Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 Audi A4 Review

The entry-level luxury segment is cut-throat – competition is rife in the form of the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti G, Cadillac CTS and many others all vying for sales. From this uber-competitive environment, Audi’s A4 has emerged a formidable contender and it has helped to power significant gains for Audi as a brand against a history of well-made but inert vehicles.
For many, rear-wheel drive is a prerequisite for competition in the luxury segment. For the most part we share that same view. A resurgent Cadillac and Infiniti have predicated their turnarounds upon their rear-wheel drive CTS and G models, respectively.
Audi, however, is different. From the beginning it has set out on a course that has stayed true to its brand values that revolve around Quattro all-wheel drive. Audi is “new luxury“, and it has cultivated a relationship with enthusiasts with its performance models.
Based on that it has created an entire lineup of models that make it the luxury manufacturer with the most momentum. Obviously, there is something to this. Car Throttle sampled the latest 2011 Audi A4 to find out what creature the German manufacturer has created.
A clean and chiseled appearance greets you with the A4. Audi has never been about in-your-face, audacious luxury, but instead embodies a new type of affluence, and that comes through clearly with this automobile. Compared to its predecessor, the styling of the current-generation A4 is more mature and more grown up. It still is youthful in appearance however, which sets it apart from larger models like the A6 and A8.
Some say the A4 doesn’t differentiate itself enough on the exterior from lesser cars in the Volkswagen Group, such as the Jetta. There is some truth to that but overall we think Audi does a good job of setting itself apart. The A4 is mostly function over form, with a solid and purposeful look unadorned with unnecessary elements; there isn’t much surfacing or sculpting to be found.
Up front, the A4 stands out very clearly with Audi’s now-signature LED lighting graphic. Whilst many manufacturers are trying to copy this, it still remains a recognizable Audi trait for most observers, pioneered into fashion in some part thanks to the flagship daddy of the fleet, the Audi R8.
In the industry, Audi interiors are highly regarded, and for a reason. While the cabins of cars in this segment can feel low rent (BMW 3-Series, we’re looking at you), the A4 offers a premium experience. Controls move with precision and a weighty feel, and the materials used are of an excellent quality.
This is luxury, just in a compact form. And compact it is – rear seat legroom can be a little tight. Key controls are undertaken through Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system. A central control knob with flanking buttons for different functions manages the system, but as with all systems of this type, there is a learning curve, albeit a very short one. Within the first day of use, operation was easy, despite the lack of a touch-screen interface.
The graphical user interface (GUI) never experienced any lag, and it is beautiful with its choice of animations and fonts. While impressive in their own right, interfaces such as Ford’s MyFord system doesn’t compare in terms of graphic design. Audi is a step above.
For all of the noise Audi makes about its performance cars, you might expect a focus on sportiness to carry through to hard-core production wheels. It doesn’t. Behind the wheel, the A4 offers no-drama competence, responding willingly to everything asked of it. Instead of placing itself on the fringes of high-performance or softness, it strikes a balance through the middle.
Quattro all-wheel drive helps the A4 track with an assured feel. The ride quality was supple and controlled, and combined with the quietness of the interior you feel you are in the cabin of a high-end luxury vehicle. The 3-Series remains the standard for driving experience; the A4 has blended attributes. Balance is a recurring theme with the A4 – an ability to do everything well.
The 2.0-liter TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder is a gem of an engine. It is an inline unit and it is particularly impressive for its noise, vibration and harshness levels – or lack thereof. The cabin feels insulated from the engine, and at idle and under hard acceleration, it is a very smooth operator.
At 211 horsepower, the A4 doesn’t offer the most power for your money in the segment. The Infiniti G37, for instance, at the same price is up by over 100 horsepower. The A4 never felt lacking in power though – and with a low curb weight a healthy 258 pound feet of torque, it shouldn’t. Our Tiptronic model as tested hits 60 in 6.3 seconds.
Mated to an eight-speed automatic, it also returned impressive fuel economy during our week stay with the A4. Around 30 mpg on the highway was a welcomed figure. The eight-speed automatic helps with fuel efficiency; at 70 mph on the highway, the engine was spinning well under 2000 rpm.
The A4 proved to be extremely likable and competent over its stay with us. It comes in different flavors for different tastes – such as the Avant and the S4 performance model. The A4′s six-cylinder model was cut early in its life-cycle, and we can see the logic in that – while down in power versus the competition, the 2.0-liter TFSI is a perfect match for the A4. The A4 is more refined than a 3-Series and less stoic than a Mercedes-Benz. For many, that means just right.


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