|April 14, 2008
Road Test: 2009 Audi A4 Avant
Recently we were guests of Audi in Ibiza, Spain for the international press launch of the A4 Avant. Although a very quick trip in and out of a destination where one would ordinarily want to spend more than a mere 20 hours (and dig into the party scene, um, we mean "culture" of the island), work is work and we were on the spot to drive and hear about Audi's latest plans.
Candidly, with all the usual suspects in attendance from US-based buff books and online publications it was decidedly hard to find a unique angle to cover the story. We all got the same info, had the same short time with the same cars and took the same flights hither and fro. After covering Audi for twelve years as a player coach -yep we write it up and then edit our own stuff - we've decided to handle this coverage a little differently.
Readers interested in two excellent traditional write-ups should check out Steve Siler's piece for Car and Driver or Todd Lassa's article from Motor Trend. AudiWorld's coverage, like the trip itself, comes to you in concentrated form. Here goes nothing.
Why take US journalists half way round the world to drive the A4 Avant?
Audi's wagons outsell its sedans in many foreign markets. Countries across central Europe and Scandinavia see Avant uptake at least as strong, if not stronger, than demand for the 4-door sibling. Audi's press event was setup to facilitate visits from journalists around the globe on a rotating basis.
What is Audi of America's plan for the next generation A4 Avant?
Like the A4 sedan, the Avant will go on sale in the fall in the US. Unlike the sedan, Audi will enforce model simplification by only offering the Avant with the new 2.0T powerplant, quattro all-wheel drive and a 6-speed fast shifting automatic transmission. Audi says it's done its homework and it knows what the typical Avant buyer doesn't want or need in the variant, and a heavier, less fuel efficient V6 engine is near the top of that list. For our part we agree with AoA's assessment. With only around 4,000 Avants sold each year in the US it makes no sense to confuse dealers and consumers with a multitude of choices.
Great! So how does the A4 Avant 2.0T quattro drive?
It would be ideal to answer this question straight up, however no 2.0-liter quattros were available for road testing in Ibiza. This quirk is explained primarily by the orientation of the event itself. As explained above, with so many different regions running journalists through the same group of cars it is incumbent upon Audi to provide the most typical configurations. Audi expects many 2.0T owners abroad to opt for lighter, non-quattro equipped A4 Avants and so that's what they brought to Ibiza.
On some of the gravel roads in the area we longed for quattro's stability. Torque steer was prevalent on the front-wheel drive A4 Avant, which was no surprise given the capabilities of the powerplant.
Quattro all-wheel drive aside how is the new 2.0T powerplant?
Quick. Surprising torque. The most capable single-turbo ever offered under the hood of a modern Audi. Fuel efficient. All the above - need we say more? Our admiration for Audi's turbo evolution is literally gushing, and backed up by the numbers. At 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque the 2.0T has balls even at low speeds, as evidenced by our jaunts up some rather steep and curvy coastal roads. Following closely behind a 3.2-liter V6-equipped A4 Avant we were able to keep it squarely in our sights throughout a spirited driving session. Audi claims we'll see a 15% increase in EPA fuel economy, although particulars have not yet been provided.
Nice engine, but what else stuck out about the A4 Avant?
Whether we are wannabe Europeans or just have exclusive taste, we've been big fans of Audi's wagons for years. The fact remains that all German sedans (think BMW and Mercedes-Benz) share some design qualities which makes them a bit of a one-size-fits-all proposition. An Avant, on the other hand, provides supreme differentiation from the pack. On paper Audi demonstrates that the B8 A4 Avant is longer, wider and lower. In person it simply looks better than any B-segment Avant that the brand has ever brought to market. There is a clear coupe-like roof line, a rear spoiler that is both a distinctive design element as well as being a functional one and just the right stance to convey "beautiful estate" and sporty capabilities.
Is the large "fish mouth" grille part of the packaging?
