On the surface, the A4 might look like just another "premium midsize" sedan in a sea of not-BMWs. As car reviews go, this one's a challenge because, while the A4 is not the best in its class, it's none so horrible as to be dismissed from consideration. But before we condemn the A4 with faint praise, we'll come out and say it. This is a damn fine automobile. Moreover, in a world where an A3 3.2 with Quattro and DSG costs $37 grand, a top-of-the-line A4 3.2 Quattro for $40,000 somehow seems like a value.
Sure, it's not really a value; very few $40,000 cars could be considered such. The lesser A4's turbocharged 2.0-liter engine offers nearly as much potency for $5,000 less. But the 3.2 carries some badge cachet (just ask your local social climber). And it looks equally handsome and non-controversial; it's the anti-Bangle-mobile. But in defiance of past A4s, this one is actually fun to drive. It's still no 3-series, but one gets the impression A4 buyers don't care.
More than that, the A4's interior is worthy of some smack-talking to the smug BMW-driving wanker in the office across the hall. Automotive journalists habitually praise VW/Audi interiors, but in this case it's truly one of the best. The controls — thank heaven — are old-school buttons and knobs. Unless you choose the SatNav option, which comes with Audi's iDrive-like MMI, it's free from multifunction click-wheel hell. But more than that, the rest of the A4's interior is laid out so logically and ergonomically, one wonders what all the other interior engineers have been doing in the six years since this car debuted (2005's redesign was more of a minor update).
To reiterate, the A4 is more than just a good car. It is not, however, a driver's car. It handles reasonably well, with less reluctance to change direction than we've come to expect from Audi. But that's not the point. The point is, the A4 doesn't exude reserved pomposity (and lack of E-class money) like the Mercedes-Benz C-class, nor is it saddled with the chavish/yuppie stigma of the BMW 3-series. It's an alternative, and damn fine alternative at that. [by Mike Austin]