2007 Audi A4 Review
Refined sedans, wagons and convertibles.
The Audi A4 offers good handling and response, making it a lot of fun on winding roads. It's extremely stable at high speeds, as one might expect from a bigger, heavier car. Its engines range from spry and economical to Holy Cow! with gas guzzler tax.
The A4 is Audi's counterpoint to the BMW 3 Series, and we'd venture that each is the other's most obvious, direct competitor in the market place. The A4 is clearly competitive with the 3 in the quantifiable, objective measures. Much of the subjective and visceral is present and accountable, too. Even where it follows a different track, it doesn't stray too far. But in one measure, it's far ahead. Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system is almost legendary, and much better sorted than the all-wheel-drive systems offered in the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Meanwhile, the Acura TL and many other cars that compete in the sporty, near-luxury class only come with front-wheel drive.
The A4 lacks the quiet, almost Zen-like solitude afforded by some of its competitors, but those who appreciate its lively traits will find it more than quiet and smooth enough. Wind and road noise are nicely filtered in the sedan, less so in the Avant, where the large cargo space amplifies the hisses and rumbles. The same large volume of air works well with the stereo, however, giving the bass tones a nice, deep resonance in the Avant.
The 2.0T suffers from turbo lag, a trait that's amplified when paired with the Tiptronic automatic that comes with quattro. The Multitronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive is a competent package, but it's a combination that doesn't deliver what we look for in an A4. The A4 2.0T's four-cylinder engine works best with the six-speed manual gearbox and that's the combination we'd order here, though we wish the shift throws on the manual were a little shorter.
With the 2.0T turbocharged engine, there's not a lot of power down at the very bottom of the rev range. The manual allows the operator to keep the engine running where the torque comes in greater quantity. Yet even with the manual, the turbo is not great for squirting at a moment's notice, so passing a train of cars on a two-lane road can be a challenge. It's fantastic for winding roads, however, and we had a blast with it on a winding hill climb out of California's Carmel Valley.
The 2.0T does very well on the highway, feeling comfortable cruising at high speeds all day. We did this and got 27 mpg. An A4 2.0T Quattro is EPA City/Highway-rated to get 22/31 mpg.
The 3.2-liter V6 is a much better choice when ordering an automatic transmission. The V6 is smoother and more refined than the 2.0T. With the V6, the six-speed Tiptronic automatic is almost as responsive as the six-speed manual, and by far more accommodating in day-to-day traffic. We prefer to put it in Drive and go, and we suspect most people will rarely, if ever use the Tiptronic manual shift feature.
Those who do will find the Tiptronic falls a bit short in the manumatic game, mostly because it will not allow full manual control of the shifts. An algorithm in the powertrain management computer shifts up a gear to put the engine at the optimum point in the torque curve, and a button beneath the gas pedal shifts down a gear when mashed, as when passing or accelerating up a grade. This is an impressive application of computerization, but it mocks the Tiptronic's promise of a manual-override automatic. In practice, the downshift is occasionally helpful, but the upshift is disconcerting when it occurs in the middle of a corner.
All the A4 models offer crisp steering response with comforting directional stability. All feel planted and confident at high speed. There's less pogo over undulating pavement on fast and narrow winding roads than in other cars. Quick left-right-left transitions are handled with finesse. The same goes for the Avant wagon. The V6 models, which are 150 pounds heavier, feel less agile and slower in response to driver inputs than the 2.0T models. Ride and handling with the base suspension is firm, but not stiff. The optional sport suspension tends more toward stiff, almost harsh. We prefer it, but think most buyers will be happier with the standard suspension.
The brakes offer impressive stopping power with no fade. Smooth stops can be a challenge, however, almost as if all the electronic systems are confusing each other. The brake pads seem to continue pressing against the discs even as the pressure on the pedal is eased. This undercuts the A4's ability as a commuter car in stop-and-go traffic.
The S4 delivers lusty performance from its sweet-sounding V8. It works well with the manual, which is surprisingly easy to shift, considering the amount of power it has to control. The clutch pedal is not overly heavy and the shifter is so easy the clutch hardly seems necessary at times. We drove an S4 Cabriolet and an S4 Avant and found both of them to be delightful cars. It's hard to imagine anyone needing more power. The engine is smooth and tractable at low rpm, though the driver always has a sense of incredible power under foot. The ride quality is firm but tolerable.
The RS4 sedan cranks everything up a few notches, even compared to the V8-powered, sport-tuned S4 models. And at its price, it should. Beyond a 25 percent horsepower boost and weight-reduction measures, its quattro all-wheel drive system is tuned for the track. The default level of power delivery is biased more toward the rear wheels, so the RS4 behaves more like a rear-drive car.
As such, it's one of the best balanced, most drivable performance cars we've sampled, meaning it's not overly inclined to understeer (trying to push straight in front as the driver turns) or oversteer (getting loose in back). It also lets the driver adjust its trajectory by using the gas pedal as well as the steering.
Even in the RS4, there's some level of understeer, which is the default characteristic engineers prefer for real-world safety. Yet in rapid, hard, left or right direction changes, the RS4 is amazingly controllable and requires very small steering input to turn. A driver can actually get the rear-end to slide out with the gas pedal, turning the car more quickly, and then tuck it right back in when the throttle is lightened.
The 420-hp V8 is sweet, generating an impressive 100 horsepower per liter of displacement without a turbocharger. There's a steady flow of torque at any speed in any gear, and a visceral, tingling high-rpm rush that will remind every car enthusiast what he or she loves about driving. In short, from the enthusiast driver's perspective, the RS4 is one of the most entertaining and exhilarating sedans we've driven in years.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2007 Audi A4, click here: 2007 Audi A4.