Road Test: 2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro
By Mike Monticello of Road & Track
If you've ever hopped into the rear seat of a BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class or an Audi A4, you probably started kicking yourself for not calling "shotgun!" In truth, the quarters are so cramped back there that you wouldn't actually be able to kick yourself, but you get the point. It's tight!
So we can't blame Audi for trying to cut down on passenger rage by making the 2009 A4 — known internally as the B8 — larger than the B7 A4. The new A4's 6.6-in.-longer wheelbase, 4.6-in.-longer overall length and 2.1 in. of additional width translate into a larger interior, with rear-seat knee room specifically increasing by a welcome 1.4 in.
While the A4's redesign is more evolutionary than revolutionary, park the B8 next to the B7 and that previous A4 (which we always felt was a pretty piece) looks about 10 years old in comparison. There are a few sharp creases to make sure the eyes don't wander to other cars and, let's face it: The sinister line of LEDs below the headlamps — borrowed from the R8 — adds to the car's look-at-me appeal.
Underneath this larger-yet-lighter body is Audi's modular chassis platform first seen on the A5 coupe. The important points related to the new chassis are that the differential was moved directly behind the engine, switching places with the torque converter, which enabled the front axle to be moved 6 in. forward, providing for both the longer wheelbase as well as a shorter front overhang. The result is a better balanced car.
Be flippant with your option-checking pen (our test car was a fully-loaded European model) and you can make your A4 handle better than the competition. The Sport package comes with absolute cheater summer tires — Michelin Pilot Sport PS2s, size 245/40ZR-18 front and rear — as well as stiffer suspension tuning and 0.8-in. lower ride height. Go crazy, order Audi's Drive Select option and you'll get Dynamic Steering (which modifies the steering ratio in response to vehicle speed and the Audi Drive Select mode in use) and adaptive shock-absorber damping. Drive Select allows you to adjust the mapping of the engine, transmission, steering (you can actually feel it immediately tighten up in Dynamic mode) and suspension to suit your tastes. Via a button on the center stack, you can switch among Comfort, Dynamic and Auto, or you can custom-tailor the settings in Individual mode.
Combine all this with standard Quattro all-wheel drive (with a 40/60 front/rear torque bias) and you have a car that attacks corners with ease. The car's high limits are proven by its stellar 0.90g around the skidpad, while its ability to change directions is exhibited by a 69.1-mph run through the slalom cones — faster than the BMW 335i. Although the A4 is definitely not willing to powerslide through corners like the R8 (darn!), the new chassis is sensitive to on/off throttle transitions, and massive understeer situations are rare. But I can't stand that the car's ECM (Engine Control Module) cuts power if you overlap throttle and brake application, as you might while left-foot braking on a back road.
If there's an area where the A4 seemingly hasn't made huge strides, it's in the engine compartment. Sure, the Audi Valvelift System (AVS) improves fuel economy, and the direct-injected 3.2-liter V-6 does have 10 more horses than last year's 3.1-liter (265 bhp; torque remains at 243 lb.-ft., but spread over a wider band). But most of the A4's competition use 3.5-liter sixes or, in the case of BMW's 335i — turbocharging. As such, the 335i smokes the A4 by 1.2 seconds to 60 and the Mercedes C350 Sport bests it by almost a half second (although let's be honest: the Audi's 6.2-sec. run isn't exactly turtle-like). There's also just a slight bit of scratchiness over 4000 rpm.
The 3.2 is available only with the 6-speed Tiptronic automatic, which has been improved with quicker shifts, almost to the level of DSG. The optional Sport package brings steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which are fun to use but would be better if they were larger. A bigger dashboard gear indicator would also be nice, as would smoother throttle-blipping on downshifts. While we're griping, the 1-2 shift in paddle mode is too abrupt.
The A4's new interior upholds Audi's fine standards, at least in terms of the quality and the way everything works. Probably due to the MMI (Multi Media Interface) controller negating the need for a lot of buttons, the styling is no longer quite as interesting. The front seats also don't look very exciting, but offer a surprising amount of lateral support. But it's sure easy to fall in love with the Danish-made Bang & Olufsen stereo system, whose 505 watts pump out clean and crisp sound through 14 speakers. Plus, it's fun to say "Bang & Olufsen" to your friends.
So in most ways, the new A4 is a better car than the one it replaces. It's chock full of high technology, has an athletic new body and handles far better, truly upping its sporting quotient versus BMW's 3 Series. But even more exciting is thinking about just how good the new S4 (with a supercharged V-6) and RS 4 will be when their mechanicals find their way into the A4's updated platform.