The six-speed manual gearbox that comes standard on the A4 shifts with more BMW-like precision and less of that loose, notchy vee-dub feeling than those in previous A4 models. Audi's handy electronic parking brake engages with a quick lift-on or release-down motion, and automatically releases as soon as you lift the clutch to its friction point. We thought that the taller ratios affect drivability a little bit, leaving us to downshift two or even three gears for passing, but they sure do help fuel economy. And when you wind out the gears with a good launch, it's as fast as BMW's 328i: The manual version can get to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds (6.6 seconds with the automatic).
The A4's steering system is one of the better systems in this class. The former A4 had steering that was often too light, but this feels firm and reassuring enough at higher cruising speeds yet imparts just a bit of road feel (yet a sense of weighting) in lower-speed corners). It's not quite on par with the all-wheel-drive G37x's awesome feedback near the limit, but it's close and in high-speed hauling it's more satisfying. One of our few nitpicks with the A4 was its brakes, which on our test vehicle felt a bit grabby and overboosted at low speeds; throughout a week with the vehicle we kept stopping several feet short of our intended spot.
A front-drive version of the 2011 A4 is still offered; it includes a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and our editors haven't driven this combination in the current-generation A4. Because you don't get quattro—which actually aids handling performance in the A4—and mileage isn't any better, there's not much reason to opt for the CVT version other than price. On quattro models, there's a new eight-speed Tiptronic automatic available, replacing the six-speed automatic.