Audi A4 3.2 Avant
Mercedes-Benz and BMW take notice: The 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant has arrived, and it's one of the most powerful and accomplished small wagons on the road. By combining the company's legendary Quattro all-wheel drive with a smooth-revving, 3.2-liter V-6 engine, the A4 Avant delivers exceptional power and poise while exuding understated elegance. It craftily keeps its engineering prowess below the surface and is a capable, safe, and fun-to-drive small wagon. Our test car included a pair of Secure Digital (SD) slots for digital music and headlights that turn slightly with the steering wheel. Although you can get an Avant for about $37,120, our test car had a slew of options and came in at a credit-score-stretching $44,670. Slide into the 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant, and you're surrounded by a tasteful interior made up of high-quality plastics, brushed aluminum, and polished walnut trim. Front and center is Audi's smallish 6.3-inch control panel, which is bright and clear; plus, it oversees just about every major aspect of the car. Rather than standard input buttons, however, Audi's multimedia interface (MMI) relies on a knob and four buttons for highlighting and selecting one of four outer segments. When entering addresses in its GPS-based navigation system, forget about the onscreen keyboard--the A4 Avant displays a circular alphabet; you twist the knob until the choice is highlighted, then press. We generally like Audi's MMI compared with some other carmakers' control interfaces.
Although the steering controls are convenient for adjusting the stereo, they don't affect the navigation.
While driving, the navigation screen gets a little cramped with a distance scale, a clock, and a compass arrow; the autodimming rearview mirror adds a digital compass. The screen automatically splits to show an overview of where you are with a close-up of the next three turns, but it lacks a 3D bird's-eye view of the terrain. The 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant reads directions to you via an efficient female voice with a slight English accent. Happily, the next navigation task is duplicated on the driver's handy LED in the center of the instrument panel. It's pinpoint sharp, and it telegraphs to the driver the current gear, the CD track, and the temperature if a door is open and goes through a visual diagnostic of the car's major components, a sequence that's addictive to watch.
SD card slots behind the navigation screen let you plug your own digital music into the stereo.
Press the square button in the lower right of the main screen, and it rotates to reveal the 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant's hidden gem: two SD flash-card slots for playing MP3s. It worked perfectly with a variety of files in our testing. The car's Bose stereo can also play AM, FM, or satellite radio (you can order an XM or Sirius receiver); CDs on its six-disc changer; and even the audio track of local TV shows. It sounds great with excellent balance throughout the car, as Bose's Auto Pilot noise-compensation technology continually monitors audio levels and automatically raises and lowers the volume so that it isn't overpowered by the car next to you or by tire hum. We really like the steering wheel's clever thumb rollers, which change the volume, the track, or the station, but we wish they had been used for adjusting the cruise control and the GPS navigation.
With the 3.2-liter V-6 engine, which is also used on Audi's larger A6 sedan, the 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant delivers a crisp 255 horsepower through the Quattro all-wheel-drive power train and six-speed automatic transmission. During a week of daily driving, the wheels never slipped once, even during torrential rains that swamped the road. Under normal conditions, the power is divided equally among the wheels, but as soon as the computer senses a wheel is losing its grip, the system reapportions power to the ones that have traction for excellent handling. It also helps accelerate the car to 60mph in 6.8 seconds, putting it slightly ahead of other small wagons. We were a little disappointed by its sedate, midrange acceleration (from 30mph to 50mph) time of 3.7 seconds, but the A4 Avant stops straight and true with minimal ABS chatter and even has tiny wipers to dry the brake discs. Cruising along at 60mph, it registered a tolerable 68dBA, and on a combination of city and rural driving, it delivered 23.1mpg, close to its EPA rating of 19mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway. It also has a 400-mile range.
Don't let its demure appearance confuse you: The 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant is also available as a sleek sedan or a hair-raising convertible, with its share of creature comforts. All the seats are heated, and the rear bench not only folds flat for a huge cargo bay but also includes a hatch for skis to fit through. These days, this is rare for a car that has a full-size spare tire with a matching wheel under the floor.
The 2005 Audi A4 3.2 Avant marshals a phalanx of safety technology, including front and side air bags, as well as curtains to protect all passengers inside; it received four- and five-star ratings from NHTSA crash tests. On late-night jaunts, we really appreciated the headlights, which not only swivel to illuminate where the car is heading into a turn but also keep the light straight and level on bumpy dirt roads. To prevent theft, the A4's key is electronically coded to the car, and the gearshift is mechanically locked to the steering wheel. Unfortunately, it stranded us once when the key refused to budge; it took some rocking of the wheel and the shifter to work it loose and get the car started. The car's bulky fob is a mild annoyance. Audi's warranty for the 2005 A4 3.2 Avant is par for its class with 4 years/50,000 miles of coverage, which includes scheduled maintenance, roadside assistance, and a 12-year rust guarantee.