This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2013.
When Car and Driver staffers are faced with the question of which engine to buy, one might assume that we blindly gravitate toward the maximum number of cylinders or the maximum amount of horsepower. Opting for the "big engine" presumes that doing so will make the car quicker and potentially sound better, and perhaps even make the owner look like a superior human being. Aside from the extra upfront cost, ticking that option box often can make owning the car more expensive down the road, as fuel economy generally suffers and the means for the extra power often adds to the curb weight — a penalty we're usually willing to live with to satisfy our addiction to speed.
A New A4
Audi comprehensively redesigned the A4 for 2009. The new A4 is sleeker and wider on the outside and larger on the inside. A 6.3-inch-longer wheelbase increases rear-seat legroom by nearly an inch, but the reality seems greater as the rear seat is now adult-worthy. We've previously tested an A4 3.2 Quattro, and although it was prohibitively expensive, we found it to be an excellent sports sedan worthy of consideration. That is, until Audi dropped off a new A4 powered by the exceptional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With an as-tested price of $35,005, the four-cylinder version was a staggering $16,720 less than the V-6 version we road-tested in September 2008.
Buyers interested in the 2009 Audi A4 will face a choice of two very different engines. Base versions of the A4 with Quattro all-wheel drive start at $33,525 and come equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Note: That's more torque than the optional V-6 can muster. Previous A4s used a version of the same 2.0-liter engine. The major change to the engine for '09 is the addition of variable valve timing, which adds 11 horsepower and an impressive 51 pound-feet of torque. Although it's down 54 horsepower to the 3.2-liter V-6, the four-cylinder's 0-to-60 time of 5.7 seconds was quick enough to match the acceleration of the V-6 version. Even when saddled with the heavy and friction-laden Quattro system and a six-speed automatic, the turbo four-cylinder provides better low-speed acceleration than a V-6 A4 with an automatic and all-wheel drive. The four-cylinder's turbocharger provides immediate boost without a whiff of turbo lag and helps the base car outaccelerate the V-6 up to 50 mph. When speeds reach 80 mph, the V-6's superior horsepower helps it to slowly pull away from the four-cylinder, but up to that speed, the two are identical. So the V-6 is certainly more expensive, but it's not really any quicker than the base engine.
Fueling Our Suspicions
It was no surprise to find that the smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivered better fuel economy than the 3.2-liter V-6. In our not-so-gentle hands, the V-6 returned an average of 19 mpg while the four-cylinder came in at 22 mpg; Audi recommends premium fuel for both engines. It was also no huge shock that the weight of the well-equipped A4 3.2 Quattro we tested came in at 3860 pounds, or 174 more pounds than the more basic 2.0T Quattro tester.
Life Without the Sport Package
Audi has moved the differential forward in the latest A4, yet our tester still bore 56.4 percent of its mass over the front wheels (the last A4 2.0T we tested had 56.8 percent of its weight over the front). In most driving, the A4 2.0T felt much like a front-wheel-drive car, despite the all-wheel-drive system that sends 60 percent of the power rearward in normal driving conditions. We were only reminded of the all-wheel-drive system when accelerating hard from a stop. Despite its V-6-matching acceleration, our 2.0T tester lacked the $1450 Sport package that firms up the suspension, adds one-inch-larger wheels, and comes with a host of interior upgrades, including sport seats. Even without the Sport package, the A4 2.0T seemed willing to hustle. The steering was criticized for feeling a bit sluggish off-center, but the ride compromise was deemed excellent, with just enough compliance yet not overly soft. We'd still spend the extra cash for the Sport package, but the base car will likely be sporty enough for most consumers. Audi's $3000 Drive Select system, which bundles together active steering and active shocks, would fix our quibble with the steering, but the option is only available on the 2.0T Prestige trim level that starts at $40,825.
Advantage: V-6 (sort of)
Comparably equipped, the V-6 commands a $3300 premium over the four-cylinder A4. But buyers interested in the four-cylinder should note that the 2.0T is available without some of the gewgaws that are standard on the V-6 version at a price that starts at some $7000 less. At this point you might be muttering to yourself, "If the V-6 isn't any quicker, why should I spend the extra cash?" You probably shouldn't, but we can tell you that the V-6 does emit better sounds than the four-cylinder engine. Although the sound-level measurements of both powertrains are within one decibel, the four-cylinder has a guttural and slightly raspy sound to it. The V-6 delivers a more subdued, less coarse engine note. The 3.2 also has snob appeal, so when bystanders see the 3.2 badge on the trunklid, they might think, "Hey, that guy must be rich." Then again, if they know anything about the A4, they might be thinking of the old saying that starts "A fool and his money..."
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.7 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 16.2 sec
Street start, 5-60 mph: 7.2 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.4 sec @ 94 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 175 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g
EPA city/highway driving: 21/27 mpg
C/D observed: 22 mpg
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