Our magazine has frequently professed its affection for the BMW 3-series, but the Audi A4 is certainly a very worthy competitor. Most enthusiast drivers, including myself, would be quite content driving a basic A4 such as our test vehicle. I like its palatable $39,180 as-tested price, too, which includes all the features I'd want in my own A4 (heated seats, sunroof, manual transmission, Bluetooth, satellite radio) and none that I'd skip (automatic transmission, navigation). It's also nice that a basic Quattro-equipped A4 costs some $2000 less than a basic BMW 328 with all-wheel drive.
I had several opportunities to test the A4's abilities in snow, and, with the help of its Continental winter tires, the Audi passed with flying colors -- and allowed me to pass slower traffic easily, safely, and quickly. When there was no traffic around, the A4 even showed off its rearward torque bias as I gleefully slid through slow corners with the tail hanging out. The Volkswagen Group's venerable turbo 2.0 liter offers excellent performance, too, and it's really cool to have a six-speed stick in a fancy-pants Audi. I was also fairly happy with the indicated 25.5 mpg achieved over 400 cold-weather miles, which included a fair amount of warm-the-car-for-the-new-baby idling.
I wasn't as pleased, however, with this car's sport package, which made the ride quality fairly harsh at times. The rear door openings also turned me off, as their relatively short height made it a bit tricky to load the kids into the back seats. If I were buying a new Audi, a taller Q5 would probably be my best choice, as much as I, a car lover, hate to admit. Also, the A4's low-beam headlights seemed really weak, although their alignment is likely just as much to blame as the lamps themselves.
The entire Audi brand just barely outsold the 3-series in the U.S. in 2010, with each boasting about 101,000 sales; about one-third of those Audi sales were A4s. So in addition to its other charms, the A4 should appeal to those who don't want to follow the crowd.
- Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor