The Audi A4 holds the distinction of single-handedly reviving the Audi brand. Launched in the mid-'90s, the compact A4 quickly proved a favorite among luxury car buyers thanks to its handsome, well-finished cabin, sharp handling and available Quattro all-wheel drive. Tight panel gaps, high-quality materials and firm, comfortable seating give the interior the proper European ambience, while a supple ride and willing performance make the Audi A4 a great road-trip choice.
Although those core characteristics have been part of the A4's personality since day one, this Audi has become increasingly polished with each successive generation. The current A4 represents a serious upgrade over the previous version with an expanded focus on tech features, cabin design and materials quality. Not that the last-gen A4 was dowdy, but the debut of the smaller (and less expensive) A3 sedan looked more modern in some respects. Overall, though, no matter which year you're looking at, the A4 offers athletic performance and a comfortable and inviting cabin. Add in the appeal of all-wheel drive (a serious asset for those who live in inclement parts of the country or those who want to inject some sportiness from the otherwise front-wheel-drive sedan) and it's easy to see why the A4 has become a prime choice for an entry-level luxury car.
The latest Audi A4 comes solely in a sedan body style, though the two-door A5 coupe or convertible and Allroad wagon are mechanically related. Power for the A4 comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. In the standard A4, it produces 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Selecting the fuel-conscious Ultra sub-trim decreases output to 190 hp and 236 lb-ft but also raises fuel economy estimates a few mpg all around. Front-wheel drive is standard and non-Ultra models can be ordered with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. A seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard across the board, with a six-speed manual offered on Quattro models. The A4's fuel economy is right in line with the majority of its competitors, which is to say it's fairly frugal relative to the amount of power available.
On the road, we have found the A4 an adept handler when equipped with summer-performance tires and the Quattro system. Acceleration is swift off the line, and stopping power is equally impressive. The dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts quickly and imperceptibly through the gears, though it displays some hesitation while pulling away from a stop. This can prove frustrating in stop-and-go traffic. Get it out of crowded city centers and onto the open road, and you'll notice the A4 does an admirable job at keeping noise levels low. The optional sport seats are highly adjustable (even offering thigh cushion extensions) and hold up for hours on end. No matter where you're going, the semi-autonomous driving aids can make your commute or road trip easier. The adaptive cruise control function helps take the fatigue out of long-distance excursions, while the Traffic Jam Assist feature takes over steering, braking and acceleration duties between 0 and 37 miles per hour.
Two engines were available in '09: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produced 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque in the sedan and wagon (the previous-gen convertible made do with 200 hp and 207 lb-ft). This was the only year that a 3.2-liter V6 was also offered. It made 265 hp and 243 lb-ft in the sedan and wagon and 255 hp and 243 lb-ft in the convertible. By default, the sedan and convertible came with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system was optional for those and standard for the wagon. A six-speed manual was offered on the Quattro-equipped four-cylinder sedan. A six-speed automatic was available for that car and standard on all other AWD models.
The A4 sedan and wagon were sold in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. Standard features on premium models included 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, leather upholstery, Audi's MMI system and a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. Stepping up to the Premium Plus added xenon headlamps, auto-dimming side and rearview mirrors, Bluetooth phone connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an iPod adapter and a six-CD changer. The Prestige rolled on 18-inch wheels and added rear parking sensors, keyless ignition and entry, blind-spot monitoring and an upgraded 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. Notable extras included a Sport package (18-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles), a navigation system bundled with a rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, the Drive Select adjustable suspension system and rear-seat side airbags. The convertible was sold in a single trim, with the four-cylinder's standard features including 17-inch wheels, an automatic soft top, power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a 10-speaker audio system with a six-CD changer/MP3 player. Opting for the V6 added 18-inch wheels and heated front seats. Major options include adaptive xenon headlights, a navigation system, the last-generation MMI system and upgraded Bose speakers.
