For several years, Audi's bread-and-butter car in the United States has been the A4. The company sells roughly 40,000 a year, with Avants making up roughly 10 percent of the mix. It's no surprise that, with such a small number of Avant sales, Audi isn't concerned about providing a huge amount of product diversity. With the launch of its new A4 Avant, Audi has announced that the only driveline combination for the North American market in the Avant will be a six-speed automatic 2.0T with the new rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The new A4 shares many characteristics with the new A5, including an engine that's been mounted lower and slightly further back. Better weight distribution and rear-wheel-biased Quattro make for a more rewarding drive.
Audi will also launch the car with Audi Drive Select, which controls suspension, throttle response, shifting and both steering response and effort at the push of a button. In sport mode, the car feels sharp and responsive yet still supple. Comfort mode is a little too soft for a vehicle touted as a sport wagon and most drivers probably won't see a need for it.
The new 2.0T now has 211 hp and an impressive 258 lb-ft of torque (more than the 3.2-liter V6 available in the sedan), and offers 13 percent better fuel economy than the previous version. The most interesting variant, however, is a drivetrain we aren't scheduled to receive. A 3.0-liter TDI offers S4 levels of acceleration with 2.0T fuel economy. Within the year, we should start seeing diesel engines in North America-bound Q7s. If customer response is strong enough, Audi will spread diesels across the entire product line, so there's still hope.
There's less hope, though, that the U.S. market will see the Avant body spread to the S and RS versions. At this point, Audi states that both the next-generation S4 and RS4 will only reach us as sedans. It's a shame, because the Avant offers the cargo-carrying abilities of an SUV with none of the downsides associated with those vehicles.
The A4 Avant should start arriving at dealerships in early 2009. Audi has yet to release pricing, but says customers will see only a slight increase in price. The large panoramic sunroof will be standard equipment along with a reversible trunk floor. Expect the car to offer several options as packages to decrease complexity.
Overall, this is probably still the best value in its segment. A little extra space and improved dynamics has taken what was already a great vehicle and bumped it up a notch.
2009 Audi A4 Avant
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
2.0-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
F: Five-link with upper and lower wishbones, anti-roll bar
R: Independent, trapezoidal link, anti-roll bar
Dual circuit system with diagonal split, ventilated front discs
Length//Width/Height (in.): 185.2/71.9/56.5
Wheelbase: 110.6 in.
Curb Weight: 3,240 lb
Peak Power: 211 hp
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft
*What We Like:
SUV utility with no truckish downside
*What We Don't:
The absence of a TDI-powered version in the States
Price Tag $ TBA