Reviews

2011 Audi A4 Walk Around

The current-generation Audi A4 was introduced as a 2009 model. It shares the split-grille common to all front-engine Audis, with points on the lower air dam that mimic crab pincers. The headlamp housings are boldly horizontal, and the light elements draw the eye up and back at the corners.

The wheelbase, the space between the front and rear axles, is 110.6 inches, long by compact sedan standards. To minimize any limousine look the lower character line along the doors sweeps progressively upward toward the rear wheel, and the shoulder character line just below the windows tapers off as it passes the rear door and curves through the taillight lens as it fades in to the fender.

The A4 looks meaner when equipped with bi-xenon high-intensity discharge headlights and LED daytime running lights, especially when the daytime running lights are on. (The daytime running lights can be disabled through MMI.) The HID headlights provide better nighttime vision for the A4 driver and have a speed-dependent adjustment, and the DRLs make the A4 stand out so other drivers see it sooner.

A4 Premium trim models ride on seven-spoke wheels, Premium Plus models on 10-spoke wheels. Both wheels are 17 inches in diameter and wear all-season tires. S-line models add a silver center blade below the grille, sleeker air intakes, side skirts, and wheels with seven double spokes to give the A4 a more imposing, hunkered-down stance.

The A4 Avant wagon is as aerodynamic as the previous-generation A4 sedan, and while wagons aren't as slick as sedans, wind noise is absent. Rear visibility is good in the Avant thanks to the rear wiper/washer and the added internal volume means the rear window doesn't fog as quickly.

Horizontally themed tail light housings frame the rear end. The trunk and cargo hatch openings are slightly closer to the ground than in previous generation models for easier loading. Avants are rated to carry 198 pounds on the roof, more than some SUVs because of the A4's lower center of gravity.

Audi S4 has a look all its own. The standard A4's blacked-out, horizontally themed two-tier grille is overlaid with strong verticals that visually transform a mere opening into a grid. On the other hand, the much-smaller slot below the grille is blacked out on the S4 (rather than divided by four body-color verticals as on the A4) and its bottom edge is defined by an aluminum diffuser blade. A red/silver/black S4 badge appears within the main grille, offset to the curb side. The S4 front fascia is unique as well, with the horizontal bumper segments to either side of grille recessed to make the central grille appear more prominent, although, honestly, this difference is so slight as to leave us wondering whether it was worth the cost.

A subtle rib below the door openings suffices for a side-sill extension; kudos to Audi designers for under-doing what so many other automakers overdo. More distinctive are the S4 Prestige model's 19-inch wheels with their five triple-ribbed spokes. Around back, the rear bumper fascia gains some crispness from a raised lower border where it arches over those two pairs of exhaust outlets separated by another aluminum diffuser blade. Outside mirror housings are aluminum-look as well.

Interior

Any recent Audi owner will find the A4 interior familiar, though some of the basic black German efficiency has given way to a warmer, more contemporary cabin a bit north of Germany into Scandinavian territory. Unlike its C-Class and 3 Series competitors, leather upholstery is standard in every A4, and the fit and finish match recent Audis commonly used as benchmarks.

Front seats are electrically adjusted with four-way power lumbar support for the driver and manual headrests that adjust for height but not angle. With generous travel in the tilt-and-telescoping steering column everyone should be both comfortable and properly positioned for driving, and seat support will easily last a tank of fuel on the highway. The sport seats in S-line or Sport packages are even better at keeping you secure without taking away any comfort; only those of wide girth may prefer the less-bolstered standard seat. A driver memory system for seat and mirrors is available.

The rear seat is best for two adults or three kids; the center floor hump and console are similar to what you find in most compact four-doors. Seat cushions are pleasantly long and the low-profile headrests on the back seats ensure good rearward vision without passengers yet lift enough to provide passenger comfort and protection. A substantial center armrest offers cupholders and storage within, and doesn't make you fall inward or outward to relax on one arm. Rear seat reading lights and seatback nets are standard, as are LED footwell lights for the toe room under the front seats. Rear seat knee room is typically the pinch point in anything but full-size cars, and while the A4 is no different in that regard it is superior to many cars in its class.