In road tests of the time, our editors were impressed with the Audi A4's understated yet luxurious cabin, sharp handling and generous cargo space. Additionally, its available all-wheel drive made it a compelling choice for those who frequently face rain or snow. With its spirited performance, good fuel economy, classy interior and European panache, it's no wonder that this Audi was a solid choice in the entry-level luxury car segment.
The previous-generation A4 saw numerous changes in its eight-year production run. In 2010, the A4 convertible was axed and replaced by the all-new A5 drop-top. The V6 was wisely dropped that year since it was no match for the performance and fuel economy offered by the turbocharged four-cylinder. The Prestige trim was dropped from the front-wheel-drive sedan and the navigation system was upgraded to the third-generation MMI system. The 2011 model year saw minor equipment shuffling (the Navigation package added HD radio and the Prestige now came with a rearview camera and rear parking sensors), but the big news that year was the introduction of an eight-speed automatic that replaced the six-speed in Quattro models. The front-wheel-drive A4 could again be ordered in Prestige trim in '12, while '13 brought exterior styling changes and another revision to the MMI system. Additionally, the steering rack became electrically assisted and the wagon body style was dropped in favor of the new high-riding Allroad. Bluetooth and an iPod adapter became standard in '14, which is the same year the engine got a minor power bump from 211 horsepower to 220 hp. Finally, the '16 model year saw the disappearance of adaptive cruise control and the Prestige model altogether, necessitating equipment changes for both remaining trim levels.
Audi's third-generation A4 sedan and wagon were produced from 2006 to 2008, while the cabriolet lasted an additional year. Relative to second-generation A4s, this generation offered refreshed styling, a revised chassis and more powerful engines, though this was really more of a revitalization rather than a redesign. The sedan and wagon got upgraded in 2006 at the start of the generational cycle, but the cabriolet wasn't updated until the following year. To make up for lost time, the cabriolet was endowed with a new acoustic soft top, which served to give it a quieter ride.
Two trims were available for third-generation A4s: the 2.0T and the 3.2. Base 2.0Ts offered standard features including a power driver seat and dual-zone climate control, while the 3.2 added heated leather seats and 17-inch wheels. Option packages included features such as a navigation system and an upgraded sound system.
Under the hood, buyers had the choice of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 200 hp or a 3.2-liter V6 with 255 hp. All wagons were available only with Audi's Quattro system; sedans and convertibles came with either Quattro or front-wheel drive. As far as transmissions go, options varied by body type and trim, but the A4 was available with a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
This generation of the Audi A4 impressed us with its impeccable cabin design and materials as well as its nimble handling. Its host of body configurations and optional rough-weather-friendly all-wheel drive only added to its appeal. One blemish was that the A4's engines came up a bit short in the area of low-end torque.
The second-generation A4 was produced from 2002-'05. Compared to the first generation, it benefited from a new body structure and sheet metal, as well as changes that made it sportier. It was motivated by either a 170-hp 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 220-hp 3.0-liter V6. Both could be mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT (the CVT first became available with this generation). The A4 Cabriolet debuted in the 2003 model year. In reviews, we praised this A4's refined interior and sharp handling. As with third-generation models, one notable drawback was its lack of low-end torque.
The first-generation Audi A4 (1996-2001) was a huge success for Audi, helping to put the automaker in the same league as its respected German luxury car competitors. This was due to the A4's handsome Teutonic looks, impressive performance and stylish, well-constructed interior that set a precedent for future Audi models. A five-speed manual was standard, with Audi's five-speed Tiptronic automatic offered as an option. The base engine was a turbocharged four-cylinder, while the upgraded model came with a non-turbocharged V6. Note that the original A4 was initially available only as a sedan; the Avant didn't join the lineup until 1998.
This generation offered all the usual A4 strengths, such as good looks both inside and out and available all-wheel drive. Weaknesses included a lack of rear legroom and a somewhat confusing dash layout, as well as engine performance that lagged behind some rival offerings.