to the Auto settings every time you start the car. It shouldn't. It should default to Individual, which are your custom choices. As it is, you need to push the button every time you climb behind the wheel. Dumb.
Oh, So Good
The first Audi A4 hit the U.S. market back in 1994. At the time, Audis were a little less desirable than acute diarrhea. But the car was good. So good, Americans quickly forgot all about 60 Minutes and unintended acceleration, the poisonous combination that had all but sunk the German car company during the early 1990s.
Americans wanted the A4. In 1994, Audi sold 12,575 cars in the United States. By 1996, total Audi sales were up to 27,379, largely on the back of the A4. And they've been on the rise ever since.
The A4 is Audi. It's the car that saved the company 14 years ago and it remains its best-seller today. Changing it is risky. Flub it and Audi would turn back its clock more than a decade.
But the 2009 Audi A4 is no flub. It's easily the best A4 ever. Audi has been an artistic success for a long time, but it hadn't quite unlocked the secret to big-time commercial success in America. With the new 2009 A4, Audi has cracked the code at last.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Edmunds.com Automotive Editor Laura Burstein says:
I'm inclined to think the new 2009 A4 has something against short people. When I first climbed into the driver seat, there lay a vast chasm between the soles of my shoes and the surface of the pedals — one, in fairness, which I've come to expect from sharing cars with tall (and often well-fed) men.
So I reached down and toggled the electric switch to adjust the seat. The seat began to move forward. And then I waited. And waited. I felt the eyes of my passenger upon me, as if he were an antsy driver waiting for a retiree to putter across the street in her battery-powered mobility scooter.
Just when the rubber on the bottom of my right Speed Cat began to gently press against the brake pedal, the seat stopped. Did I let go too soon? I pushed the switch again. Nothing. I'd reached the end of the line.
At 5-foot-4, I stand a mere 0.2 inch taller than the U.S. average for females over age 20. And even considering that Audi is a German brand, the average German woman is 5-foot-5 (well, 5-foot-4.9 inches actually). So it's a little unclear why the seats would stop just far enough forward for a woman of typical size to reach the pedals.
Of course, it's easier without my driving shoes. I simply strap on some 3-inch wedges and I'm ready to go. But I don't envy guys my size. Those wedges are tough to find in a size 10.