Pros: Very good or great in all categories-MPG, lighting, performance, fit and finish.
Cons: Expensive. More autobahn than autocross.
Six Month Review
First, a warning. Your local dealer will be a huge part of your ownership experience. If you have a bad dealer (as I do), you will regret owning this car. Be sure to verify your dealer's reputation via online forums, the Better Business Bureau, and personal contacts. Since Audi dealers are few and far between, you cannot easily avoid problem dealers. My complaints to Audi of America have done no good. So be warned!
What has changed in 6 months? As I have gotten past the honeymoon period, here is what sticks out in my mind:
The stock stereo isn't very good. I will try replacing the speakers with replacements from Crutchfield as my to-do list shrinks.
I really like that each band (AM & FM) retain their own tone control settings.
The Tiptronic 6-speed automatic transmission doesn't respond well when you NEED quick acceleration from a stop-some of the time. That is, 90% of the time, the tranny works fine. But that 10% when you REALLY need to get across a busy highway intersection will result in a transmission/throttle-by-wire that scratches it's head for 1 to 1.5 seconds before deciding what to do. Mode (Drive/Sport/Tip) doesn't matter. The best solution I've found is to use no more than 1/2 throttle. This is a very frustrating situation.
The standard, non-sport suspension is still harsh. Softer sidewall tires may help...
Gas mileage has dropped to 24-25 mpg, from 28-29. This is due in part to more aggressive driving, but is unexpected.
The climate control is annoying to use. I don't like the way the auto setting blows air around the cabin, and taking full manual control means lots of button presses. Rotary dials for temp and fan speed would work much better. The air conditioning is weak, and it takes 15 minutes to get the car to a comfortable temperature in 75 degree ambient temps.
My driving history: 35 years, 13 motorcycles (sport bike, trail bike, motocross), 1976 Honda Civic, 1988 Honda CRX, 1994 Eagle Vision, 1995 Eagle Talon AWD Turbo, 1999 Subaru Outback Limited, 2006 Audi A4 Avant. Most of these have been modified for more performance-suspension, engine, and lights. My passion is taking the apex at WFO, which is why I switched to AWD.
Final verdict: The turbocharged Subaru Legacy wagon was overpriced at $33,000. The Audi is worth the $5,000 extra.
With only 500 miles on the car, I've not spent much time at WOT! For a 30 mpg 4-cylinder automatic, performance is wonderful. The car is not as neck-snappingly powerful as the fairly-well modified 1996 Talon AWD Turbo I owned previously (about 250 wheel HP, and 5-speed manual), but is much stronger than the cylinder-back-exhausted 1999 Subaru Outback (about 185 wheel HP w/5-speed manual).
I am able to get 29.7 mpg on my 40 miles over hilly suburban and countryside drive to work. If I push as hard as possible, in Sport shift mode, that falls to 24 mpg. I expect to get at least 2 mpg more as the engine and drivetrain break in. Incredible!
The 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is a large part of why I own this car. With one miserable exception, I've owned nothing but manuals-from the perfect 5-speed in the Honda CRX, to the clutch-grabbing, driveline-snatching Outback that started me thinking about an automatic. (Not to mention the wife who can't drive a stick.) In 'D', the tranny upshifts as early as 2000 rpm, maximizing mileage. In 'S'port mode, 5th gear drives you down the highway, with instant turbo boost. Downshifts in either mode are very fast, and very smooth even without a dip in power. Tiptronic mode allows you to select any gear with a push or pull of the lever. The shift computer will not let you overrev (it upshifts), and will not upshift below 2000 or so rpm. The throttle gets blipped on downshifts without any jolt! Perfect!
The exhaust has a nice rumble when accelerating from a stop.
Stiff compression and rebound damping perfectly control body motions in aggressive cornering. Steering effort is high. Competent, but not inspiring. It's an autobahn car, not an autocross car.
The steering wheel is uncomfortably thick for my adult male hands. Although the leather is perforated, the finish is quite slick. My preference would be for a surface as grippy as suede. At highway speeds, quite alot of effort is needed to steer the car through a tight corner. After one week and 500 miles of driving, I cannot find the confidence to explore the traction limit.
However, straight-line stability is excellent. The steering ratio is also very quick. The car darts left/right with only a small turn of the wheel.
The brake feel is both very good, and too grabby. In stop-and-go traffic, you must be very light on the pedal. Shifting the automatic to neutral helps avoid head-snapping decel. However, panic braking provides a literally dizzyingly quick stop! Through 13 motorcycles and 9 cars, none has come close to the braking power afforded by this car. Excellent!
The throttle has that same "way to quick" linkage off-idle that so many cars have today. The throttle spring is also very soft. Couple that with the lightning-quick turbo spool-up, and you get unintended acceleration (grin) at 2000 rpm in second gear, as when rounding a 90 degree bend, or from a stoplight. This effect can be overcome after a few days experience, but I wish there was an exponential increase in throttle activation, rather than linear. On the other hand, at highway speeds the throttle response works well. Since this is a fly-by-wire throttle, Audi should be able to program both behaviors into the throttle.
A light press of the turn signal stalk triggers a 'lane change signal' of 3 flashes. I would prefer 5 flashes, or having the signals stay on until 100-200 feet had been traversed (similar to motorcycle practice).
The cruise control stalk is located at 8 o'clock, and is hidden by the steering wheel rim. It is lower than I would prefer. A light touch on the end-of-stalk button sets the speed to *exactly* what the car was traveling, and that speed is held perfectly. The system does not need to be reset to ON each time the car is started-hurrah! There is *no* jerk as the cruise control takes effect.
The wiper uses a rain sensor. Switch the stalk to intermittent, set the delay to minimum, and forget about it. In fog, light, or heavy rain, it works great. Very nice! I have experienced some odd behavior when the windshield was wet at startup. Switching the wipers off, then back on rectified operation.
All these controls are slightly different in operation and placement than most cars I've been in. Even after a week of daily driving, I need to think about what I'm doing. I'd like to see a more-Japanese-like layout.
The instruments are lit by red LED's with a limited range of brightness, but are very clear and easy to read. The color information display is too bright and distracting on dark roads, reducing your night vision somewhat.
The mirrors auto-dim at dusk. I love this feature! In heavy fog, there's too much ambient light to dim the mirrors, but that SUV 5 feet from your bumper will blind you. There's no manual override, so you'll need to work out some solution.
Fit & Finish
The tightest seams I've ever seen. The front suspension control arms are beautiful. I'm not one for form over function, but Audi has a great reputation, and deserves it. One caveat-the aluminum diamond-pattern trim in my car reflects the sun, which can be blinding. This only happened on the test drive, but will occur again when the sun is in the wrong position (next year?!).
The A4 provides a "controlled ride". That's magazine-speak for stiff damping. I suspect there's quite a bit of stiction (sticking friction-it takes more force to break loose the seals on the shocks, than it does to keep them sliding) which will correct itself as the miles pile on. Surprisingly, even with the ContiProContact 234/45 17 tires, expansion joints are not felt.
The 12-way power leather seats are very comfortable. I would prefer more of a pocket profile in the seat base, as the seat portion is very flat. The positioning controls take 1/2 second to respond to pressure, making small adjustments quite difficult. There's a huge amount of leg room, and shoulder-to-door room, too.
Climate control holds the set temperature very well. The only downside is a noisy fan even at 4/10ths.
I like the looks of the car, with the single exception being that the side profile would look better if the nose tipped down more. The Brilliant Red paint is perfect on my car.
Xenon headlights-you NEED these! This is the first-ever vehicle I've been in that light up the road, even on low-beam, even with streams of oncoming traffic. They tip up under heavy braking, and dip down under heavy acceleration. They are so good that you cannot notice a change when the fogs are turned on/off. There's plenty of light 200' in front of the car. Super!
Burned-out bulbs are supposedly specifically indicated in the message area.
The black dash's reflection is quite low on the windshield, but could be even less.
The stock Symphony radio has excellent AM reception. FM is as good as the transmission allows. Bass response is strong, and flat down to maybe 40-50 Hz. Plenty good enough in a moving car. Mids and highs are slightly harsh, but this may change as the speakers break in. The GALA system reduces volume as you slow down from highway speeds. Although adjustable, there's not enough reduction for my taste. Nice touch, though. AM, FM, and CD retain separate tone settings (bass, mid, treble). Nice touch! Controls are actually easy and intuitive-no fluff here. For a stock low-end system, this is very good.