2009 Audi A4 Avant: Introduction
November 12, 2008
So we're walking through the Inside Line parking garage here in Santa Monica and we're passing a 2009 Audi A4 Avant 2.0T in Quartz Gray Metallic that's wearing dealer plates.
"That really is a nice car," our Inside Line colleague says.
"Sure is," we reply. "Hope ours is that nice."
"It is ours," he says.
"We got a wagon?"
"We bought a station wagon!"
After lunch we sprint back to the office to let everyone in on the secret that our new long-term 2009 Audi A4 is an Avant — a wagon. We'd finally cast off the chains of the terminally cool, ditched the crossover fad and jumped back onboard with our favorite functional family hauler. Yet this new Audi is a far cry from our dad's wood-paneled Roadmaster.
This A4 represents Audi's newest passenger car platform, a thoroughly revised and reengineered interpretation of its traditional midsize platform. This new A4 wagon is larger, faster, more efficient, more luxurious and sportier than the car it replaces, and for the next 12 months and 20,000 miles it will be in our capable hands for a long-term test.
What We Bought
Once we made the decision to opt for the Avant version of the new 2009 Audi A4 instead of the sedan, Audi made a few decisions for us because the wagon is only available in a certain configuration. First is the drivetrain; the Avant is only available with all-wheel drive. Audi's Quattro system is largely the same as it has been in years past, but the front differential and the torque converter have switched places, a measure that allows the engine to be placed farther back in the engine compartment, improving the balance of the weight distribution.
And on the topic of torque converters, every A4 Avant in the U.S. has one, because only the ZF-built six-speed automatic transmission is available. That means no six-speed manual (available on the sedan), while no A4 in any body style uses the dual-clutch (S tronic in Audispeak) transmission. Even front-wheel-drive 2.0T sedans are available only with Multitronic, similar to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Connected to the six-speed auto box is the new 2.0-liter TFSI engine. Turbocharged and direct injected, the 2.0-liter inline-4 produces 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the latter coming at a staggeringly low 1,500 rpm and not dropping off until over 4,000 rpm. The 2.0-liter TFSI won the International Engine of the Year award this year.
With the new A4, Audi has rethought conventional hydraulic-assist power steering even as other car manufacturers have opted for electric assist to improve fuel-efficiency, though at the price of numb steering feel. Audi's hydraulic assist features a vane-type pump that delivers only the volume of fluid that is necessary, regardless of engine speed — a measure that contributes to this car's class-leading EPA fuel economy estimates of 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway. Compare these numbers with the BMW 328ix, the A4's main competitor, which nets 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
The Avant's interior continues to express Audi's latest cockpit-style themes with a dash that's angled toward the driver at 8 degrees, while the overall finish is very luxurious thanks to high-quality materials, expert execution and the Multi Media Interface (MMI) driver command center. This year, however, MMI has a new toy to control: the iPod.
As part of the $4,000 Premium Plus package, the Audi Music Interface offers sophisticated iPod integration. Other Volkswagen/Audi products have had iPod capability before, but it was sloppily executed at best. Tracks were listed as CDs in a changer, and there was very little rhyme or reason as to what songs would be placed in those folders. The new system is the Apple standard, which is sorted by artist, genre, track, album, song, playlist, etc. MMI might not be the ideal solution for scrolling around a DVD-based navigation system (a $2,500 option that comes with a rearview camera), but it is the perfect medium for interfacing with an iPod that's being pumped through a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system.
That Premium Plus package is more than an iPod adapter, however. It comes with daytime running lights, Bluetooth, six-level heated seats, three-zone climate control, auto-dimming mirrors and the symphony sound system. It also includes 17-inch wheels with all-season tires. Of course, we have no idea where those 17s went, because we ordered the Sport package which includes a three-spoke steering wheel, shift paddles for the transmission, sport seats, sport suspension and 18-inch wheels with high-performance tires. This choice cost $1,450.
Altogether this 2009 Audi A4 wagon cost $44,150, a far cry from its $34,500 base price. We plead guilty to option sheet overindulgence.
Why We Bought It
The SUV boom is over; the green movement killed it. The crossover movement could very well be headed the same way, as the subprime mortgage crisis has consumers thinking more realistically about their needs compared with their wants. We all appreciate a little more room, but is driving something the size of an ice-fishing hut worth it? Not for our money. The unique combination of luxury, pleasant (and even exciting) driving dynamics and a practical amount of utility make the station wagon a guilty pleasure of ours, and we're convinced that the A4 Avant will deliver, though we admit that $44 grand is an awfully pricey ticket.
This is also a chance to get our hands on Audi's new bread-and-butter car. Audi sells some 40,000 A4s a year in the U.S., although only 10 percent of them are wagons. But it's the car that built the brand and it's the car that's carrying the brand. We may rave about the midengine Audi R8, but its sales wouldn't sustain our local dealership for very long, let alone the entire country. That responsibility falls on the A4.
It's All About Quality
Unintended acceleration. Electrical problems. Unreliability. These are the elephants in the room when anyone considers the purchase of a new or used Audi. We have a long memory for the bad, and a short one for good. While this test is an exploration of function and compromise in a midsize station wagon, it is also a test of a brand with a bad rap. Will we make do with only 50.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity when we're used to much more in an SUV? Or will great handling on the road to the mountains make up for that spare cooler we had to leave at home? Will the remote key fob work? Will we regret the lack of a third-row seat that we've become so used to? Will it start every day?
For the next 12 months and 20,000 miles we'll be putting the 2009 Audi A4 Avant through the wringer that is our daily lives and reporting on it in our long-term blog.
Current Odometer: 1,250
Best Fuel Economy: 27.0 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 17.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 22.9 mpg
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.