There are some exceptions (IS front legroom, 3 Series and C-Class rear width) but on average, the A4 offers better head, leg and shoulder room than its primary competitors. The standard moonroof and the big Open Sky roof on Avants let in light and add to the feeling of spaciousness.

Light-colored cabins have complementary trim colors, with a lighter shade for seats, door insert panels and headliner; and darker shades on the dash, door edges and armrests, and carpeting. A metallic-look trim is the default, though genuine wood (an amber Nutmeg Laurel or darker Walnut) for the glovebox, console and doors may be specified. It's unlikely you will find a more appealing interior at the price.

Seats in the S4 have Alcantara inserts and embossed S4 logos. Contrasting stitching also highlights the seats, as well as the leather-covered shifter and steering wheel. Standard interior trim is brushed aluminum; options include stainless steel, carbon fiber, and gray birch wood.

The A4 driver faces a dashboard modeled after other recent Audis, with the console slightly tilted left and center dash angled toward the driver and carried to the same height as the instrument pod; passengers can still reach those controls but it flows to the driver better. The center armrest top slides fore/aft and all the controls are within easy reach, the ergonomics faultless. We would prefer the gate for the manual mode on the automatic transmission shifter on the left side (closer to driver) than the right, however.

Large dials provide speed and engine revs, with 0 straight down; you may have to recalibrate your mental clock positions for the speedometer needle; and the mid-range of the tachometer may be obscured if you lower the tilt wheel too far (and you'll mask the warning light pod top center). However, with everything properly positioned, all instruments are clearly visible and well lit at night, with deep amber lighting to minimize eye recovery time. Between the two primary gauges is a message center for gear selected and engaged (even on manuals), radio data, range remaining, outside temperature and so forth. On higher-level cars trip computer data, cruise control distances, and navigation data are shown here as well.

At the same height and to the right is a 6.5-inch color screen. On non-navigation cars this does radio, some climate and car setup chores (beep with alarm, unlock driver door only, etc.). On non-navi cars the MMI (multimedia interface) command dial is in the center of the radio panel just below the vents, and it and the similar control for climate immediately below it are illustrated on the screen.

On navigation-equipped cars the MMI is ahead of the shifter (or behind it from the driver's point of view). It maintains the eight hard key choices as before and remains among the more intuitive-type systems; the upgrades to the voice-recognition navigation system only make it easier and quicker. With this setup the radio panel reverts to a CD control panel, the screen is larger and it includes a backup camera. Many of the audio and setup controls can be run through the thumbwheels on the steering wheel that both rotate and push-to-click.

Automatic climate control with full manual ability is standard on the Premium model; it kept a black wagon's occupants comfortable in desert sunshine. On Premium Plus and Prestige models, three-zone climate control gives independent control to each front occupant and places a pair of vents with temperature gradient in the back of the center console. Rear window shades are optional (on Prestige) if you prefer to avoid aftermarket tint.

The standard audio system handles most inputs. But for the best in sound entertainment, pop for the Bang & Olufsen system, which backs up some added visual drama with 14 speakers fed from 10 distinct channels and 505 watts of output.

With all that packed into a small four-door, storage spaces are at a premium. Each door has a map pocket that will hold a bottle, both center armrests have small bins, seatbacks have net pockets, and the surprising glovebox can hold more than some papers and the owner's manual. Beyond that, you're headed to the trunk.

Trunk space is 12.0 cubic feet, similar to a BMW 3 Series, a little smaller than Lexus IS or Mercedes C-Class. You can increase cargo space by folding the back seat or seats, or employing the ski sack pass-through for longer items.

Avants have roughly 28 cubic feet of space behind the back seat and 50 cubic feet with the back seats folded. A side pocket with cargo net, good floor-mounted tie-downs at the corners and a pair of pivoting rings at cover height that can be used as tie-down points or grocery-bag hooks add to its versatility. The cargo floor can be flipped over to a plastic well for carrying messy stuff, and a roll-up net separates cargo or animals from people.

When you open the hatch, which can be powered and set to stop at any height, the cargo cover can be released up and forward for better access or rolled up behind the seat. The load lifting height is lower than in the previous generation, and the hatch opening (39 inches at the base) is bigger.

Request More Info