2011 Audi A4 2.0T quattro Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Audi A4

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

SEE ALSO: Audi Buyers Guide


Audi, over the past decade and a half, has quietly gone from almost cult status to a major force in the luxury automobile marketplace. How? Fine cars and excellent design, both inside and out. Many of the styling features now common in cars in the luxury and luxury-intender markets debuted on or in Audis. Oversize grilles and LED running lights? Aluminum interior trim, or interior wood trim panels with metal binding? Simple multifunction electronic interfaces? Audi first, and now increasingly copied.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Audi A4

But there's more, much more, to Audi than style. There's plenty of substance, in turbocharged, direct fuel injection gasoline engines, in extensive use of lightweight aluminum alloys for chassis construction, and, especially, in full-time, real-deal, competition-bred all-wheel drive technology, meaning "quattro" in the Audi world.

The A4 has been Audi's entry sedan since the nameplate replaced the 4000 in the mid-1990s, with the current version existing since 2009. It's an evolutionary development of its forebears, but considerable evolution took place. Most notable besides styling influenced by the stunning A5 coupe was a six-inch stretch in wheelbase, which addressed the previous generations' lack of rear-seat legroom quite well. Engine development took place as well, with the newest version of Audi's 2.0-liter turbo four making more power from less fuel, and, with 211 horsepower, obviating the need for a V6 option. Front or quattro all-wheel drive got the power to the ground through a variety of transmissions, including CVT (continuously-variable transmission), manual, and automatic.

Changes for 2011 are mostly of the typical mid product-cycle type, minor variations in trim features and option package content. And one that is a bit more important - the automatic offered in quattro models is now an eight-speed, not the previous six-speed. This accounts for further benefits in both performance and economy. The other quattro transmission is a six-speed manual. The entry front-wheel drive ("FrontTrak") model has the "Multitronic" CVT only.

As is the case with most cars in its class, a comprehensive list of standalone and packaged options allows an A4 to be outfitted in any manner from entry-luxury to serious sports sedan to full executive level, small size. My quattro test car was spec'd for medium luxury, with the Premium Plus option package, navigation system, Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, and the new automatic. The comfort level was at least business class, for the rear passengers as well now, and with the engine's immense level of torque and the near-seamless shifting of the new eight-speed transmission, power was available Right Now, with downshifting very optional. The standard suspension calibration is Euro-luxury, moderately firm and comfortably compliant, perfect for this particular car's mission. More sport wanted? Spec one of the multiple sport appearance and suspension packages, and/or the Audi Drive Select system with integration of chassis and drivetrain electronics. And, of course, quattro all-wheel drive for optimum traction on every surface in every condition. It's not just for winter in the mountains.

APPEARANCE: Audi has chosen simplicity over complexity in styling seemingly forever. This serves very well to differentiate their vehicles from the competition, and if there have been more creases and character lines on recent Audis, those merely serve to highlight the car's overall shape without being distractions. The A4 is a fine example, with a simple elegance that neatly hides its slight increase in size. The oversized "monoframe" grille looked a bit large when it debuted on the previous generation of Audis; now it's cleanly integrated into the overall shape. And large grilles seem to be proliferating throughout the industry. Ditto for the LED running lights that, on the A4, are part of the Premium Plus package.

COMFORT: Inside as out, elegantly simple design makes an Audi stand apart from the competition. Leather seating is standard in all A4 models, with aluminum inlays standard on the doors and instrument panel and wood available. The driver's seat, at least, is power-adjustable, and the front passenger seat can be, depending on options. Seat comfort is at the top of the list, no worries about covering distance. Instruments and controls are well-designed and easy to use, even the multifunction MMI controller that comes with the Navigation System package. A manually tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel allows the perfect driving position for all drivers; the roller switch audio controls on the spokes may be familiar now but were here first. All instruments and important switches are backlit for non-distracting, safe, easy use at night. Rear seat room is much improved over previous generations, aided for outboard passengers by a comfortable back angle and scooped-out front seatbacks. A huge trunk for the car's size has always been an A4 hallmark, and that continues. A 60/40 split-folding rear seatback is part of the Premium Plus package, and does increase the A4's versatility.

SAFETY: The newest A4 was designed and built to achieve the highest safety ratings and performance. That comes from controlled deformation of front, rear, and side structures around a strong passenger cell. Adaptive front airbags always deploy fully, and may deflate partially if in minor collision. Side bags are standard in front and optional in the rear, while a full-length head curtain is standard. Strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the ESP stability system, responsive handling, and quattro all-wheel drive traction add active safety. Optional rear and side-assist systems warn the driver when vehicles or other objects are in the blind spots.

RIDE AND HANDLING: All of the A4's component parts work together for optimum stability, efficiency, and handling. The body design, and attention to underbody and internal airflow, helps stability at speed and reduces wind noise, for a quieter and less-stressful driving experience. Besides improving occupant protection, the unibody structure, stronger, and more rigid than previously, helps to improve ride and handling. The suspension is of similar design to that used previously, but uses more aluminum for reduced unsprung weight and resultant improvements in response. The longer wheelbase and repositioned drivetrain components mean improved weight distribution. In standard trim, the ride is comfortably soft but well-damped, with responsive handling. Several sports packages are available, plus the high-tech Audi Drive Select variable damping, steering response, and drivetrain response system. Yes, steering is a touch numb compared to a rear-wheel drive sports sedan, but if you've ever driven a front- or all-wheel drive car with race-spec steering you'll know why.

PERFORMANCE: No V6? No problem! Looking back through my records, I notice that the last V6 A4 I drove, back in 2007, got 255 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque from its 3.2 liters displacement. The 2.0T, in its latest development, now makes 211 horsepower -- between 5300 and 6000 rpm -- and 258 lb-ft of torque, between 1500 and 4200 rpm. So there's a touch less horsepower, and more torque, both over an extremely broad rev range. Nearly any time the engine is turning in normal operation, maximum torque is being developed, and above that, in performance driving or wide-open acceleration, maximum horsepower. Which means it's the perfect engine for any application, from economy-minded highway cruising to high-performance driving. Variable cam phasing on the intake cam and the Audi Valvelift System (AVS) for variable valve lift on the exhaust cam, plus high-pressure direct fuel injection and intercooled turbocharging get the credit for the 2.0T's power, responsiveness, and economy. I haven't driven this iteration of the 2.0T with a stick, but suspect then any one of three gear would do just fine in almost any situation. That makes the automatic's job easier, and with lower lower, higher highs, and less drop between gears making for better acceleration and fuel economy, and a smoother motoring experience. Tiptronic manual mode is never really necessary, although it can provide driver entertainment and sometimes some benefit in response. Turbo lag is not noticeable. Still want more power? See the S4, where the 2.0T is replaced by a 333-hp supercharged V6.

CONCLUSIONS:

With many possible configurations, the A4 gives Audi multiple, distinct presences in the compact sports-luxury field, from luxury with sportiness to quattro performance with luxury.

SPECIFICATIONS
2011 Audi A4 2.0 TFSI quattro Tiptronic

Base Price $ 34,140

Price As Tested $ 42,745

Engine Type turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and variable exhaust valve lift

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.

Horsepower 211 @ 4300-6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 258 @ 1500-4200 rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic® manual-shift mode

Wheelbase / Length 110.55 in. / 185.2 in.

Curb Weight 3715 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 17.6

Fuel Capacity 17.1 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane premium unleaded gasoline

Tires P245/40R18 93H Pirelli Four Seasons m+s (opt)

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, ESP standard

Suspension, front/rear independent multi-link / independent multilink

Drivetrain longitudinal front engine, full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon

city / highway / observed 21 / 29 / 24

0 to 60 mph 6.4 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Premium Plus Package - includes:

Xenon plus headlamps, LED daytime running lights and taillights, 17" alloy wheels with all-season tires, Bluetooth® hands-free phone interface, three-zone climate control, heated front seats, Homelink® universal garage door opener, split-folding rear seat, Audi music interface, driver information system with trip computer, rain/light sensor, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass $ 3,400

Audi navigation system $ 2,550

Bang & Olufsen® premium sound system $ 850

18" alloy wheels with all-season tires $ 800

Exhaust tips $ 130

Destination charge $ 875

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