Mite-Sized, but Mighty
The A4 puts Audi's knack for turbo four-cylinder engines on display and goes to show that horsepower is only one part of the performance equation. The A4's tiny, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and its 211 hp rating may seem meager, but a robust 258 pounds-feet of torque coming as low as 1,500 rpm mean the car scoots. I could leave our test car's six-speed manual in 5th or 6th gear and hum along at 40 mph with enough power to ramp up speed as needed. Stand on the gas and the A4 rockets toward redline with no sign of power running out until the car's rev limiter kicks in somewhere north of 6,000 rpm.
Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive also impresses, sending 60 percent of power to the rear wheels under normal conditions. It can route as much as 85 percent to the rear for some tail-drifting action, and the turbo A4 displays better dynamics and less nose-heaviness than the V-6 A4 that was offered at the outset of this generation. The new electric power steering for 2013, which shaves scant weight over the nose versus the prior hydraulic setup, also can't hurt. The A4 still lacks the outright driftability of a pure rear-drive sport sedan like the Infiniti G or BMW 3 Series, but it comes close enough for more casual enthusiasts.
The electric steering gets my thumbs-up. It still provides plenty of power assist at low speeds — long an Audi characteristic — where performance enthusiasts will probably find it too light. But the wheel firms up progressively as speed increases and responds with engaging feedback on curvy roads. A Driver Assist Package can adjust drivetrain and steering response — including the steering ratio, not just power assist — to comfort or performance settings. Audi got the steering right enough, though; the package may not be necessary.
Our test car had optional 18-inch wheels and lower-profile tires, as well as a sport-tuned suspension. The sport suspension had a firm ride, with noticeable disruption over angled slabs of pavement and the like, but it soaked up expansion joints and small potholes well. This version is sort of a midlevel performer, falling between the suspension extremes: the base A4's standard suspension with cushier 17-inch tires and the S Line Plus Package with 19-inch tires and the sport suspension.
EPA-estimated gas mileage with the manual is a respectable 22/32 mpg city/highway, but like some competitors, Audi requires premium gas. An eight-speed automatic is available on all-wheel-drive models, but it loses 2 mpg (20/30 mpg); front-wheel-drive cars have a continuously variable automatic transmission that gets 24/31 mpg.