Audi A4 Quattro: A Sporting Sedan with All-weather Capability

Many cars claim to be the equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, but the A4 really can do it all.

by on Sep.16, 2011

Audi's A4 has sports car performance combined with all-weather capability.

Back in the early ‘80s, Audi’s original Quattro mesmerized those who lived in northern climes because for the first time, they saw a performance car that could also be their daily driver.

Sure, if you live in Florida, go ahead and drive your Ford Mustang GT – remember, we’re talking about the days before traction and stability control – year-round. Us northerners would be jealous, as we drive our front-wheel-drive beaters through the slop and slush, waiting for the first signs of warmth when we could uncover our “summer” cars.

Reviews in All Weather Conditions!

But the Quattro was a powerful – well, at 160 horses, back then we thought it was powerful – yet it didn’t have to be put away when the leaves started falling off the trees. In fact, the Quattro reveled in the snow, turning the white stuff into a new playground for a performance car.

Today, Quattro isn’t an Audi model, but rather is available throughout the lineup and is standard on many models. While many a modern performance car can be made winter-ready with a set of snow tires, a Camaro SS will never be a match for all-wheel drive when the snow flies.

That includes the A4, Audi’s smallest sedan. The A4 was last reworked in 2008, but it’s aging well.

The Audi A4's 2.0-liter turbo four cylinder would seem to be the perfect engine for this sports sedan.

The test car strikes a great balance between performance in this new age of fuel economy. The A4 2.0T is powered by a 211-horsepower, direct-injection 2.0-liter turbo four, currently the only engine offered in the A4.

While the 2.0T will sprint to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, Audi says the automatic is just a skosh faster at 6.3 seconds to 60. Those who want even more performance can move up to the S4 and its 333-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6, which clocks in at 4.9 seconds.

The A4's interior is a great place to do business. It's comfortable, roomy and all the controls work with precision.

The 2.0-liter feels stronger than 211 horsepower. Throttle response is instant, flinging the car forward with near-reckless abandon and it’s impossibly smooth for a four cylinder. While Audi and its parent VW use this engine in a variety of vehicles across their model ranges, it seems to have been born for this car.

Three transmissions are offered: a continuously variable transmission, six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The A4 comes standard with the CVT and front-wheel drive. All other A4s have all-wheel drive.

The test car’s manual was a delight. The clutch is light, yet has great back. The stick shift is smooth and direct. Just in case you forgot which gear you’re in, the information screen between the tachometer and speedometer tells you. It also reminds you to upshift one or two gears to help fuel economy.

The A4's rear seat is tight, the price to pay for a delightful driver's car.

Speaking of fuel economy, the 2.0T is rated at 21 city and 31 highway and we saw as high as 33 during one highway drive. Decent fuel economy around town is tougher because the smooth little turbo motor demands to be revved.

Driving the A4 is a joy. It sticks through corners. The steering is fast, direct, nicely weighted and communicative. And there’s enough power to be entertaining.

Still, it rides very well, making long freeway cruises easy. Born to run on the Autobahn? Jawohl.

Audi gave the A4’s all-wheel-drive system a rear-torque bias, giving the car a sporting feel. It works.

We tested the A4 in August, so seeing how it handled Michigan’s snow wasn’t to be. But it’s safe to say that the advanced Quattro system would devour snow. You might want to put some snow tires on it, because that would allow you to put dedicated summer tires on for the unfrozen months.

Inside, the A4 is pure German sports sedan. The front seats are somewhat stiff with great support, but the seat cushion is too long. Or maybe our thighs are too short.

The back seats are tight. There’s limited legroom, knees are cramped and getting a size 11 New Balance out of the narrow door opening is a challenge. There’s sufficient headroom, so long as you don’t lean to the outside of the car.

But, hey, it’s a sport sedan. More rear-seat space would mean more weight, which would dull the car’s handling and make the engine feel less frisky.

The A4 starts at $33,375, including destination. But the combination to have is the manual transmission with Quattro all-wheel drive, which adds just $800 to that price.

The test car was loaded up with the Premium Plus package that includes xenon headlights, LED daytime running lamps, LED tail lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, Bluetooth, three-zone climate control, heated front seats, split-folding rear seats and other goodies for $3,400. A $1,450 sport package bumps the wheels to 18s with high-performance tires, sport steering wheel, shift paddles (for cars with automatic transmissions), sport front seats and a sport suspension. A couple of other knick knacks brings the as-tested price to $39,180.

Criticisms? It’s a little on the heavy side at more than 3,600 pounds. Replacing the old iron block engine with an aluminum block engine would reduce weight and make the car less nose heavy, which should make the handling even better.

Picture the scene: You’re wearing your crisp Armani the morning of a big snowstorm. You’ve got an important meeting, so you hit the slippery roads to get to the office. The trip is drama-free because you have a sophisticated all-wheel drive system putting the power to the icy pavement.

By the end of the day, the sun has come out and melted what’s left of the wintry mix from the morning. After a great meeting, you’re psyched for the drive home. As it did for the morning drive through the blizzard, the A4 Quattro proves to be the perfect chariot for a triumphant ride home.

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