2009 Audi A4

Audi is clearly after efficiency - the new A4's air-conditioning system pumps the interior full with ten percent more cold air while using twenty percent less fuel. And the interior, by the way, is packed with loads of technology and comfort features, starting with available three-zone climate control (one zone for each front passenger, one for the rear passengers) and ending with "Climatic Comfort seats" that use fans to draw perspiration away from passengers' skin through perforated leather. Somewhere in between are six standard airbags, adaptive cruise control, an iPod interface, and the usual list of goodies.

There are a few surprises, though - the first is Audi Braking Guard. Using the radar sensor from the adaptive cruise control, the system determines if a crash is eminent. It then flashes red lights and beeps at the driver - and, if he doesn't react quickly enough, it can stab the brakes to get his attention, applying enough force to knock off 3 mph in 0.3 seconds. Kind of like what your mom did when you were misbehaving in the back seat.

Next up is Audi Side Assist, which uses two radar sensors in the rear bumper to determine if a car is in the driver's blind spot (or rapidly approaching) and illuminates an LED inside the outside mirror housing.

In the number three spot for surprise electronic aids is Audi Lane Assist, which uses a camera on the windscreen to monitor lane lines. If the system determines that the car is about to change lanes without using a turn signal, it vibrates the steering column.

The biggest surprise, though, is that Audi has developed an active steering system similar to the unloved BMW Active Steering. Much like the BMW unit, Audi's system varies the steering ratio according to road speed. Another BMW-ism is Audi's "Drive Select," which, in a manner similar to BMW's M-Mode button, changes up to twenty-four vehicle settings (including accelerator pedal response, automatic transmission shift points, power steering assistance, steering ratio, and the stiffness of the electronically adjustable shock absorbers) by pressing one button.

In reality, all of these BMW-isms shouldn't be a surprise: Audi's is taking direct aim at BMW with the new A4. The A4 even has Audi's take on BMW's Angel Eye daytime running lights - cars equipped with Xenon lights have a band of fourteen white LED DRLs. Whether it can match the BMW's driving dynamics is a question to be answered just as soon as we slip behind the steering wheel.

Look for full driving impressions in the December 2007 issue of Automobile Magazine.

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