Review: 2010 Audi A4 Avant quattro
By J. Smith
“Mommy doesn’t like red cars.”
“Well, she might like this one.”
Such was the conversation between my seven year-old daughter and me a few hours after I received delivery of a bright red Audi A4 Avant—“avant” being Audi-speak for “station wagon.”
At the outset, I saw much to like. A lithe, lean-looking wagon with Germanic poise and performance, yet all the practicality of an SUV. Sculpted sides. A low, aggressive stance. Compact dimensions—185.2” long and 71.9” wide, with a wheelbase of 110.6.” All of this held the promise of athleticism that would certainly be fulfilled the 2.0 liter turbo-charged four-banger, cranking out 211 horses and 258 pound-feet of torque. To be fair, 211 horses seems to be on the low side of the scale these days, but this was, after all, a relatively small car, at least by the supersize-me standards of middle America. And 2.oT punches a bit above its weight in the torque department.
Like most of its luxo-sport brethren, the A4 is now keyless; so long as the fob is in your pocket, the car starts with a mere push of the console-mounted start button. Alternatively, you can push the fob into a covered orifice on the dash. Either way, you are soon greeted with the muted rumble of the turbo four at idle. At idle, the engine is somewhat loud for a car in this class.
With light throttle, the engine remains muted and performs adequately. But who wants to drive an A4 Avant Quattro with a light throttle? That’s what I thought.
Enthusiastic massage of the throttle brings out the growl of the turbo—after a brief turbo lag. You have to plan for the delay before changing lanes to pass. Once the turbo kicks in, however, it accelerates with enthusiasm, emitting a sweet engine note as it does. This last point bares repeating—it truly sounds wonderful: just the right amount of huskiness—authoritative but not overpowering—at just the right volume—loud enough but not Harley-with-open-pipes-annoying—and organic, like a living machine rather than merely metal parts turning thousands of times per minute.
This is not to say the A4 Avant is slow. It is not. Car and Driver clocks it at 6.3 seconds from 0-60, 18.6 from 0 to 100 and it does the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 91 miles per hour. These numbers aren’t going to set any records at Bonneville, but they will by all means leave a noticeable upwards crease from cheek to cheek.
The A4 stops with vigor, taking you from 70 miles per hour to 0 in 159 feet. The firm brake pedal bites into the discs without delay—no sponginess to be found.
The ride is sublime, as expected for a Teutonic whip: firm, sporty and controlled, but never harsh. My wife, who generally does not appreciate a sporty suspension, commented favorably on the pleasantness of the ride and the overall comfort of the vehicle. Yet there is no shortage of road feel, and the A4 slices and dices hairpin curves and long sweepers like a sports car. The steering feels direct and precise—it goes where you point it, and does so without delay—while providing nice feel and perfect resistance.
So agile was the A4 Avant that I naively assumed it to weigh in the neighborhood of 3,000 pounds. I was only 800 pounds off. The A4 Avant weighs a hefty 3,840 pounds—about 120 pounds more than a base-model Chrysler 300. In any case, Audi disguises the heft with technological sorcery that would amaze Merlin.
Highway noise is a bit more noticeable than in other cars of this class, but not distracting. The A4 provided noticeable tire thump over cracks in the road and freeway expansion joints, although the Kabul-like roadways of Michigan are a wee noisier than those found elsewhere in the western world. Wind noise was audible but not distracting. You could carry on a conversation while whisking down the interstate at 70 miles per hour without having to raise your voice.
The six-speed automatic in my A4 shifted nicely, and featured a manual mode with both a paddle shifter on the steering wheel and a manual mode on the console shifter. I preferred the latter. You simply put the gear selector in drive, and move it to the right. You are now in manual mode. Gears are selected by shifting forward to go to a higher gear and backward to go to a lower gear. It shifts smoothly, but is not without its faults. It automatically shifts to lower gear about 500 rpm before it redlines, which is quite annoying. The transmission also features an “S” mode that holds each gear longer than it would in Drive.
