- Handsome, still
- Excellent front sport seats
- All-wheel-drive handling
- Excellent automatic, dual-clutch transmissions
- Goggle-eyed over Google mapping
- Tight back seat
- Drive Select is pricey, unnecessary
- Optional Bluetooth and rearview camera
- CVT version's a skipper
- Not as quick as ATS, 3-Series
Magnificent design and technology sets the Audi A4 apart, but it's not quite as sporty as its BMW and Cadillac competition.
It's the best-selling car in the German automaker's lineup. Every other Audi sold today is an A4, and this year, the bread-and-butter sedan brings a new face to buyers, as well as new features and better fuel economy.
The A4 competes with the BMW 3-Series and Mercedes C Class, as well as the new Cadillac ATS. It lands right in the thick of that pack, with an economical base engine, available quattro all-wheel drive, performance-oriented options, and a top S4 performance version.
To some, it's the best looking four-door in that group. The rakish, sleek shape is mostly carried over this year, but new details give it a fresh look. The headlamps are trimmer. The big grille has been toned down, and angled at its corners for a crisper look, and wider fog lamps give it a more muscular stance. The S4 gets a distinctive set of body add-ons; otherwise it's pretty similar to the stock four-door.
Inside, the A4 now has wood or aluminum trim that warms up the cockpit, whether you choose metal, ash, or walnut. The controls have been rearranged a bit, and that makes the optional tech features function a bit easier. In the S4, a new piano-black and steel trim option coordinates in a hot way with red-stitched sport seats.
The A4 comes with a single engine for the 2013 model year. It's a 211-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with a responsive feel and some turbo lag. Audi couples it to one of three gearboxes. A continuously variable transmission comes with front-wheel drive, and good gas mileage, but CVTs aren't known for quick responses. All-wheel drive is an option.
All-wheel-drive cars also can be ordered with a 6-speed manual or an excellent 8-speed automatic. The automatic doesn't have paddle shifters but it does have a sport mode. These versions offer strong acceleration and fuel economy of up to 31 mpg highway.
The S4 comes only with all-wheel drive, and a V-6 with supercharging that's rated at 333 hp. It posts a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds and can reach a top speed of 155 mph. It has a smooth demeanor, but its V-6 emits a ripe snarl as it works its way up the rev range. It's paired with either a 6-speed manual ro a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. It's quick, though not quite as fasts as a Benz C63 or a BMW M3. Gas mileage is an unexpected strength, at up to 28 highway.
In basic trim the A4 has good road manners, a firm ride and good electric power steering. The sport package's 18-inch summer tires and stiffer shocks are a worthwhile buy, but dynamic steering and adjustable everything under the Drive Select banner causes more confusion than it gains in handling. The S4 gets sport suspension tuning, bigger wheels and tires, all of which grant it awesome road-holding and grip.
The A4 has good front seats in base versions. We'd opt for the excellent, optional sport seats (they're standard on the S4). It also has good room for passengers. The rear bench sits low to the ground, though, and space is snug in back, particularly in knee room for taller passengers. The trunk's on the small side compared to the likes of the 3-Series.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has crash-tested the new A4. Bluetooth and a rearview camera still are options, along with blind-spot monitors, and adaptive cruise control that can bring the car to a full stop if it senses obstacles at up to 19 mph. This year the A4 offers some exotic features make it a complex, high tech piece. The usual power features, leather seats, and satellite radio are standard on the A4, while the S4 gets sport content standard, as well as Bluetooth and the rearview camera. MMI, the Multi Media Interface that takes charge of available navigation systems, is standard on both, and it also controls the beautiful Google Earth and Google Street View mapping. That setup requires a monthly subscription to Audi Connect, which also adds 3G wireless Internet service--turning the A4 into a rolling wireless hotspot. MMI can also control an optional Bang & Olufsen audio system, an expensive option, but one of the cleanest-sounding systems we've heard.
The A4 and S4 are the design-heavy, tech-happy alternative to traditional German luxury sedans--and now to a stunningly good domestic one. Prices range from $32,500 to $44,350 for the A4, and $47,600 to $55,250 for the S4, not including $895 destination.