The audio sources have been greatly improved in the new A4. There is a six disc in-dash changer that can read MP3 CDs showing full ID3 information on the LCD, Sirius satellite radio, and the Audi Music Interface, a port in the glovebox with a multitude of cables for plugging in different music storage devices. There are cables for USB, iPod, and an auxiliary jack. Although using a USB merely lets you view music within a folder structure, iPod connectivity allows flexible music-browsing options, such as organizing tracks by artists, album, and genre. Our only complaint about this system is that it requires a variety of cables because it uses a custom port, unlike the aforementioned Sync system which relies on a USB port.
We had no complaint about the Bang & Olufsen audio system, which delivered impressive clarity and balanced audio across all frequencies. We played a variety of uncompressed music through the system, including symphonic works and electronic, and in all cases we heard every note distinctly. Bass notes were striking, but not overwhelming, and the system managed to keep particularly heavy bass from rattling the car.
This Bang & Olufsen system is comprised of a 505-watt amplifier and digital signal processor pumping audio through 14 speakers in the car, which include a centerfill, subwoofer, and two surround-sound speakers. This might seem like overkill for a car of modest cabin size, but the results are spectacular.
The A4 also offers a number of driver aids. Our car was equipped with two of our favorite technologies, a blind-spot warning system and a rear-view camera with guidance overlays. The blind-spot warning system lights up yellow LEDs on the insides of the mirrors if a car is in the lane next to the A4. If you hit the turn signal for an occupied lane, the yellow LEDs will flash at you. This system is pretty smart, too, not turning on the lights if you are accelerating past a car. As for the rear-view camera, guidance overlays curve as you turn the wheel, showing the path of the car.
Our car came equipped with Audi's Xenon plus headlights, a new dynamic technology that lifts the headlight beam slightly above 74 mph. Audi also offers adaptive cruise control on the A4, although it wasn't present on our test model.
Under the hood
Although the engine choices for the 2009 Audi A4 sound similar to the previous generation, Audi retuned its 3.2-liter, naturally aspirated V-6 and turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder for greater efficiency. The result for our V-6 model is an Audi-recorded time of 6.3 seconds to 60 mph. This engine uses direct injection and variable-valve timing to achieve 265 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 243 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Although direct injection can lead to a rough-sounding engine, our A4 spun up smoothly and quietly under acceleration.
Audi reconfigured the driveline architecture a bit for 2009, moving the center differential between the engine and the automatic transmission's torque converter. This change let Audi move the front axle further forward for better balance.
Drive Select is an interesting new technology offered as an option. You can choose from Comfort and Dynamic modes with buttons on the instrument panel. There is also an Auto mode, which changes performance characteristics depending on how you are driving, and an Individual mode that can be set with the MMI. In Individual mode, you can set the steering, transmission, and suspension between Comfort, Dynamic, and Auto modes. We liked these different settings, although felt the transmission control made the biggest difference, but didn't care for the buttons that let you choose between them. Instead of just being able to hit a Comfort, Dynamic, Auto, or Individual button, you have to use two back and forth buttons that let you scroll through the choices.
The 3.2-liter A4 can be had only with the six-speed automatic transmission--Audi hasn't made its Direct Shift Gearbox available. Manual-mode shifts happen reasonably fast, although there is some slush. Our car didn't have paddles, so all shifting was on the stick. In Comfort mode, the transmission makes shifts at under 2,000 rpm, while Dynamic holds them higher. It's not a particularly aggressive transmission, but we had fun with it, and the sixth gear helps fuel economy.
Audi equips the A4 with electric-power steering. At parking lot speeds it felt exceptionally light but was also a little too responsive, requiring a gentle hold. It didn't lose this light character until we got above 25 mph, or put it in Dynamic mode. In both Comfort and Dynamic modes, the steering felt almost too responsive, nice for sport driving, but a little hard to control when cruising. But in Dynamic mode, the car changes the steering wheel ratio depending on speed, and reduces power assist.
For the suspension, the A4 has gas-fill hydraulic shock absorbers. In Dynamic mode, the shock absorbers tighten up, helping prevent roll in corners. We were impressed with how the car stayed flat during our drive in the wet. Comfort mode makes the shock absorbers softer, giving the car a floaty feeling on the freeway.
The EPA rating for the 2009 A4's fuel economy is 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. We were impressed to find that, after some aggressive mounting driving with the transmission in Dynamic mode, we were at 21.2 mpg. For emission, the A4 meets California's minimum LEV II requirement.
With a base price of $40,000, the 2009 Audi A4 3.2 Quattro is squarely in the luxury class for a small sedan. Our car included some extras, such as the $3,300 Prestige package, which brings in tech features such as the Bang & Olufsen audio system, blind-spot warning system, rear-view camera, and the Audi Music Interface. Drive Select cost an additional $2,950, while the navigation system added $2,500. A cosmetic option and the $825 destination charge brought the total up to a whopping $49,975. The A4 is a very nice car and you would pay more for a slightly better equipped BMW 335i. Then again, the Mitsubishi Evo, also with all-wheel-drive but a less-comfortable cabin, can be had for thousands less.
Audi brings in enough interesting new driving tech for it to earn a high score in our performance category, although the transmission could have been more dynamic and we found the steering tuning a little weird at low speeds. Cabin tech earns points for the audio system, phone system, Audi Music Interface, and blind-spot warning, but takes a beating from the inferior navigation system. Overall design is good, with nice aesthetic touches thrown on the front of the car, but the MMI is only average--it's an intuitive enough system but can be tedious to use.