January 06, 2011
Kia hired a former Audi designer to give its cars some snaz. Maybe Audi should consider an exchange program, hire some Hyundai/Kia designers to help with their baffling electronics interfaces. Yeah, I know this is more nitpicking about audio/info controls. I see your eyes rolling. I see them! Really though, c'mon...
A volume knob set off to the right of the gear selector in the center console. Two climate control knobs masquerading as volume and tune knobs. Multiple other commands accessed through the primary dial wheel and four-corner buttons aft of the gear selector - clockwise for scrolling up the menu, counterclockwise for down. Thumb the knurled wheel on the left side of the steering wheel to scroll on the small screen between tach and speedo, press to select. Don't push at an angle though, or you'll be zooming back up the list.
Touch, twist, thumb, press. Good grief, man. Working the audio and navi functions in the Avant keeps your hands busier than those of unsupervised 16-year-olds at the movies.
Like any car, you'd get used to it, I suppose. But should you have to? Especially when you're dancing around the $40k threshold and there are cleaner interfaces in cars half the price - like the Sonata or Optima? If this was just your weekend canyon bomber, it's probably no thing. But if this is your daily driver, as it will likely be for most folks, it seems an unnecessary compromise.
And I'm only talking the interface here, not performance or driving experience, so don't flame me on the wrong premise. Once you're on the gas in the Avant of course, music, talk and directions succumb to more immediate cerebral cortexian sensations.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
Back to All Long-Term Vehicles
December 30, 2010
I like the AC/DC song "Hells Bells" -- really I do. I mean, I wouldn't have it in my iPhone if I didn't.
Yet I may never listen to Hells Bells again after driving our long-term 2009 Audi A4 Avant for the past week. Apparently the Audi's iPod memory skills are akin to the rat that just keeps grabbing the cheese, no matter how many times he's been shocked.
When I get into the A4 Avant I always plug in my iPhone 3GS into the glovebox-mounted iPod cord and within a few seconds I'm hearing the "Bong...Bong...Bong..." beginning of "Hells Bells." This happens every time I get into the car and plug in my iPhone because the iPod interface defaults to the first alphabetical artist in your library and then to the first alphabetical song from that artist.
Because I like to listen to all of my songs from all of my artists I have to go to the control panel, "up" out of the "AC/DC" folder, "up" out of the "Artists" folder and "up" to the "All" folder. Then I have to go down into the "Songs" folder and click on a song to start it playing.
Then I have to get back out to the master control screen and click on "Mix" to get the car to shuffle randomly through all of my songs.
I was feeling annoyed by this process every time I got into the car, but last night I had just completed this journey to Suffleland and was beginning to enjoy random songs from all artists when I decided to unplug my iPhone and shoot a picture of the sunset off PCH. Twenty seconds later I plugged the phone back into the iPod cord.
Really??? Even without shutting the car off and/or turning the phone off????
Maybe I should just get some headphones for when I drive this car.
Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large
Back to All Long-Term Vehicles
December 16, 2010
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-
Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology
December 16, 2010
As much as I love living in L.A. I detest its omnipresent traffic. So whenever I have an event to go to across town, I always make sure to pick a long-term car that will make that stressful situation a bit more bearable. And out of the cars in our current fleet, I'd have to say that our Mitsubishi Outlander (the big one) is my favorite for these reasons: 1) Seat heaters, 2) paddle shifters, 3) Sirius First Wave.
And yes, our 2009 Audi A4 Avant has all of those, too. By the way, I realize that most people wouldn't cross-shop these. (The A4 is a $27K wagon while the Outlander is a $20K crossover SUV.) These are just my picks out of the variety of cars in our fleet for the particular purpose of dealing with rush-hour traffic.
Anyway, the reason the A4 comes in 2nd for me is that even though it has really excellent steering, its paddle shifters aren't as responsive as the Mitsu's. Most folks may appreciate the A4's refined, smooth shifting and call me crazy for liking the Outlander's loud and rough downshifts. But downshifting slows the car down quicker compared to the A4 so I'm more apt to use it than the Audi's during stop-and-go traffic.
With the A4, I have a minor panic attack as I quickly downshift to slow down, while the Mitsu instantly drops in speed.
But other than that, I love them both for making that hectic daily L.A. ritual a bit less aggravating. Just fire up the seat heaters, turn up The Cure and sit back and relax.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor
December 15, 2010
The iPod interface in our long-term A4 Avant is pretty darned good. The graphics are clear and crisp while the menus are intuitive. One thing that bugs me is really quite minor, but a inconvenience, nonetheless.
I like leaving my iPhone in shuffle mode, letting it randomly play whatever it feels like. Maybe one out of twenty songs I'll let play all the way through, the rest I just skip, skip, skip. The first small complaint is that when you're in the Control menu (pictured above) and you select Mix (shuffle) it doesn't let the current song play out. Instead, it shuffles to the next song. I'd prefer if it stayed on the current track and then shuffled after it ends.
Issue2: If you scroll down the list of songs that will shuffle through next, and select to find a song that you want to hear, it cancels the shuffle mode. Let's say I scroll down and want to hear Porcelain by Moby. Click, and the song plays.
The problem for me is that the playlist switches back to alphabetical order. Now I have to go back to the Control menu to reselect shuffle mode, then it'll skip to the next song. I know, I know, boo hoo. This really is a tiny problem. There's a lot to like about the A4 Avant, and this certainly isn't a dealbreaker. But you know what they say about the squeaky wheel. If we don't point this stuff out, Audi may just keep it this way.
Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor
September 13, 2010
There are actually far more than three faces of Audi's Driver Information Center, depending on how you set it up, but here are just three shots from our long-term Audi A4 Avant. These images show how effectively the D.I.C. is at displaying multiple forms of vehicle information on a diminutive 3-by-6-inch screen.
Let's take a quick tour of all the information that's provided:
Left Screen: This is my default setting, as I like the large digital speedometer along with the Sirius satellite station information (Classic Rewind in this case) and distance-to-empty number. Of course this screen also includes odometer, trip meter, transmission gear and outside temperature information. Pretty informative if you ask me.
Center Screen: This is a great screen for scrolling radio stations. With the information available right between the primary gauges, along with the steering-wheel-mounted thumbwheel, it's easy to browse stations without taking your eyes off the road or hands off the wheel.
Right Screen: The telephone screen also works with the thumbwheel, making it easy to browse your phonebook, dialed calls, received calls, etc. Plenty of people think you should never make a phone call from behind the wheel, but Audi's interface is an example of how that argument doesn't hold up. It's just not a distracting (or dangerous) process folks.
Of course I haven't even touched on how effectively this screen coordinates navigation information or engine warnings or a dozen other uses. Fodder for another blog post I guess. In the meantime, suffice to say Audi's D.I.C. is the SH.IZ.LE.
Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large @ 30,855 miles
August 27, 2010
Yesterday I posted about our long-term Camaro's high-quality audio system (relatively speaking, of course; it won't put Mark Levinson out of business or anything). That system also has a fully-functional graphic interface, impressive given it accomplishes this with a simple, non-navigation-capable, non-touchscreen display.
But if we're talking best graphic interface (versus the Camaro's very good, all things considered) then my vote goes to Audi's MMI.
I remember when I first used this system in an A8 several years ago. It was intuitive, so the learning curve was much gentler than some competing systems (cough-i-Drive-cough). But what really got me wasn't just MMI's ease of use but the slick animations and clear display templates. Somebody obviously put a lot of thought into the design.
There's no need for a cool, "swooshy" transition between audio information and navigation functions, but MMI has one. It's also got color coding for different functions, and the above graphic recreation of a physical set of buttons to skip tracks or play a song list randomly. Very cool.
