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Thursday, January 20, 2011

2010 Audi A4 2.0t Road Test

2010 Audi A4 2.0t2010 Audi A4 2.0t

The worst drive of the year is the run to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In the midst of winter, the 401 that links Toronto to the Motor City can be as benign as a walk in the park (nodding off because of the tedium being the biggest risk). Conversely, it can be a hellish slog along an ice-covered ribbon of road in the midst of a whiteout. Over the years, I have encountered both. The solution is to take a leaf out of the Boy Scout’s manual — Be Prepared. In that regard, an Audi A4 is about as good as it gets.

In the tester’s case, the 2.0-litre turbocharged four’s 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque was fired to the tarmac through a slick-shifting six-speed manual box, Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system and a good set of winter tires.

The engine is a sweet worker that never feels like it’s being taxed. The fact the torque clocks in at 1,500 rpm and stays with the program until the horsepower is at a full canter means that, unlike so many blown engines, there is never a lull in the action because turbo lag is a non-issue. For the record, the 2.0T scampers to 100 kilometres an hour in 6.6 seconds and does the 80-to-120-km/h passing move in 4.8 seconds in third gear.

The manual box helps enormously. The ratios are right and the shifter’s action is slick — it does not feel as though there is a length of knicker elastic between the shifter and the gearbox. Throw in a light progressive clutch that puts the bite point in the right place and you have a transmission that snicks through its gears with a rare precision. This holds true whether inching along in stop-and-go traffic or flogging through one’s favourite set of sweepers.

The power then reaches the road through Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system. In this application, it splits the power 40%/60% front to rear, which imparts a rear-drive feel. This system is about as good as all-wheel drive gets — the only reason the driver knows the system is doing its thing is because of the lack of wheelspin and the vices it introduces. The power is always sent to the wheel(s) that can best put the engine’s effort to work. If one front or rear wheel begins to spin, the anti-lock braking system is used to brake that wheel, which sends the power across the car to the wheel with traction. It is so proficient it all but negates the need for winter tires. That said, when equipped with the right tires, the quattro system transforms the car into a winter stalwart.

The powertrain has another unspoken advantage. The turbo and its low-end torque allow the car to be driven in a taller gear without making the engine feel as though it is lugging, which helps fuel economy.

The A4’s handling characteristics build on the driving experience. Throw the car into a corner and it runs through a looping on-ramp as though it’s on rails. Much of the credit goes to the balance the all-wheel-drive system brings to the party, but the S Line’s firmer spring and damper rates and large P245/40R18 winter tires tied things down. Body roll is just not there, understeer likewise until one oversteps the mark, and the tires, in spite of their winter tread design, deliver a ton of lateral grip. If things do go pear-shaped, there’s an electronic overseer waiting to right the wrong. Surprisingly, the tweaked suspenders and dialled-in road manners do not hurt ride comfort — the A4 trundled along absorbing all but the largest frost heaves in stride.

Inside, the A4 is a fine example of why many consider Audi to be the leader in interior design, especially when it is equipped with the S Line package. Up front, the wingback buckets hug the riders without confining, the steering wheel has a pleasant heft to it and the driving position is superb. The layout is also entirely logical, which means everything is readily reached and easily operated. If Audi is to be taken to task it is for wrapping up Bluetooth in the lengthy $3,900 Premium package on the quattro model — with more jurisdictions mandating hands-free communication, it should be standard equipment.

One of the A4’s traditional weaknesses is gone as there is now some semblance of rear-seat space. Stretching the wheelbase by 162 millimetres and making the car wider mean two adults can ride in the back with room to spare. Likewise, the 16.9-cubic-foot trunk capacity is up to the task of toting a family of four’s luggage.

There was a lot to like about the previous Audi A4. The latest version is so much better — it now competes head to head with its key German rivals. The beauty of the rework is that it does not blunt the edgier drive whatsoever. The A4 still feels lithe and alive while accommodating its riders in a more spacious cabin. Oh, and that dreaded drive? It passed without incident. The fact the A4 returned a wallet-pleasing average of 7.9 litres per 100 km cemented my admiration for the car.

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