It is and it will be prominently incorporated in all Audi models for the foreseeable future, as it has become part of the corporate face of the brand. We sit in the potentially minority camp which holds that the grille is distinguishing and an appropriate design icon, and therefore feel that it is at home on the A4 Avant. Anyhow, the most intriguing thing about the front of the vehicle is not the grille, but rather the LED daytime running lights which have made their way "downstream" in the model lineup to the B-segment (hooray!). Territory that was previously staked for the likes of Audi's highest end performance vehicles is now fair game in the A4 model and the Avant wears it well.
How is the interior?
It's an Audi. To anybody familiar with the automotive world those three words speak volumes, because it is an accepted fact that Audi builds some of the highest quality and functional interiors on the planet. The A4 Avant, essentially identical to the A4 sedan and A5 coupe is no different. Materials, particularly the high end leathers and wood inlays, are superlative. The B8 cockpit is designed such that the main dash panel flows better with less of a curvature behind the steering column. It also places the center stack and controls at a slight bias to the driver and the shifter and MMI system at a perfect ergonomic position on the driver's right.
Audi has somehow managed to incorporate the long, flowing roofline reminiscent of a coupe while providing tremendous headroom in the interior. The bigger wheelbase and headroom is appreciated but still does not translate into particularly spacious rear seating. We can only say that compared to previous generations it has improved - just don't expect A6-like seating in the rear.
Gadgets, what about gadgets?
Like the LED lighting, all of Audi's techno goodies will now be offered in the A4 lineup, including Audi Side Assist, Audi Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Audi Parking System and the new B&O sound system (a great value at approximately $900). Even heated and cooled seats are an option now, with the cooling working almost too well for what turned out to be a 75-degree day in Ibiza.
With all the Euro spec vehicles there, what's the US missing out on by getting only the 2.0T quattro A4 Avant?
Whether Avant or sedan the single biggest "wish we were getting that right now" for us would be the 3.0-liter TDI powerplant. Yes, the 2.0T gasoline engine is highly capable, but the TDI candidly whips its ass in terms of all-around driving characteristics. Check the stats: 240hp and 369 lb-ft of torque starting at a mind-numbingly low 1,500 rpm. Amazing, the 3.0 TDI does this at roughly the same fuel efficiency as the 2.0T.
Thankfully we will start to see this powerplant stateside in the Q7 and Q5 variants within the next 12 months. Audi has also strongly hinted that the 3.0 TDI could be applied to most other cars in the US lineup, including the A4, A6 and even A8, although we seriously doubt we'll ever see it under the hood of a US A4 Avant.
We cycled through most of the Euro engine variants at the press event including a 1.8T gasoline engine and a 2.0-liter TDI. That said we never once came back for seconds with any variant besides the 3.0 TDI. It cruises well at highway speeds, it has the get up and go to sprint to a 6.3 second 0-62 mph (we'd say that is actually a conservative published figure) and does it all with relatively modest fuel needs. We strongly believe that any potential US Audi buyer needs only to drive a TDI model once to grasp its significance and superiority to traditional gasoline offerings.
How will the A4 Avant be priced?
Audi did not share pricing with the assembled journalists, but offered that it would be "marginally higher than the outgoing A4 model".
Will next generation S4 or RS4 Avants be available in the US?
Enthusiasts would rejoice at an affirmative response, but need to prepare for the worst. Given the uptake for Avant models in the US market it appears that even the simple A4 Avant was on the chopping block and barely survived. Based on comments by Audi of America Executive VP Johan de Nysschen we are fairly certain that Audi is willing to sacrifice the approximately 400 S4 Avant units it has traditionally sold per year. As for the RS4 Avant, ongoing US homologation issues plague the possibility of bringing across the pond.
In a bit of a surprise move de Nysschen did mention that he would be supportive of an A4 allroad variant for the US market. Clearly Audi of America is aware of the loyal allroad owner base which is still smarting from Audi of America's decision to supplant the latest generation A6 allroad with the Q7 SUV. Outfitting an A4 Avant as an allroad model might help Audi compete with similar offerings from the likes of Subaru while throwing the allroad contingent a proverbial bone.