The 2012 A4 shows plenty of signs of being a true sport sedan in the way it accelerates, steers, and hunkers down at high speeds; even though it might not be a dynamic rival to the likes of the Infiniti G37 or BMW 3-Series, its stable, planted feel is confidence-inspiring whether you're out on the open road or in urban congestion.
With 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of max torque, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in all A4 models makes 11 more hp and 51 more lb-ft than the previous 2.0T engine--and comes with variable exhaust lift and a host of changes. It doesn't quite churn out the torque just above idle; the torque curve builds rather abruptly, so if you let out the clutch too soon you'll run into a flat spot that leaves you wanting until you pass the 2,500-rpm mark and a rush of boost and torque comes on, all the way up to redline. The manual version can get to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds (6.6 seconds with the automatic), which is about as fast as BMW's outgoing 328i models.
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. Its taller ratios can affect drivability a little bit, requiring downshifting two or even three gears for passing, but they sure do help fuel economy. Available on quattro models is an eight-speed automatic that's smooth and never misses a beat.
The A4's steering system is one of the better systems in this class--firm and reassuring enough at higher cruising speeds yet imparting just a bit of road feel (and 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. Brakes remain one of our few nitpicks with the A4; over a couple of manual-transmission test cars they've felt overboosted and grabby at low speeds--though strong and confident for higher-speed use.
There's also a front-drive version of the 2012 Audi A4. It includes a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and our editors still haven't driven this combination in the current-generation A4. We don't see much of a reason to get this model, as you don't get quattro (which aids handling as well as traction) and gas mileage isn't any better.