Walkaround and Interior

By February 25, 2009

Walkaround

The 2009 A4 looks wider, lower and longer than before, in part because it is wider and longer without being taller and in part because the front end is shorter, crisper, leaner and more tapered. It shares the split-grille common to all front-engine Audis, points on the lower air dam that mimic crab pincers, the headlamp housings are more horizontal, and the light elements themselves draw the eye up and back at the corners.

When equipped with the bi-Xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, the A4 looks a bit meaner, especially when the daytime running lights are on (on any A4 the daytime running lights can be enabled/disabled through MMI). They also provide better nighttime vision for the A4 driver (including speed-dependent adjustment) and make the A4 stand out so other drivers see it sooner.

The grille is stone gray on four-cylinder cars and gloss black on V6 units. S-Line models add a silver center lip below the grille, sleeker air intakes, side skirts, and finer wheels to give the A4 a more imposing, hunkered-down stance.

The wheelbase, the space between the front and rear axles, is 110.6 inches, long by compact sedan standards. To minimize any limousine look the lower character line along the doors sweeps progressively upward toward the rear wheel, and the shoulder character line just below the windows tapers off as it passes the rear door and curves through the taillight lens as it fades in to the fender.

Aerodynamics have been improved by 3 percent despite the wider dimensions.

The A4 Avant is as aerodynamic as the previous-generation A4 sedan, and while wagons aren't as slick as sedans, wind noise is absent. Rear visibility is good in the Avant thanks to the rear wiper/washer and the added internal volume means the rear window doesn't fog as quickly.

Horizontally themed tail light housings frame the rear end. The trunk and cargo hatch openings are slightly closer to the ground than in previous generation models for easier loading. Avants are rated to carry 198 pounds on the roof, more than many SUVs because of the A4's lower center of gravity.

Interior Features

Any recent Audi owner will find the A4 interior familiar, though some of the basic black German efficiency has given way to a warmer, more contemporary cabin a bit north of Germany into Scandinavian territory. Unlike its C-Class, 3 Series and Lexus IS competitors, leather upholstery is standard in every A4, and the fit and finish match recent Audis commonly used as benchmarks.

Front seats are electrically adjusted with four-way power lumbar adjustment for the driver and manual headrests that adjust for height but not angle (for safety reasons). With generous travel in the tilt-and-telescoping steering column everyone should be both comfortable and properly positioned for driving, and seat support will easily last a tank of fuel on the highway. The sport seats in S-Line or sport packages are even better at keeping you secure without taking away any comfort; only those of wide girth may prefer the less-bolstered standard seat. A driver memory system for seat and mirrors is available.

The rear seat is best for two adults or three kids; the center floor hump and console are similar to what you find in most compact four-doors. Seat cushions are pleasantly long and the low-profile headrests on the back seats ensure good rearward vision without passengers yet lift enough to provide passenger comfort and protection. A substantial center armrest offers cupholders and storage within, and doesn't make you fall inward or outward to relax on one arm. The split backrest folds with the narrow part behind the driver, each released by a simple latch without first removing a headrest.

Rear seat reading lights and seatback nets are standard, as are LED footwell lights for the toe room under the front seats. Almost and inch and a half has been added to rear seat knee room, though in anything but full-size cars this is typically a pinch point.

There are some exceptions (IS front legroom, 3 Series and C-Class rear width) but on average, the A4 offers better head, leg and shoulder room than its primary competitors. The standard moonroof or the big Open Sky roof on Avants let in light and offer the illusion of more spaciousness.

The light-colored cabins have complementary trim colors, with a lighter shade for seats, door insert panels and headliner, and darker shades on the dash, door edges and armrests, and carpeting. A metallic-look silver trim is the default, though genuine wood trim (a light honey-colored almond ash or darker walnut) for the glovebox, console and doors may be specified. It's unlikely you will find a more appealing interior at the price.

The A4 driver faces a dashboard modeled after other recent Audis, with the console slightly tilted left and center dash angled toward the driver and carried to the same height as the instrument pod; passengers can still reach those controls but it flows to the driver so much better. The center armrest top slides fore/aft and all the controls are within easy reach, the ergonomics faultless. We would prefer the gate for the manual mode on the automatic transmission shifter on the left side (closer to driver) than the right, however.

Large dials provide speed and engine revs, with 0 straight down; you may have to recalibrate your clock positions for the speedometer needle and the mid-range of the tachometer may be obscured if you lower the tilt wheel too far (and you'll mask the warning light pod top center). However, with everything properly positioned, all instruments are clearly visible, and with deep amber lighting to preserve eye recovery time, well lit at night. Between the two primary gauges is a message center for gear selected and engaged, radio data, range remaining, outside temperature and so forth. On higher-level cars trip computer data, cruise control distances, and navigation data are shown here as well.

At the same height and to the right is a 6.5-inch color screen. On non-navigation cars this does radio, some climate and car setup chores (beep with alarm, unlock driver door only, etc.). On non-navi cars the MMI (multimedia interface) command dial is in the center of the radio panel just below the vents, and it and the similar control for climate immediately below it are illustrated on the screen.

On navigation-equipped cars the MMI is ahead of the shifter (or behind it from the driver's point of view). It maintains the eight hard key choices as before and remains among the more intuitive-type systems; the upgrades to the voice-recognition navigation system only make it easier and quicker. With this setup the radio panel reverts to a CD control panel, the screen is larger and it includes a backup camera. Many of the audio and setup controls can be run through the thumbwheels on the steering wheel that both rotate and push-to-click.

Automatic climate control with full manual ability is standard on the Premium model, and updated for more efficient operation; it kept a black wagon's occupants comfortable in desert sunshine. On Premium Plus and Prestige models, three-zone climate control gives independent control to each front occupant and a pair of vents with temperature gradient in the back of the center console. Rear window shades are optional if you prefer to avoid aftermarket tint.

The standard audio system handles most inputs. The upgraded Symphony system brings better sound at higher listening levels. For the best audio, pop for the Bang & Olufsen system which backs up some added visual drama with 14 speakers fed 10 distinct channels and 505 watts of output.

With all that packed into a small four-door, storage spaces are at a premium. Each door has a map pocket that will hold a bottle, both center armrests have small bins, seatbacks have net pockets, and the surprising glovebox can hold more than some papers and the owner's manual. Beyond that, you're headed to the trunk.

Trunk space is almost 17 cubic feet on the sedan, giving it a significant advantage over its primary competitors. Add more cargo space by folding the back seat or seats or employing the ski sack pass-through for longer items.

Avants have roughly 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the back seat and 34 cubic feet with the seats folded. A side pocket with cargo net, good floor-mounted tie-downs at the corners and a pair of pivoting rings at cover height that can be used as tie-down points or grocery-bag hooks add to its versatility. The cargo floor can be flipped over to a plastic well for carrying messy stuff, and a roll-up net separates cargo or animals from people.

When you open the hatch, which can be powered and set to stop at any height, the cargo cover can be released up and forward for better access or rolled up behind the seat. The load lifting height is lower than before, and the hatch opening (39 inches at the base) is bigger.