Bigger isn't always better with cars, but that's not the case with the 2009 Audi A4 sedan.
The A4 is by far Audi's top-selling car line in America. It's for those who want a top-quality German-engineered performance auto with a different look and feel than a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
The 2009 A4 is a third-generation model. It looks much like last year's A4 with evolutionary styling, but has such items as a larger grille.
The A4 also is sold as a lower-volume two-door convertible with the 2008 body style and platform and as a roomier four-door station wagon with the 2009 changes.
I tested the popular four-door sedan. It comes with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD). The AWD system has a 40/60 front-to-rear torque split for more rear-wheel-drive-style handling.
. The new A4 is appreciably larger, but remains a premium compact. It's 4.6 inches longer and 2.1 inches wider, with a wheelbase stretched about 6.5 inches to 110.6 inches. All that, plus a shorter front overhang, provide a roomier interior and better weight distribution to give the rather nose-heavy car sharper handling. A revised suspension further helps roadability.
The A4 never has had a very roomy back seat, but the new model's dimensions finally allow decent rear-seat leg room for tall occupants, although it's still a bit tight for a 6-footer behind a tall driver.
The base turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine feels larger than it is. Horsepower is up from 200 to 211, with a major torque increase (for a rather small four-cylinder) of 51 pound-feet.
Horsepower of the slightly enlarged 3.2-liter V-6 jumps from 255 to 265. Its torque rating is unchanged, but torque now is spread over a wider power band for better response during routine driving.
No A4 is inexpensive, although all are well-equipped with comfort, convenience and safety items.
Prices are $30,700 for the 2.0T base front-drive model with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), It costs $32,700 with Audi's quattro AWD system, and the quattro model is offered with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature. The V-6 shoots power only through the six-speed automatic.
The AWD wagon lists at $34,500, and the convertible goes from $40,750 to $58,325.
I tested the A4 sedan with both engines and found the V-6 was smoother and delivered the most neck-snapping acceleration (0-60 mph in 6.2 seconds.) But the A4 is no laggard with the four-cylinder. That engine provides very lively acceleration. However, flooring the throttle with it for passing maneuvers in an automatic-transmission test car caused the engine to become very noisy as the transmission downshifted to a passing gear. There's no such fuss during moderate acceleration or when cruising, though.
The A4 sedan is no fuel-miser, because it weighs approximately 3,800 pounds with all its standard equipment. Still, the four-cylinder provides an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 30 on highways with the manual and 21 and 27 with the automatic. Figures are 23 and 30 with the CVT. The V-6 delivers 17 city and 26 highway.
The A4 sedan is upscale, so standard features include leather upholstery, power glass sunroof, tilt/telescopic wheel, power front bucket seats, automatic climate control, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, split/folding rear seat and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.