Early indications suggest the new MyFord Touch system is better still, but I haven't had enough quality time with said system, so I'm reserving judgment. Hmm...a long-term 2011 Ford Explorer would probably resolve the issue, in case anyone at Ford is reading this...
Karl Brauer, Edmunds.com Editor at Large
August 09, 2010
I've just spent almost an entire week with our Audi A4 wagon. And while I was just back and forth to work and doing my normal weekend things, I got to thinking about what a great road trip car this would be. I've been itching to drive across the country and think a lot about what I would drive.
Here are some of the A4 Avant's travel-ready features:
* storage (plenty of cargo space with a pull-over cover to protect your goodies from the sun and wandering eyes)
* more storage (lots of little cubby holes and cupholders inside the A4, too)
* Decent fuel mileage (EPA estimates 23 MPG combined. We're averaging a little over 21)
* power (It gets a lot out of its turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4 and never struggles. No one wants to be toiling along in a vehicle full of passengers and gear wondering if they're going to make it up that hill.)
* entertainment (good-quality audio, satellite radio, the best steering wheel controls)
* non-glare nav screen (so you can see how lost you are)
The only thing that might get old:
* hard seats (the driver seat may be heated and power adjustable but the cushions are not comfortable)
What do you look for in a road trip car?
Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor
March 17, 2010
I can't remember ever backing into something. Well, there was that motorbike in Mexico a few years back. But that was the owner's fault for parking it behind my '84 Chevy Blazer, where I couldn't see it.
If the Blazer had a backup camera like our Audi A4 Avant, the owner of the motorcycle would have saved his turn signal. And I would have saved the 200 pesos I paid him for the damage. Fortunately, my beater Baja Blazer was none the worse for it.
I was glad the A4 has Audi's Parking System when I backed out of a buddy's long narrow driveway this morning, threading the wagon between the stucco exterior of his house and the cinder block wall of his next-door neighbor.
Call me old fashioned, but I still like to look behind me when backing up rather than forward at an in-dash screen, although in this case the Audi Parking System's orientation lines help keep me on track. And the screen gives the warning: "Look! Safe to Move?"
Even more useful were the ultrasonic sensors in the rear bumper that warned me when I was too close to something with a series of escalating beeps. Without them I may not have noticed that the driver's-side rear corner of the A4 was only inches away from scraping against stucco.
And I'm sure that would have cost much more than 200 pesos to repair.
Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology, Edmunds.com @ 24,291 miles
Back to All Long-Term Vehicles
March 08, 2010
The A4 Avant is one of, if not my favorite car that we have in our long-term fleet, so naturally I was pretty excited when I was offered the keys for the weekend. I could gush about how I like the way it looks, the way it drives, or that I like the added utility one gets with the wagon; but what stuck out to me the most this weekend was what I don't like about the car. Every time I drive an Audi I have to teach myself how to use a stereo again, and where all the controls are located. I wouldn't say that any of the controls are hard to use, but I also wouldn't say that any of them are intuitive either.
The two controls that constantly reminded me I was driving an Audi (and not in a good way) were the cruise control, and the dial on the center console that operates pretty much everything. The cruise control comes off the steering column, which inherently is not a problem however because of where it is placed it can't be seen from the driver's seat. If you look at the picture you can see the controls for the blinkers and the windshield wipers, but what you can't see is the third set of controls that is blocked by the spoke of the steering wheel. Unfortunately your view of these controls is blocked even when seated in the driver's seat.
My second complaint and I'll admit it's a small one, is the direction the user has to turn the main dial in relationship to the direction the curser moves on the main screen. If you twist the dial clockwise the curser moves up the list, and if you twist it counter clockwise the curser moves down the list. This seems backwards to me. To be perfectly honest I don't have a good reason as to why it seems backwards, however with no prompting from me my brother said the same thing while operating the radio from the passenger seat.
After a weekend in our Audi, even though the controls aren't as intuitive as some other brands, our A4 Avant is still one of my favorite long term test cars.
