2009 Audi A4 Avant First Drive
Avant is on garde: The A4 to have, if you're okay with turbo four, quattro, automatic
Though you're the one that friends and neighbors come to with car advice, you don't drive what you tell them to buy. They don't understand wagons over SUVs, diesels over hybrids or tiny, but powerful turbo direct-injection gas engines over diesels. If they did, Audi would sell more than 4000 A4 Avants per year.
A gas turbo over a turbodiesel? Yep, it's time to get over that early-21st-century thinking. With diesel having breached $4 per gallon, who wants one of those? To sweeten the deal, Audi's latest four-cylinder gas direct-injection turbo engine is rated a turbodiesel-like 258 lb-ft of torque. The engine is called the 2.0 TFSI, with the T's slide to the right distinguishing it from the 200-hp, 207-lb-ft 2.0T FSI in the A3, TT and the outgoing A4. The new engine's torque even trumps the number for the naturally aspirated 265-hp, 3.2L FSI V-6 by 15 lb-ft. What's more, the new TFSI delivers that 258 lb-ft from 1500 to 4200 rpm, versus a range of 3000 to 5000 rpm for the V-6's 243. It's rated 211 hp, although it must be noted that torque and power for this engine are for the European model and each number could drop a bit before reaching the States.
And Audi expects a 15-percent increase in EPA fuel mileage, which would get the A4 Avant a 25-mpg combined average, up from 22 mpg for the 2008 A4 Avant quattro FSI automatic.
Audi calls the 2.0 TFSI all new, though certainly there are some parts left from the 2.0T FSI. The new engine has Audi's valvelift system added for variable control to the exhaust valves, plus new six-hole injectors and a new intercooler that Audi says combines high efficiency with low weight and small dimensions.
Sound good? It had better. While Audi will sell the A4 Avant with a choice of five gasoline and five TDIs in Europe, you and your fellow Americans can order it only with that 2.0 here. That's not all. You must buy it with quattro all-wheel drive and Audi's Tiptronic "fast-shift" six-speed automatic. Presumably, you still get to pick paint color. No need for import complexity with a wagon model that can't outsell Bentley here. Thus, the U.S. will see the tiny volume S4 and RS4 only as sedans.
Good news is that when the bigger A4 sedan arrives here, also in the fall, it'll be available with the 2.0 TFSI and choice of front drive or quattro and manual or automatic transmissions. It also gets the 3.2L V-6, with the Tiptronic six-speed automatic and quattro only. We won't get any DSG-equipped A4s. Audi hasn't announced U.S. pricing, of course, but you can expect it to be marginally higher than the 2008 Avant's $32,000 base.
Bad news is that while Audi had cars with a wide range of drivetrains available for test-driving at the Avant's press launch on the Spanish island of Ibiza, none was exactly what we'll get in the U.S. That's not unusual for German automaker press trips, though, especially when the car is a niche-market station wagon. The current Avant accounts for less than 10 percent of A4 sales in the United States, compared with about 80 percent in Sweden, Switzerland, and Italy, nearly 70 percent in Germany and about half in France, Great Britain, and Belgium. We like our station wagons to be SUVs.
The only 2.0 TFSI Avants to test drive in Ibiza were front-drive models with six-speed manual transmissions, fun for us, not so much for you. Driving one back to back with a manual trans 3.2 FSI quatttro says something about the smaller engine, though: It's the way to go. Assuming it mates as nicely with that Tiptronic as with the six-speed manual and assuming quattro won't weigh it down too much.
The 2.0 just pulls so easily from under 2000 rpm in any gear that it's the match, if not better than, the 3.2 for acceleration. The TFSI has all the buttery smoothness and minimal turbo lag of the 200-horse 2.0T, but even more so. When you get into the horsepower band, the car simply winds up more quickly than you'd expect and accelerates in what feels like a free-fall to redline. Audi claims a 6.7-second 0-to-62-mph run for a 2.0 TFSI quattro with six-speed manual (another car not available in Ibiza), while Audi in the U.S. claims a 6.3-second 0-60-mph time for the A4 V-6 quattro sedan. The TFSI's exhaust note is rortier than the old turbo's, with a high-speed, high-pitched braap. There's nothing this engine does in a 3700-lb wagon that will make you want more displacement. Count this as another soldier in the engine downsizing revolution.
Let this be a warning to those about to buy the A4 sedan. The 3.2 V-6 doesn't add much to the party versus the TFSI, except add weight, fuel consumption, and numbers to the sticker price.
Quattro AWD does get the party going, however. Like every other front-drive A4 this humble reporter has ever driven, the 2.0 wagon's steering feels twitchy on long, fast straights, while the 3.2 quattro, admittedly with the extra weight of a V-6 up front, feels perfectly planted. So if the past is any guide, that twitchiness will disappear with addition of quattro, even if the engine is the lighter turbo four. Audi says there's no difference in the steering whether you buy AWD or FWD, and that makes sense. It appears Audi engineers are tuning the steering for quattro, with FWD a mere afterthought. Otherwise, the steering is good, using Audi's new dynamic steering, with less effort around town and when parking, and more precision (effort) on windy roads. It works fairly well, lulling you into a near state of pinky finger-steering a la vintage Electra 225s, with just a hint of artificiality on faster roads. Audi has learned from BMW's mistakes in this department.
The A4 Avant also offers optional Audi drive select, which changes gas intake, Tiptronic shifting points, and power steering assistance between comfort, automatic and dynamic settings. It will be available in 2.0 TFSI quattro and 3.2L A4s with high content in the U.S. None of the cars on my drive had it.
Anyway, the factory settings are inherently good in the A4 Avant, which nicely dances on the line between comfort and sport. The A4 is doing a decent job of establishing itself as a quattro alterna-BMW 3 Series, with the right compliance over rough roads and just a bit of roll in fast turns before settling into flat cornering. It won't beat you up and at the same time, it won't leave you the least bit bored. And the new A4 Avant drives like a smaller car -- say, the old A4. The longer, lower, wider stance results in a commodious cabin, with plenty of rear-seat leg- and headroom for average-size adults. Like the sedan, the A4 Avant's wheelbase is up 6.7 inches. The cargo area is supposed to be bigger, too, although "Avant" remains Audi-speak for "sportwagon," which means you can flip down the rear seat to load skiing gear for two, but two bikes would be better off on a roof rack. There's a reversible cargo floor, with an uncarpeted plastic underside for when you have to haul dirty, messy things, plus grocery-bag hooks in the interior D-pillars, an optional loading kit with rail systems, and optional automatic tailgate and 220-volt socket.
The new A4 styling nicely fits the Avant, its so-called "tornado line" beginning on the front fenders just above the headlamps and gently breaking downward just short of the taillamps. The rear end isn't as sporty and distinctive as past A4 Avants. Now it looks more grown-up, like an A6 Avant. But the two-box wagon body suits the Avant better than it does the sedan. If the six-speed automatic works well with the 2.0 TFSI, it will be the enthusiasts' A4 to have. And with fuel prices still heading upward, it might be the one to recommend to some of your friends and neighbors.
|2009 Audi A4 Avant|
|Base Price||$34,000 (MT est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door wagon|
|Engine||2.0L/211-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|Curb weight (dist f/r)||3700 lbs (MT est)|
|Length x width x height||185.2 x 71.9 x 56.5 in.|
|0-60 mph||6.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy econ||21/31 mpg (MT est)|
|CO2 emmisions||0.79 lb/mile|
|On sale in U.S.||Fall 2008|