Exterior Design: ****
The A4 Avant embodies the rapidly disappearing New England golf club aesthetic; it s elegant in its inoffensiveness and inoffensive in its elegance. And then there s that snout. Audi s trademark gaping maw looks absurd on this diminutive load lugger. What s worse, the nose was specifically designed for the longer, narrower Euro-plates. The US-snubbing rhinoplasty denies the Avant the final star.
Speed freaks will not be impressed with the Avant s 2.0T s bang-for-the-buck, what with $30k Mustang GTs and $40k Hemi-powered Chryslers lurking at every stoplight. But there s nothing wrong with the way Audi s direct injection 2.0-liter turbo motivates this relatively heavy [read: safe] station wagon. When you consider the fuel economy (19/26) and likely drivers (financially comfortable architecture lovers), we reckon Audi gave it the perfect amount of oomph.
Audi s never had a problem with stoppers; they ve always been powerful, linear and dependable. Audi s always had a problem with pedal feel. It s numb and light.
The A4 Avant hits this one out of the ballpark. A fully independent suspension with separate coil springs and gas-charged shock absorbers delivers the ideal oxymoronic blend of road feel and jolt isolation. Note: tire choice is mission critical.
Although Audi has finally sorted out the helm s dreadful numbness in the center position, and their Quattro four-wheel-drive system just keeps getting better, and the chassis is remarkably composed (even without optional S-line sports suspension), the A4 Avant s over-assisted Servotronic steering is a deeply regrettable star stealer.
The Avant s manual serves-up six perfectly chosen ratios with terrific precision and efficiency. But the car s clutch and cog swapper were tuned for ease of operation, rather than satisfying snickery. Wrong answer.
Audi s radio looks great, sounds better, offers a choice of satellite providers and says nein to MP3 s. The BOSE upgrade is well worth the freight, but stunters and flossers will note Dr. B s continuing refusal to provide chest-thumping bass.
Other than optional swiveling headlights and sat nav, there s not much gee-whizzery aboard. Given the cabin s unrelenting minimalism and the price of labor in Audi s service department, the dearth of electronic devices is good thing, not a bad thing.
It s a station wagon, but not the kind we grew up with (I swear there was an echo in the back of Mom s Town and Country). If you re pre, post or anti-children, if it s your second car, then fair enough. But if you ve got the usual 2.5 rug rats with their 20.7 pounds of clobber, the Avant would necessitate some ruthless de-acquisitioning. What decent American would do that to their kids and our economy?
Overall Rating: ****
[by Robert Farago]