Audi has wrung quite a bit of performance from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, which powers all versions of the A4. Whether accelerating from a stoplight or merging on the highway, the engine feels bigger than it is, bringing you up to speed more quickly than its specs suggest. There's even a little power in reserve on the highway when a burst is needed. All in all, it feels just as strong as the BMW 328i with its inline-six-cylinder engine. Credit the turbo four-cylinder's healthy 258 pounds-feet of torque at a low 1,500 rpm.
Our test car had the newly optional eight-speed automatic transmission. Despite the high gear count, the transmission doesn't seem overly busy, and that's partly because of its relatively seamless shifts. However, one editor noted that the transmission had a tendency to hesitate under light acceleration.
Downshifts come quickly enough with a jab of the gas pedal. If it needs to, the transmission will skip a few gears to get to the one it needs, rather than step down one at a time. A Sport mode holds the transmission in lower gears longer, and there's a clutchless-manual mode for driver-controlled shifts.
The A4 gets better gas mileage with the new transmission, which is especially welcome because the car requires premium gas. The all-wheel-drive A4 is rated at 21/29 mpg city/highway with the eight-speed automatic, which represents a 2 mpg improvement in highway fuel economy compared with the six-speed 2010 model. Meanwhile, the front-wheel-drive A4 with a continuously variable automatic transmission gets an EPA-estimated 22/30 mpg.
The A4's four-wheel disc brakes quickly shed speed, but the brake pedal doesn't offer the greatest feel. I thought the brakes were a little grabby, while another editor commented on the lack of pedal linearity when braking.