Europeans don't share most Americans' disdain for the wagon, but maybe that's because they know how to do them right over there, as with our long-term 2009 Audi A4 Avant. Aesthetically and athletically, it's light years removed from the faux-wood-paneled family wagons that went out of style at about the same time as leisure suits in the 1970s.
The A4 Avant's standard Concert audio system also makes the AM/FM/eight-track setup of its '70s American predecessors seem like an ancient relic. But it doesn't come close to the ear-pleasing audio and eye-candy appeal of the Bang & Olufsen premium systems available in other Audis. And we couldn't get the B&O system in our Avant, even though we shelled out for the expensive $4,000 Premium Plus option to get the Multi Media Interface (MMI) for iPod integration and an upgraded Symphony head unit.
The Concert sound system in our long-term 2009 Audi A4 Avant consists of 10 speakers powered by 180 watts. Six channels of amplification drive the speakers: 3 x 20 watts and 3 x 40 watts. Audi wouldn't give speaker sizes, but we know that the system includes a midrange at each end of the dash, a midrange and tweeter in each of the four doors and a subwoofer in the spare-tire well. Unlike the spare-tire-straddling sub in some Bose systems, the one in the A4 Avant fits around the back of the spare, just aft of the battery.
As with every system we test, I listened to about a dozen different musical tracks in the A4 Avant that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on the testing process and the tracks used, click on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.
The A4 Avant's system performed ably if not admirably. It had a midbass bump typical of most middle-of-the-road OEM audio systems, and this tilted the tonal balance toward boominess and muddied overall clarity. Timbre and tonal accuracy were also compromised by clearly audible artifacts in certain test tracks, and dynamics were limited and a little lackluster.
The soundstage was sizeable and imaging was fairly detailed, which is commendable given the lack of a center channel. And despite the system's deficiencies, with several tracks the music had a tangible spacious quality. The bass from the subwoofer tucked in the spare-tire well was also surprisingly effective for its location and apparent size. While it can't provide the oomph of a larger sub getting the proper of power, the impact it lent to the overall sound was impressive.
I confirmed with two non-musical test tracks -- one with voices mixed in the left, right and center of the soundstage and the other with seven drum beats that span across it at precise intervals -- that center images were indeed slightly shifted to one side. In the tests of linearity, an indication of how well the sound holds together at low and mid volume levels, the system scored a fair and good rating, respectively. It also passed the zero bits/absence of noise test.
We sprung for the pricey Premium Plus option package, which in the audio department includes the Symphony six-disc in-dash AM/FM/CD player and Audi's Multi Media Interface for iPod integration. By dropping an extra four grand, we got what looks like a CD changer in the glove box, but with a cubby for an iPod and an interface cable to connect the device. The MMI system is supposed to come with a whole bag of cables that you can swap with the iPod wire to plug in a portable media player through an aux-in and or a USB drive. But either ours got misplaced or the cables were never provided. The car also has Sirius satellite radio, but not Bluetooth audio for wireless music streaming.
iPod integration is adequate if not exceptional. Contents are accessed using the MMI rotary controller in the center console and the buttons behind it. In addition to playlists, artists, albums and songs, the top-level menu also provides selections for genres, composers, audiobooks and podcasts. I found the interface a bit clumsy compared to the best ones, but an owner would probably get used to its quirks pretty quickly. And scrolling through a long list on a packed iPod is pretty quick. At one point the system didn't recognize my iPhone 3G after I switched sources, but such temporary incompatibility (or worse) with iPhones doesn't surprises me much these days.
What We Say
The Premium Plus option package also includes a long list of features, including Audi's signature LED running lights and 17-inch alloy wheels on the outside, and Bluetooth for hands-free phoning and heated front seats on the inside. But that's still quite a bit of coin just to get an upgraded head unit and iPod integration. The 2011 Premium Plus Audi A4 Avant is available with a 14-speaker, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen system as an $850 option. So if you're buying one, the extra money would be well spent if you want the best sound possible.
Source Selection: C
iPod Integration: B-
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