2013 Audi A4 S Line Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Although it was launched back in 2008 as a 2009 model, the current B8-generation Audi A4 is by no means staggering out the door on its last legs. Make no mistake, the current A4 is indeed headed out the door (the B9-generation car is set to debut in 2014), but it's making its exit as strong as it made its entry, with enough of a styling refresh to keep it current looking and only about 100 kg of extra weight around the middle (actually that's not fair because the current car hasn't put on weight - it's just the new car is promised to come in about 100 kg lighter).

Style-wise the current A4 has always had an instantly recognizable look without resorting to excessive adornment. It has a smooth, well-proportioned profile with a hunkered-down stance that gives it undeniable street presence. For 2013 it gets a reworked front fascia with new headlights and grille that present a slightly more aggressive, angular appearance. Instead of Audi's now much-copied "necklace of lights" effect, the headlights get thin bars of LED accent lighting tracing around them, and the taillights have been restyled to match. The changes are subtle, but they make the car look entirely up-to-date.

The A4 is available in three trim levels, starting at $39,795 including destination fees. This gets you a base A4 in Standard trim, with front-wheel drive and a Multitronic CVT transmission. There are fuel economy advantages to this setup (it uses about a litre less per 100km in the city than the most economical Quattro model), but most buyers will likely pony up the extra $1,900 to get into a Standard trim all-wheel drive Quattro with the 6-speed manual, or an extra $3,500 to get into a Standard trim Quattro with the 8-speed Tiptronic dual-clutch automatic.

Even in Standard trim the A4 is well equipped, with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, cruise control, sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, power driver's seat, leather-covered steering wheel, heated power mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio and more. Step up to the Premium trim (which includes Quattro drive and runs $45,595 including destination with the manual transmission or $47,195 with the Tiptronic automatic) and you get three-zone air conditioning, 18-inch alloys, automatically adjusting bi-xenon headlights with headlight washers, keyless entry with pushbutton start, MMI (Multi Media Interface) audio and navigation system, a digital compass, and the list goes on.

The MMI has been revised since I last tried it out in a 2011 S4, and I found it more intuitive to use than the previous version, although it would be nice if some basic audio functions could be retained on the navigation screen so your passenger doesn't need to swap screens to change channels, for instance (steering wheel controls provide basic audio functions for the driver).

My test car was a Premium Plus model with the Tiptronic gearbox ($49,395 destination in, or $47,795 with the manual transmission). The Premium Plus trim adds a superb sounding Bang & Olufsen audio system, swiveling headlights to aid in cornering, integrated garage door opener, back-up camera, blind-spot warning system and a few other features. On top of this, my test car had the $3,400 S Line package, which includes S Line body enhancements (including revised bumpers), a flat-bottomed three-spoke sport steering wheel, brushed aluminum interior trim, front sports seats with four-way lumbar support, 19-inch seven split-spoke wheels, plus Audi drive select to control the settings of the S Line's adaptive suspension, steering, throttle response and transmission shift characteristics (in the automatic-equipped car).

No matter which trim level or drivetrain configuration you choose, all A4s in North America get Audi's acclaimed 16-valve 2.0-litre TFSI engine, which features direct injection and turbocharging to crank out a respectable 211 horsepower and an impressive 258 lb-ft of torque. On the road this engine is well suited to the car. It doesn't exactly pin you back into your seat, but it pulls strongly throughout the rev range and can push the A4's 1,640 kg curb weight to 100 km/h from a standstill in about 6.7 seconds. Once up to 100 km/h the engine turns just under 1,600 rpm in top gear, giving highway fuel consumption of about 6.8 L/100km with the Tiptronic transmission (city consumption is rated at 10.1 L/100km). Your fuel costs will be a little higher than these numbers reflect, however, because the A4 requires premium fuel.

Using the paddle shifters is rewarding thanks to the Tiptronic's quick shifts and hooked-up feel, but I'd prefer larger, column-mounted paddles rather than the small steering wheel-mounted paddles favoured by Audi. For those who want a clutch pedal the A4 is available with a 6-speed manual transmission even in the highest trim levels.

The handling, in typical Audi style, is precise and near unflappable, with a flat cornering attitude and good grip. For 2013 the A4 gets electric power steering, which is said to shave fuel consumption by about 0.3 L/100km. To its credit, I didn't really notice any difference in the steering compared to previous Audis I've driven - it remains quick and accurate, and provides a usable amount of feedback.

My test car's big S Line wheels were fitted out with ZR-rated summer performance tires, which provided impressive traction on dry asphalt but were ill-suited to the wintery weather that dominated my week with the car. It snowed on my way home from picking up the A4, and the wide, solid-tread tires were downright scary in the white stuff. On dry roads later in the week I noticed that the big boots also transmit a certain amount of tire noise into the cabin during highway driving.

While my test car's tires may have been unsuitable for snow the A4 itself is very well suited to winter driving thanks to its Quattro all-wheel drive and excellent interior packaging. The back seat is plenty roomy and features split-folding seatbacks, making it a cinch for us to fit three people and all their skis and gear into the car for a three-day ski trip (we only drove as far as the bus depot however, given the summer tires and the winter mountain conditions where we were headed). We also managed to transport a six-foot tall (1.8-metre) flat-packed bookcase from Ikea, although my wife had to sit behind me for that because we had to move the passenger's seat all the way forward into the dashboard.

When not transporting furniture the A4 is a very comfortable place to spend time, with a clean, restrained interior style. In S Line trim it gets comfortable alcantara-and-leather upholstered sport seats and genuine brushed aluminum trim inserts, and all the controls and fittings have a precise, well-crafted feel to them. The dash is soft touch, while the upper door panels are somewhere in between soft touch and hard touch (they use a high-end rigid plastic with a resilient outer layer). I was particularly impressed with the high-resolution colour multi-information display fitted between the speedometer and tachometer, which is nearly indistinguishable in appearance and contrast from the gauges flanking it.  An important consideration that's easy to overlook during a brief test drive is outward visibility, and here the A4 scores quite well - Audi appears to have put some effort into the design of the A pillars, and they're less obstructive than most cars I've driven recently. Rearward visibility is likewise fairly good.

It'll be sad to see the B8-generation A4 bow out, because I must admit I've liked the car more and more over the years as it has been refined and refreshed. It's still a very contemporary-looking design, and still has what it takes to make it a highly desirable choice amongst competitors like the BMW 3 Series, Acura TSX, Infiniti G (soon to be Q50), Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS/CTS, Volvo S60 and Mercedes C-Class.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Audi, 2013, A4, $50,000 - $74,999, Compact,

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