Seth Compton, Field Producer @ 23,669 miles
March 02, 2010
This morning as I started the Audi A4 Avant's engine and the beautiful display screen lit up with Coldplay's "Viva la Vida," I remembered how much I love this car.
I haven't driven the Audi in weeks, but after a quick flash of the wagon's brilliant red cabin lights, I quickly forgot it was just 6 a.m. and I hadn't had any coffee yet.
I even let go of the grudge that I was headed to the office to edit Geneva auto show news instead of sipping espresso in the press room at the actual Geneva show.
As I sped past a new Honda Accord on the freeway entrance ramp, I was reminded once again that the A4 Avant is the absolute perfect car for me.
Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 23,354 miles
September 14, 2009
OK, maybe I'm missing something but does Audi really expect you to be able to drive and scroll around the map on the nav screen at the same time? See the above picture of our 2009 Audi A4 Avant's nav screen? Well the function to scroll around the map requires that you click on that arrow icon on the lower right. Horizontal arrows mean you want to scroll on the map sideways and vertical means scrolling up or down. But you have to first move the line to where you want to look and then click the button again to move that box where you want to go on the map. Huh? Try keeping your eyes on the road at the same time you're trying to see where the next major street is on the map.
Of course, the nav guidance itself is nice, as editor Chris Walton has already said. The nav lady gives clear instructions, sometimes multiple times and you get plenty of heads-up before your next turn. But if you just want to see where the freeway is or something, better pull over first.
Also, it took some figuring out how to exit the above function since there's no "back" or "return" option on the screen. I just resigned myself to not using the map function. But when I eventually looked down at the button I was using to click the screen, I saw the return button. Heh, oops. It's not a very intuitive place for it. Naturally this is a nonissue to Audi owners.
Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 18,532 miles
August 06, 2009
My Blackberry had been acting up lately, so this week I threw myself on the mercy of IL's IT department, preparing my case for a new phone.
Turns out, pleading wasn't necessary. Charles took one look at my worn 8700g and said, "Give me that. I'll bring you a new one later this afternoon."
Two days into my new Curve and feelin' very techy, I put away my single ear-bud hands-free "device" with a renewed interest in Bluetooth.
Audi has a super simple Bluetooth interface, and connecting the Curve to both our long-term 2009 A4 Avant and 2009 S5 took about five seconds each.
Share your Bluetooth pairing experiences. And make sure to dumb 'em down for the likes of me.
Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 16,952 miles
July 23, 2009
As soon as I got into the Audi A4 Avant last night I thought, "I could own this car."
The night before I was in the Nissan GT-R. While I love the GT-R for its bad-boy sensibilities, the ride is so stiff that I'm afraid I will lose fillings by the time I get home.
The Audi A4's ride is comfortable and keeps the road bumps from shaking me silly. It manages to do this without flopping around in corners. It's a nice balance between comfort and sport.
It's a pretty car. Audi design is classic without being boring. There is nothing in-your-face about the way it looks. It quietly conveys luxury.
Having a wagon that offers a maximum cargo capacity of 51 cubic feet is convenient for all sorts of weekend errands.
For fun, the Audi offers plenty of entertainment features and niceties. I need a good air conditioner. I adore heated seats. I'm not a big fan of radio or even satellite radio, so I need an iPod connection. I've gotten so used to having a navigation system, that I would definitely want one. I need a certain amount of power. Fuel economy doesn't factor into my equation but the Audi A4 performs better than half the cars in our fleet. These are just my personal preferences.
If I were in the market, these are the things I'd be looking for in my car. And they all seem to be wrapped up in this Audi A4 Avant.
Tell us what features are a must for your next car purchase.
P.S. Everyone seemed so offended that Scott went to Del Taco, so I took a picture in front of an authentic Mexican restaurant. Maria's in Torrance is one of my favorites.
Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor
June 08, 2009
I used the navi system (for the first time) in the the A4 this weekend, and liked what I saw. Besides the MMI's relatively large screen, the smaller, central info panel gives navigation aid, as well. This is handy because you don't have to keep toggling between navi and audio on the large screen each time you want to change audio settings.
After leaving the driveway, the display begins giving instructions with orthogonal directions and a count-down bar when the turn approaches. The larger navi screen has a few tricks, too: As the car transitions from freeway to off ramp to street level, it automatically zooms in showing more detail as it's needed.
But as long as I had the little navi helper in the I.P. (and friendly navi lady alerting me), I left the larger screen on audio.
Thank you, Audi, for thinking ahead. Some navi systems are more trouble than they're worth, but this one has better execution and more flexibility than most.
Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor @ 14,365 miles
April 07, 2009
Our Audi A4 Avant is equipped with the Multi Media Interface (MMI) driver command center.
The best part for me is the way it works with my iPod. It plugs into the adapter in the glovebox and tucks away neatly into the handy spot pictured above. Unlike the Focus, which leaves your iPod out in plain site with a lengthy cord dangling.
With my iPod out of the way and not taking up any of the cupholders, I can still control my music from the center console. I get all the sorting choices I would on my iPod, like artist, albumn, genre, etc.
I left my iPod sticking out a little so you could see it in the photo, but it does fit all the way into that spot.
Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor
March 06, 2009
I've had my 30GB iPod hooked up to our long-term A4 Avant for the past week or so. It works quite well. The attribute I like most (and this is inherent with any good integration system) is better safety. As you likely know, holding and fiddling with an MP3 player hooked up to a normal auxiliary input jack can be a major distraction.
This is greatly reduced with iPod integration, as you can control the iPod directly through the car and see songs on the main display rather than the iPod's.
Specific details about our A4's integration follow after the jump.
The connection cable is in the glovebox. There's a slide-out tray that you can use to store the iPod, but since I've got a rubbery case and bulky belt clip on mine, I've just been putting it in the larger adjacent slot to the right, which is fine.
The A4 detects my iPod quickly and displays the iPod in a very similar fashion -- Artist, Album, Playlist, Podcast and so forth are all represented via folders.
To navigate, you can use the MMI wheel. Spinning it clockwise moves down the iPod list and spinning it counterclockwise moves up the list. Pressing down on the wheel selects whatever is highlighted on the screen by the little white dot. Currently playing tracks are displayed in a callout box with artist, album and song information. To back out of a folder, you can scroll up to the top to find the back folder symbol, or you can click the "return" button below the MMI knob.
You can also use the scroll wheel on the steering wheel to move up and down through an iPod list. When you do so, the gauge cluster display switches from its normal trip computer mode to show the list of songs that you're moving up or down in.
Overall, the Audi A4's integration is very easy to use. There are only two minor things I don't like. One, it's hard to find the random/repeat functions through the interface. Two: for podcasts, the Audi displays them alphabetically, which is counter to my iPod's chronological listing. As such, finding my newest podcasts has been difficult.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
February 26, 2009
Our 2009 Audi A4 has a rearview camera. I really do like rearview cameras in general, as they make backing out of crowded park spaces and driveways less worrisome. This is true even on our A4, which actually has decent outward rear visibility.
I've noticed that our A4's display screen, in particular, is high resolution -- the view is crisper and more detailed than most other backup displays I've encountered. Is it the camera or the display that makes it look better? Not sure.
Like on our departed Q7, the screen's yellow lines bend as you turn the wheel to help show your intended path as you backup. The camera comes bundled with the navigation system, though, so the privilege of seeing more will cost you $2,500. Our A4 doesn't have the ability to play DVDs though its screen, either, though our own Al Austria tells me the new Q5's MMI will allow DVD playback.
In a belated announcement, our A4's It's Not A Tumor tire (for the Govenator version, click here) was replaced last week. Cost us $306.12 ($256 parts, $25 labor) at our favored tire shop, Stokes Tires Pros in Santa Monica.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor