The Audi A4 returns with minimal changes for 2012 that are limited to a few previously optional features becoming standard along with revisions to the options packages.
Audi A4 Video Review
While we'll rarely (if ever) turn down an abundance of horsepower and torque, we also appreciate a car that hits that elusive sweet spot of power and efficiency. Among entry-level luxury sedans, the 2012 Audi A4 is one such car.
Atypically for the entry-level luxury class, the A4 comes with only one engine choice: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. This might seem like an odd choice given every other competing model has a six-cylinder, but the reality is that the A4 gains a lot more than it loses by this choice. In fact, the A4 manages to meet and even beat its base-model competitors when it comes to acceleration and fuel economy. Agile handling also contributes to the A4's balanced nature, with a favorable blend of sport and comfort.
The A4's real strength lies in its high-quality cabin. Audi makes use of best-in-class materials and a restrained design aesthetic to create a sumptuously modern interior. Naturally a range of upscale features is either standard or optional, including navigation, a premium sound system and Audi's MMI electronics interface (although MMI without navigation can be unintuitive to use). Cargo space is about average for the segment, but for those who need more utility, there's the handsome A4 Avant wagon.
In total, it's easy to see why we consider the 2012 Audi A4 to be a top choice among entry-level luxury sedans. But it has some stout competition to overcome -- each with its own set of advantages. The BMW 3 Series offers a higher level of driver engagement, though not as much as it once did. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class emphasizes luxury and impeccable build quality, while the Infiniti G sedan offers more power for less money. But if you're looking for an artful blend of all of the above, we'd suggest giving the Audi A4 some serious consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Audi A4 is available in sedan and wagon (Avant) body styles. Both come in Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige trim levels. The high-performance S4 model is covered in a separate review.
The Premium trim comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof (panoramic on Avant), automatic headlights, automatic wipers, cruise control, foglamps, automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery, a dash-mounted Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI) and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The Avant also adds split-folding rear seats. An optional Convenience package adds Bluetooth and an iPod interface, while the Style package includes bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, self-leveling headlights and bright metal exterior trim.
All of the above features are included in the Premium Plus trim, along with 18-inch wheels, sporty S line bodywork, three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, driver memory functions, split-folding rear seats, auto-dimming mirrors and an enhanced trip computer. The MMI Navigation Plus package adds a navigation system with real-time traffic, digital music storage, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, voice controls, HD radio, a color trip computer screen and MMI controls located on the center console.
The A4 Prestige comes standard with adaptive headlights, a power liftgate (on Avant models), keyless ignition/entry, a blind-spot warning system, the Navigation package and a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system (optional on Premium Plus). Options unique to the Prestige include the S line package (19-inch wheels, summer tires, faux-suede seat inserts and special exterior and interior trim), the Drive Select package (which provides adjustable settings for the steering and transmission), adaptive cruise control, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side sunshades.
The Sport package (also offered on the Premium Plus) includes a sport-tuned suspension, a three-spoke steering wheel, more aggressively bolstered seats and automatic transmission shift paddles. Optional rear side airbags are available on Premium Plus and Prestige trims only, but any A4 is eligible for wood interior trim.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering every 2012 Audi A4 is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 211 horsepower and an ample 258 pound-feet of torque. The sedan's Premium and Premium Plus trim levels come standard as the 2.0T FrontTrak Multitronic, indicating it has front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All trims can be had as the 2.0T Quattro, denoting all-wheel drive and either a standard six-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic transmission. The Avant is available only with Quattro and the automatic.
The A4's acceleration is as brisk as other entry-level luxury sedans, returning 0-60-mph times of 6.2 seconds with a manual transmission. The Multitronic CVTs are a bit slower, at 7.2 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the 2.0T FrontTrak is 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined -- very frugal for a luxury sedan. The 2.0T Quattro achieves a still-impressive estimated 21/29/24 with the automatic and 21/31/25 with the manual.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Audi A4 include antilock brakes, traction and stability control, front seat side airbags and side curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are optional on the Premium Plus and Prestige, while a blind-spot warning system is optional on the Prestige. Also available is an "Active Braking Guard" feature that's part of the adaptive cruise control optional on the Prestige. If an imminent collision is detected, the system alerts the driver and primes the brakes for full stopping power.
In government crash tests, the A4 earned an overall rating of four stars out of a possible five, with four stars for overall frontal crash protection and five stars for side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the A4 its highest rating of "Good" in both frontal-offset and side impact crash testing, as well as roof strength tests, and that was without the optional rear-seat airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, an A4 Avant with the Sport package came to a stop from 60 mph in an astoundingly short 103 feet -- about the same as a Porsche 911. Without the Sport package, an A4 Quattro sedan stopped in an average but still acceptable 123 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
Among entry-level luxury sedans, the 2012 Audi A4's cabin is regarded as one of the best in its class. The interior's austere design lends an air of adult seriousness, while the top-notch materials send a message of sophisticated refinement. The use of real leather as standard equipment also gives the Audi an advantage over its competitors from BMW and Mercedes, which use vinyl leatherette.
Most MMI infotainment functions are conveniently situated around the shift lever on models equipped with the navigation system, but cars without navigation have MMI on the dash, which is far less convenient and user-friendly. Navigation-equipped cars also get the newer, improved version of MMI. The A4's other controls are generally intuitive and well laid out, though accessing certain features can be an exercise in frustration. Adjusting something as simple as the fan speed, for example, is a two-step process.
The sedan's 12-cubic-foot trunk is average in size, so it's worth considering the Avant, as it offers 17.3 cubic feet. Fold the Avant's seatbacks down and you've got 51 cubic feet: a useful amount, though it is below average for a wagon because of the Audi's raked rear window.
The 2012 Audi A4's handling is neutral and secure, even more so when the car is equipped with all-wheel drive. Drivers with a penchant for performance will likely find the added athleticism of the Sport package to their liking, though ride quality suffers (especially if it's combined with the 19-inch wheels).
The turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides class-competitive acceleration, but it lacks the refinement of a six-cylinder, transmitting some off-putting vibrations through the steering wheel.
Also of note is the optional Audi Drive Select system, which allows the driver to choose among three modes for steering effort and transmission responsiveness -- or enjoy custom settings via a fourth "Individual" mode. It's an interesting but pricey idea, and in testing we've noted it creates more drawbacks than solutions. Most shoppers should find the A4's standard suspension, steering and transmission calibrations perfectly adequate.
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