You might think that living in the BMW 3-series’ shadow would be tough, but the Audi A4 looks no worse for the wear. In fact, its great looks — inside and out — are the hallmark of this luxury car. And if indeed the Audi is even second to the BMW these days, it needs to apologize for nothing. The rear-wheel-drive Bimmer is still the easy choice for driving purists, but the A4 is a brilliant alternative for realists. Audi was among the first to the downsizing-for-fuel-economy party, and the A4 comes with an unusually refined turbocharged four-cylinder engine that plays surprisingly well with many of its competitors’ sixes — in fact, Audi claims the A4 is the “biggest, fastest, and most-fuel-efficient vehicle in the sport sedan category.” And if being merely fast isn’t enough, there’s the blisteringly fast S4, which uses a supercharged V-6 and all-wheel drive to terrorize its competitors. The sexy A4 Avant station wagon is available solely with all-wheel drive, but base sedans can be had with front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission. Four-wheel-drive models come with a six-speed stick, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (S4), or an eight-speed automatic (A4.) The most important option, however, is the $850 Bang & Olufsen sound system, which transforms the stunning Audi into a rolling concert hall.

Drive: Front-wheel, 4-wheel
Trim levels: A4 FrontTrak, A4 Quattro, A4 Quattro Avant, S4 Quattro
Body styles: Sedan, wagon, 5-passenger
Engines: 2.0L turbo I-4, 211 hp, 258 lb-ft
3.0L supercharged V-6, 333 hp, 325 lb-ft
Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 7- or 8-speed automatic, continuously variable
Passenger Volume: 90.0-91.0 cu ft
Cargo space: (sedan) 12.4 cu ft; (wagon, rear seats up/down) 27.6/50.5 cu ft

Audi’s A4 and S4 head into 2012 with only trim and options changes. As you’d expect from a car whose best feature is its styling, many of those changes concern the Audi’s appearance. For example, a style package adds anodized aluminum window surrounds and polished exhaust tips. It also has LED daytime running lights — who says you can’t be pretty in the dark, too?

Dual-stage front, side, and side curtain air bags; ABS; traction and stability control; height-adjustable front seatbelts with pretensioners and force limiters; and rear seatbelts with force limiters are standard. Power windows have pinch protection. Adaptive cruise with brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive headlights, and rear side air bags are optional.

All: 18-22 mpg city/27-31 mpg highway

  • Styling and build quality
  • Overall performance
  • Bang & Olufsen stereo
  • Front-heavy handling
  • Look out — there’s a new
  • 3-series on the way

Designed to impress.

  • BMW 3-series
  • Cadillac CTS
  • Lexus IS
  • Mercedes-Benz C-class
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