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2009 Audi A4: First Drive

Audi‘s latest A4 goes on sale in fall 2008, and we recently had a chance for a spin behind the wheel of a Euro-spec car. At first drive, Audi takes everything good on its core model and ratchets it up a notch. Audi showed off the home of their owner’s driving school, the Audi Forum Sonoma at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. The Audi Forum takes a track experience a step above, and we only wish the day had been longer for more track time.

I promise, you can get the A4 in a color other than red..

We drove Euro-spec 265HP 3.2L Quattro sedans, with six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmissions. Audi is not offering the dual-clutch transmission here. The standard car this fall takes Audi’s 211HP 2.0L TFSI I4 (not the 250HP version once expected), standard in front-drive but available with Quattro. The wagon arrives with Quattro only. We covered the A4’s introduction at the Frankfurt auto show last year and brought you most of the technical stuff then (click here to revisit).

Like many vehicles, A4 has grown with each generation. Having fallen for the A4 back in my mid-1990s Automobile Magazine days, I wondered if this iteration would finally be so big it lost some charm. The A4 has grown about six inches, with a wheelbase just over 110 inches. Instead of being slightly smaller, the A4 is seven inches longer than the either the BMW 3-Series or Mercedes C-Class. Our short drive proved that the A4 is as charming as ever, and more nimble than the size suggests. The cabin is more comfortable, but this new chassis, steering, and suspension ensure a fine-handling sedan.


Though on the road first under the A5, the A4 also has the new transmission-forward architecture. There is a longer wheelbase for better interior space, shorter overhangs for a more purposeful and aggressive stance, and a nearer to 50:50 weight distribution for better driving dynamics. On the road, that means a more responsive, predictable, and fun car.

We first noted Audi’s use of headlights as a design element at the car’s 2007 Frankfurt auto show introduction, but we can confirm the lights look totally cool on the road, too. They’re complex, interesting, and eye-catching. It carries a fast rear roofline, though good headroom and easier ingress/egress thanks to wider-opening rear doors. The new car has a purposeful, elegant, refined, and determined look.

Inside, the car feels typically Audi, something I define as a good thing. Design and layout are straightforward and elegant. A4’s center console is tilted toward the driver (by eight degrees) and switches have a purposeful tactile feel. The tilt tells the driver Audi made this car for him, but it’s almost too strong. The geometric shapes and layout are forceful rather than enveloping and comfortable. Having said that, the controls and layout are logical and easy, and I appreciate the no-nonsense attitude. And though the latest Audi navigation system doesn’t break new ground, the company finally offers a competitive, full-featured system.
Drive Select: My Hero
A4 introduces Drive Select to the Audi range. The complex system uses, at one point or another, seemingly every computer and sensor on the vehicle, from engine control to ABS to suspension. It allows one to set engine and throttle mapping, suspension, and steering input for your mood and the road. On a great twisty canyon, put all to Dynamic and you’ll have a blast. Simple highway cruising? Put it all on Comfort and you’ll see a little better fuel economy and have a gentler ride. Simply commuting to the office, leave it in Auto for the most balanced setup. All three elements can be adjusted independently, giving you a myriad of options. Audi also allows the driver to save a series of settings as one Individual. You can choose to have Dynamic steering, Comfort engine management, and Auto suspension. Or Auto on the engine management, Comfort steering, and Dynamic suspension.

In my drive I most often kept all three in Dynamic, but changed the suspension to Comfort when I hit a stretch of rough road. The settings can be changed on the fly and take effect immediately. At the time of our drive, pricing for the optional system had not been set. I’d like to say I’d take it at all costs, but it is possible that Audi price it a little rich for most everyday drivers.
The new six-speed Tiptronic automatic is more responsive, with crisper shifts, especially with the dynamic mode engaged. The 3.2L makes for a willing and fun partner; the 211HP 2.0L we expect to make for a perfectly competent car. With less power but a strong torque band, the 2.0L should provide fuel efficiency but enough grunt for strong driving. Really, though, we can’t wait for Audi’s next S4, rumored to be a supercharged 3.0L V6 instead of the current S4’s V8.

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