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2011 Audi A4 ReviewThe Good
Audi's 2011 A4 sedan offers both excellent driving dynamics and refined interior appointments at a price far less than comparable offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.The Bad
With only an inline-four engine, the 2011 A4 may provoke cylinder envy in a segment full of punchy V6s.
The CarGurus View
With crisp styling, refined manners, and handling that will delight enthusiasts, the 2011 Audi A4 is the smart buy among entry-level German luxury sedans. A healthy complement of standard features, combined with class-leading cabin space and available all-wheel-drive make the 2011 A4 a remarkably versatile little sedan. While the four interlocking rings on the grille don't quite carry the same cachet as the three-pointed star, the A4 provides a driving experience that's as good as (or better than) the competition at a far lower price.
At a Glance
Fifteen years ago, the first-generation A4 helped restore Audi's place in the German luxury pecking order. Now, having been redesigned three times, the 2011 A4 continues to set a high bar with excellent packaging, sparkling performance, and eye-catching design. Changes for 2011 include an all-new transmission, some design tweaks, and a shuffling of option packages.
As a near-luxury sport sedan, the 2011 A4 does battle with the likes of BMW's excellent 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz's C-Class. Despite offering only four-cylinder power, the 2011 A4 is more than a match for its competition, serving up swift acceleration and excellent fuel economy. While Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system is no longer the only game in town, the A4's reputation for excellent handling in tricky weather helps make it a strong seller in the snow belt.
An amazing complement of standard features make even base A4's feel quite luxurious. While other German automakers charge extra for leather upholstery and a sunroof, Audi includes these items in the A4's already very competitive base price. A pair of option packages can upgrade the A4's feature quotient significantly, adding items like xenon lights, GPS navigation, and a booming Bang & Olufsen stereo system.
In a segment dominated by six- and even eight-cylinder power, the 2011 A4 makes do with a turbocharged inline-four motor. While this cylinder deficit might at first seem to be a handicap, a closer look reveals it to be an asset. The A4's four-banger uses a single turbocharger, along with FSI direct fuel injection, to deliver 211 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. While those numbers might not leap off the page, the A4 never feels slow, a conclusion supported by its competitive sub-7-second 0-60 times. But the real benefit comes at the pump, where the 2011 A4 delivers 22 mpg in the city and an impressive 31 on the highway.
The A4 is offered in both front-wheel- and all-wheel-drive configurations. Front-drive A4s get a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that offers a nearly infinite ratio spread for better efficiency. While the CVT takes some getting used to, its ability to keep the engine perpetually in the sweet spot pays real dividends in acceleration and fuel economy.
All-wheel-drive A4s get the latest generation of Audi's familiar TORSEN (TORque SENsing) center differential. With a 40/60 front/rear torque split on dry pavement, the A4 convincingly mimics the handling characteristics of a rear-wheel-drive car. When the road gets slick, the sophisticated AWD system can transfer power fore and aft as needed. Audi offers the AWD A4 with either a traditional six-speed manual gearbox, noted for its smooth, precise action and progressive clutch take-up, or an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission that offers a wide range of gears for optimal power and economy.
Ride & Handling
The unit-body A4 benefits from Audi's considerable experience in chassis development. The four-wheel independent suspension consists of a control arm setup up front and a multilink arrangement out back. This modern setup, combined with the A4's long wheelbase, means the A4 handles corners with supreme confidence. The traditional hydraulic power steering features precise weighting and excellent feedback, a trait often missing from newer, electrically assisted systems.
Audi's engineers have struck a nearly ideal ride/handling balance with the 2011 A4. The suspension is firmly dampened, but it never feels harsh, even over larger bumps. Body lean in corners is minimal, courtesy of front and rear anti-roll bars, and the standard 50-series tires emit nary a squeak in normal driving. Buyers should note that the larger 18- and 19-inch alloy wheels, included on higher trim levels, are shod with low-profile tires that slightly compromise the ride over major road imperfections.
Cabin & Comfort
Audi has long made interior design and execution a top priority. In keeping with that commitment, the 2011 A4 features a very classy, sophisticated interior. While the design isn't as wild as some recent offerings from Japan, the A4's cabin is fitted out as well as any car in the class. The dashboard shape is quite conventional and places most controls within easy reach. While some of the buttons are too small and require a bit of familiarization, the slick, dampened motion of the secondary controls will delight owners. The materials and panel gaps are nearly perfect, and the richness of the standard leather upholstery is unusual in a car of this price.
While previous iterations of the A4 have been lacking in interior volume, the most recent redesign added 6.3 inches to the wheelbase, greatly improving rear seat accommodations. Though not limousine-like, the back bench is noticeably more spacious than most in this class, and the rather high roofline provides decent headroom. Up front the power seats provide a wide range of adjustment, and the relationship between the seats, steering wheel, and pedals is excellent.
The 2011 A4 comes in three flavors (Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige) and even base editions offer standard leather seats, a power sunroof, automatic climate control, a multi-function steering wheel, and an excellent 10-speaker stereo system with Sirius satellite radio. Stepping up to the Premium Plus package nets buyers xenon headlights, heated seats, and iPod integration, while the top-dog Prestige package includes GPS navigation, keyless start, and a seriously loud Bang & Olufsen stereo that routes 505 watts of power through 14 speakers.
In addition to the obvious benefits of all-wheel-drive, the 2011 A4 comes packed with safety equipment. Standard front, front side, and curtain airbags combine with automatic seatbelt pre-tensioners and force limiters to provide excellent protection in a crash. Rear-seat side airbags are optional. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has awarded the A4 its coveted Top Safety Pick honors as a result of its good showing in their rigorous offset frontal crash test.
What Owners Think
Owners of the Audi A4 are nearly universal in their praise for the car's top-notch build quality and stylish appearance. Most owners report being very pleased with both the A4's sprightly performance and its surprisingly thrifty fuel economy. While the quirky nature of its CVT automatic transmission takes some knocks, the slickness of the six-speed manual is widely praised. Criticism centers on the A4's poor rear visibility, with several owners wishing they'd upgraded to the optional rear-view camera system.