Audi's all-wheel-drive Quattro system gives the 2007 Audi A4 2.0 T incredible handling, its most impressive feature. The audio quality from the sound system is very nice, too, but everything else in the A4 is merely good. This little sedan gets around the city and highways adroitly and is fun to drive even with the six-speed automatic that we had in our test car.
Audi got on the tech bandwagon early, which earned models from previous years high points from our tech-centric perspective. With navigation, premium stereo sound, and Bluetooth cell phone integration, we couldn't help but like these cars. But car companies have long product cycles, and the car systems that looked so good in the 2005 model haven't changed any for the 2007 model. The navigation interface in the A4 looks clunky, and the glove box-mounted CD changer doesn't support MP3 CDs.
Navigation or MP3?
The cabin of the A4 feels well built, with aesthetically pleasing materials and colors all around, fitting for Volkswagen's upscale brand. While not cramped, the interior is on the small side, so the car's electronics are packed into the center stack. As opposed to the Audi Q7's console-mounted MultiMedia Interface (MMI) controller, a smaller MMI controller sits just to the right of the car's LCD. The MMI is a very usable system and doesn't take long to learn. Its push-button knob works for selecting and scrolling through choices presented on the screen, while four buttons let the driver choose functions displayed at the corresponding four corners of the screen.
The MMI controls navigation, the stereo, paired cell phones, and other car systems. Although we like how the MMI works, the navigation interface needs improvement, as not all of its menu labels are very intuitive. Users need to press the Route button to enter a destination, and the Route menu offers a submenu titled Destin. Given the size of the screen, there's no need to abbreviate destination. The navigation system also shows its age by lacking retail stores in its points-of-interest database, although it does have restaurants, gas stations, and other useful places.
The navigation works quite well. The map is bright and relatively easy to read, while route guidance is precise and displays upcoming turns. The system doesn't have text-to-speech, a feature that reads out street names and is present on more high-end navigation systems. When we intentionally got off course, it recalculated quickly and quietly, advising us on the next turn that would get us to our destination. The route guidance voice prompts also weren't as insistent as on the Audi Q7 we tested recently. One major drawback of the A4's navigation system is that destinations can't be chosen from the map.
Our A4 came with the Bose premium audio option, the 10 speakers of which include a subwoofer and a center channel. The sound quality of this system is very good, with well-balanced speakers filling the small cabin of the A4 and making it difficult to pinpoint individual sound sources. Bass isn't particularly heavy, and some types of music, such as classic rock, get muddy at higher volumes. But acoustic music sounds particularly clear and crisp.
The CD changer in this system is downright primitive. It's mounted in the glove box, the first sign of trouble, and it doesn't play MP3 or WMA CDs. At least that's its configuration when the car comes with the navigation system. Without navigation, the car gets an in-dash changer that plays MP3 CDs. Making up for the changer, two SD card slots hidden behind the navigation LCD read MP3 tracks. A couple of gigs of music should meet most people's entertainment needs. Our car also came equipped with Sirius satellite radio, which the MMI made easy to navigate.
Bluetooth cell phone integration on the A4 works very well and includes very useful features for accessing a phone's address book and recent calls from the car interface. Strangely, we couldn't pair up a Motorola V551 phone to the system, which works in most cars, but a Sony Ericsson K790a did work. The car also features a voice command system, but it controls only the telephone.
Quattro grips the road
The real high point of this A4 is the handling. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system inspires an almost dangerous feeling of confidence while negotiating tight corners or making high-speed lane changes. We heard no tire squeal around fast corners and were left with the feeling that all the tires were doing their part to get the car quickly around corners. The Quattro system uses Audi's Torsen center differential, which pushes engine torque to the rear or front axle depending on which one needs it the most. The effect is stupendous.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo engine is a good size for this car. It uses direct injection and an intercooler, and it puts out 200 horsepower at 5,100rpm. That's enough power to propel the car forward fast and get up to freeway speeds quickly. But the turbo in this car causes some very uneven acceleration. While trying to hold a steady speed, we would occasionally feel the turbo boost kicking in and out. Or the turbo boost would kick in late, giving a rush of acceleration after we had already got the car up to our desired speed, which can be disconcerting in traffic.
Although the A4 doesn't have as much acceleration hesitation as the Audi Q7 we reviewed previously, it's still there. Stomping the accelerator from a stop does not deliver wheel-spinning power. While fast starts are kept to a refined pace that the car can handle, we found the acceleration more disappointing when trying to power out of a corner. The only way to get a satisfying boost out of a corner was to hit the gas pedal early. We attribute this hesitation to some overzealous programming of the traction control, which is designed to keep the tires in contact with the pavement.
The A4's six-speed automatic transmission helps the car achieve good fuel economy, and it works seamlessly. We did feel that in normal Drive mode, upshifts are set a little low, occurring at about 2,300rpm. But Audi makes up for that by including a Sport mode, where upshifts happen at about 3,000rpm. And we can't complain: Drive mode has the car in sixth gear at 80mph on the freeway, with the engine turning at only 2,500rpm. There is also a Tiptronic, manual selection mode, but we found that Sport mode worked well for city and windy-road driving.
Those low RPMs during freeway driving contribute to very decent gas mileage. The EPA rates the car at 22mpg city and 30mpg on the highway. When we noticed the car's computer giving us an average of about 14mpg after lots of city driving, we spent some time on the freeway and watched the average climb all the way up to 28mpg at speeds of about 75mph to 85mph. The car's computer uses a pretty short polling time for the average mpg, which is bad for drivers who want to rate mileage over a longer period of time but quite interesting as a tool to help drive in a more economical manner. The A4 also gets a very good emissions rating, with ULEV II/BIN 5.
Practical and fun
Quattro all-wheel-drive helps the handling of the A4 and is also a significant contributor to the safety of this vehicle. An electronic stability program adds to the accident avoidance technology. Our car also came with adaptive headlights, which swivel a bit as you turn to illuminate the road.
Airbag coverage in the A4 is complete. It has dual-stage front airbags along with side airbags for the driver and passenger. Side curtain airbags protect front and rear occupants. The A4 gets safety ratings of four stars for driver and passenger front impact, rear seat side impact, and rollover, and five stars for front seat side impact.
Audi covers the A4 with a four-year or 50,000-mile warranty. Buyers also get their first maintenance free within 12 months or 5,000 miles and four years of roadside assistance.
Our test car was the 2007 Audi A4 Sedan 2.0 T Quattro, with six-speed automatic transmission, which came in at a base price of $31,540. Our significant options were navigation ($2,100); a Convenience package ($1,900) made up of the adaptive headlights, a trip computer, and a few other niceties; the Premium package ($1,900) with a sunroof and 17-inch wheels; the Bose stereo system ($1,000); and Bluetooth ($500). With these and a few other options, the total price of our car was $40,660.
The A4 proved to be a practical and fun car to drive over our test period. With our expectations adjusted appropriately, we could get used to the pause in acceleration. The phone system is excellent, although some of our staff would have to upgrade their phones. Navigation and aspects of the stereo are a little below par--we've experienced better navigation and a drive almost as fun in the 2006 Honda Accord. For those willing to spend a bit more, the 2006 Lexus IS 350 is more powerful and offers a better stereo.