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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
“A BMW 335i can blow its doors off”
Turbo four is “smooth, strong and sweeter”
The 2009 Audi A4 has a wider range of engines and a narrower offering of transmissions from last year’s version. It also gets a new driver-adjustable set of handling features that meet with mixed reviews from TheCarConnection.com’s editors and other auto writers around the Web.
For this model year, the 2009 Audi A4 comes to the U.S. with a 3.2-liter V-6 engine. It’s “capable of an impressive 265 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque,” Car and Driver reports. Though it’s “capable of a 0-to-62-mph time of 6.2 seconds” with an available manual transmission, that’s “nowhere near the 4.8 seconds we achieved in a BMW 335i sedan we tested,” though it’s “on par with the segment for the most part,” they also note. Edmunds is more succinct: “a BMW 335i can blow its doors off,” they report, clocking their own 0-60 mph run of “6.9 seconds,” which is “a full second quicker in both tests than the last V6 automatic Audi A4 we tested way back in 2005”—performance that’s strong, but still a “bit lethargic considering our test car's lofty sticker price.”
The only engine available on the 2009 Audi A4 Avant wagon—and a future offering in the sedan—is a “zippy gas-powered four-banger,” Car and Driver says. Automobile reports the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is a “211-hp TFSI unit [that] has nothing in common with the outgoing car's heavier and thirstier 200-hp edition.” AutoWeek says this powerplant in the A4 Avant is “smooth, strong and sweeter than ever and, in a sense, not turbolike at all. Throttle response is immediate.”
Two more engine options will surface in the coming model year. The first is a turbodiesel 3.0-liter six-cylinder with “240 horsepower and a kickin' 369 pound-feet of torque,” Car and Driver says, predicting a “6.1-second 0-to-62-mph sprint.” At the other end of the range, a new Audi S4 will “abandon V-8 power in favor of a more frugal and lighter twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 rated at 333 hp and matched with Audi's dual-clutch automatic transmission,” Automobile promises.
In the 2009 Audi A4 sedan, four-cylinder versions are “paired with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic in Quattro models,” Automobile reports, while “front-wheel-drive cars will be available with the continuously variable Multitronic transmission.” In the V-6 sedan, “no manual transmission is available,” Edmunds notes, “only Audi's excellent six-speed automatic.” For the A4 Avant wagon, there’s a single configuration: a “six-speed ZF automatic transmission, quattro all-wheel drive and the latest evolution of Audi's 2.0-liter turbo with gasoline direct injection,” AutoWeek says.
Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system is also standard on the V-6 sedan, and “this is good,” Edmunds adds. “Quattro has been around since the earth cooled, and we're fans. In its present form, the purely mechanical system sends 60 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels under normal driving conditions. In abnormal conditions, the A4's self-locking center differential redirects that power to the axle with the best traction.” Automobile adds, “Quattro all-wheel drive splits the torque between the axles unevenly at 40/60 percent front to rear, but if need be, up to 90 percent can be directed to the front wheels.”
When it comes to handling, the 2009 Audi A4 has a wide range of choices for drivers. There’s a fully independent suspension across the board, as well as electric power steering and four-wheel disc brakes. There’s also an available Drive Select option that allows the driver to choose settings for steering feel, ride comfort, throttle input, and transmission shifting, and it’s the source of some controversy among reviewers. “Drive Select is a kind of personal onboard tuning service,” AutoWeek says.
In steering feel, Car and Driver liked the adjustable steering feel, calling it “less conspicuous” than similar systems offered on BMWs. Automobile felt the steering was “light and direct” in town, “meatier” on back roads, and “relaxed, thanks to a languid four turns lock-to-lock,” on the highway. AutoWeek took the minority view: “The new variable-ratio steering does require some familiarity to enjoy. It's very light at low speeds, and while it firms up at high speeds, it wants to wander off center a bit, with a hint of twitch.”
Ride comfort is a better proposition with Drive Select. Popular Mechanics says the settings enable the 2009 Audi A4 to amble down the road in “tranquil fashion,” and Car and Driver felt its handling was “innately clean enough.” This time Automobile pointed out, “On predominantly washboard tarmac, the difference in ride between the comfort and the dynamic settings was as stark as the difference in visibility between a lunar eclipse and a power failure in a coal mine.” Edmunds complains that it “defaults to the Auto settings every time you start the car. It shouldn't.” Motor Trend thinks “the system isn't perfect—dynamic's ride is a bit too harsh for everyday driving, and comfort's steering is too uncommunicative in turns. However, auto mode makes the best of both settings.”
Drive Select is an option, however, and cars without it “have precise, nicely weighted steering and firm, tidy ride qualities that are perfectly agreeable,” Car and Driver points out. Automobile observes that “thanks to Quattro and those wide eighteen-inch tires, traction and grip are phenomenal,” and that “handling balance feels a lot more neutral than in the outgoing model.” Edmunds calls it “a very sharp, communicative sedan and it's fun to throw around,” also noting that the brakes are “fantastic.”
TheCarConnection.com sits with the minority on the handling of the 2009 Audi A4. The V-6 engine is a meaty performer, with plenty of power—until you acknowledge the BMW 3-Series in the next lane. It’s the Drive Select feature, like a similar setup in BMW’s 3-Series, that strips some of the basic goodness from the A4. Though it rides well in most modes, the Dynamic mode turns the steering overly tight and makes turn-in too aggressive, while it gives the transmission full license to upshift and downshift a little too frequently. In Comfort mode, the steering’s downright lazy, barely keeping up on highway maneuvers. All of this can be corrected by leaving the car in Auto mode—or not opting for the system at all. However, the biggest omission is in leaving Audi’s fantastic S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox off the options list for now.
The 2009 Audi A4 has ample V-6 power and the secure handling of front- or all-wheel drive, but Drive Select needs more refinement.