Every time I drive a wagon, I am struck by how perfect the concept of a wagon is—they boast the handling, performance and fuel economy of a car, with the versatility of an SUV. In support of the former point about fuel efficiency, the EPA says that the A4 Avant will return 21 MPG in the city and 27 on the highway. I averaged 24.7 MPG. Although much of this was on the Interstate, I made no attempt to maximize fuel economy. Quite the opposite, in fact, making the 24.7 MPG quite reasonable for the level of performance.
All Avants have Audi’s quattro system, which made for strong launches. It rained during several of the days I had the A4, and the Quattro provided excellent traction in all road conditions.
On the inside, the A4’s dash features typical Germanic quality and precision. Dials have nice feel and resistance. Brushed aluminum is a nice touch, available as part of the S-line package, which includes a sport suspension, sport tires and various appearance upgrades for $2,450. The dash layout itself is simple, clear and logical. It doesn’t have the overdone look of excess bling seen in American and Asian cars of this class.
This lack of cash clutter does not denote a lack of features. Rather, like other German cars, it allows the driver to access features primarily though a center controller, which Audi calls MMI. The controller is relatively easy to use, even for a Luddite. But it takes time and some study of the owner’s manual to get the hang of it. I initially found it difficult to find relatively simple things, like the fuel economy readout, which, as it turned out, was not controlled by the center dial. Although the electronic gadgetry can be fun, there is so much stuff that if can be difficult to find what you actually need. Once again, however, a little study of the manual and experience renders this system relatively easy to use.
This particular car also featured the Prestige Package, which includes numerous upgrades like heated seats, three-zone climate control and a navigation plus system. Although the features contained in the Prestige Package were plentiful and handy (such as rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, three-zone automatic climate control, six-step heated front seats, power tailgate, 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, and iPod integration, it came at the lofty price of $9,200. The base price of my tester was $36,325 including destination. Other options included Misano Red Pearl Effect paint ($475), and the S Line Package ($2,450; includes sport seats, sport suspension, a delightfully thick steering wheel, 19 inch wheels with summer tires, and special S Line front and rear bumpers). Altogether, the A4 Avant came in at $48,300, and not every option box was checked. Missing equipment included adaptive cruise control, driver assist package, Audi Drive Select, and rear side airbags. Check all the boxes, and you get a four cylinder station wagon priced at over $55,000.
Just as you would expect with a wagon, the A4 Avant features ample cargo space. The seats fold down nearly flat, providing 50.5 cubic feet of storage, compared with 28 cubic feet with the rear seats up. And the cargo area contains several bright and shiny tie-down points.
One truly delightful surprise was the engine compartment. Most 21st-century vehicles contain an engine compartment that is an afterthought, to the extent that any thought whatsoever goes into it. The new owner (or test driver) is greeted by a tangled forest of unknown tubes and wires that send the would-be do-it-yourselfer running in tears to the nearest factory-certified technician. Not the A4. The engineers clearly put considerable thought into the arrangement of the under hood area and created a clean, uncluttered and logically arranged space. Presumably, this facilitates ease of service, but the harmonious arrangement also satisfies a craving for easily understood order and perhaps even motivates one to do a little routine maintenance.
I also took favor with the A4 Avant’s styling. In my mind, it features the best looks in its class. Admittedly, the class of entry-level compact luxury wagons is relatively small, consisting solely of this and the BMW 3-series wagon—both the Volvo V70 and the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon are notably larger and not as focused. The 328i wagon uses a 3.0 liter inline six to turn out 230 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. The two German wagons have similar dimensions, with the BMW being 178.8” long and 71.5” wide, on a 108.7” wheelbase. I’ve driven the 328i sedan through a slalom at a press event, but I would like to drive the wagon version back-to-back with the A4 Avant. I’m not sure who the winner would be, but I am available if Audi or BMW would like to find out.
Did I like the A4 Avant? Yes. Yes, I did. It is little louder than expected for this class, but is agile, sporty and truly versatile. The A4 Avant is able to do the work of an SUV, but return the driving experience and fuel economy of a normal sedan. Even mommy liked it.