2nd Opinion - Wardlaw
At nearly $40,000 as tested, I’d need to think twice about selecting the A4 over a roomier Volkswagen Jetta. I hear that new GLI model, at $10,000 less and with the same engine as our Audi A4 2.0T, is quite a nice car to drive.
Over the decade that the Audi A4 has been on the road, I’ve been lucky enough to drive a multitude of them, from the first 2.8 four-door to the road-blistering S4, in sedan and wagon (Avant) variants. This is the car that arguably saved Audi in North America after “60 Minutes” essentially accused the company of building luxury cars that would accelerate all by themselves, without warning, through garage walls, into traffic, and would otherwise place occupants in harm’s way. Of course, it turns out these people were stomping on the accelerator rather than the brake pedal, but no fanfare was made of this finding.
Anyway, I’ve loved the A4 from the start, though over time Audi has tested my devotion. The tests began with the redesigned 2002 model, which had austere styling that couldn’t match the original for timeless elegance. Plus, it was a less comfortable car, thanks to a wide center console with hard plastic edges that grew uncomfortable on twisty roads and long highway drives. Furthermore, the second-generation Audi’s laggardly continuously variable transmission and sticky brakes contributed to herky-jerky response around town. And finally, it creaked and squeaked and made quite a racket on anything but smooth pavement. But in a sea of silver BMWs and black Mercedes-Benzes, the Audi A4 stuck out as an original thought.
Now, the Audi A4 gets a new horse-collar grille, taillights that look like “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams’ eyebrows, and Audi’s frustrating MMI navigation interface. The herky-jerky city driving character is gone thanks to our test car’s six-speed automatic and smooth braking ability, but the hard center console remains and the interior plastics do the Macarena over the slightest road imperfections. The back seat is still tight for adults, who must splay their legs around the hard seatback pads that cause pain to knees and shins. And the new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine doesn’t have the zing I remember from the old 1.8T model, grumbling along and creating too much noise for this Audi to proudly wear a luxury designation.
Our gray on gray test car, which looked like a rental except for the brushed aluminum multi-spoke alloys and real aluminum cabin trim, did not have a Sport package, so it sat a little higher off the ground and wore Pirelli P6 four-season tires. The result is that, when driven on my favorite stretch of twisty two-lane near Los Angeles, the Audi bobbed and weaved and transitioned its weight more abruptly than I recall in the A4 Sport models. The transmission’s sport mode helped hold gears for more spirited driving, and the steering, brakes and tires behaved well unless you discount the rubber for squealing before the limit of grip arrived.
I averaged 24.2 mpg over more than 120 miles and three hours of rush-hour city traffic, mountain driving, and highway cruising. Not bad, and good reason to select the 2.0 model over the less fuel efficient 3.2. But at nearly $40,000 as tested, I’d need to think twice about selecting the A4 over a roomier Volkswagen Jetta. I hear that new GLI model, at $10,000 less and with the same engine as our Audi A4 2.0T, is quite a nice car to drive. – Christian Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry