2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008 Audi A4

North Vancouver, B.C. – In Europe, luxury station wagons are more popular than SUVs and crossover vehicles – at least for now – which might explain why Canadian consumers can still get a good selection of imported wagons from German, Swedish and British automakers while American and Japanese luxury automakers, who have largely embraced SUVs and crossovers, have little to offer.

In the “near-luxury” car class, the wagon buffet includes the Audi A4 Avant Quattro, BMW 328xi Touring, Volvo V50, Saab 9-3 SportCombi, and Jaguar X-Type SportWagon. Unfortunately, the new 2008 Mercedes-Benz C-Class wagon won’t be imported to Canada and I sincerely hope this is not a sign of things to come. The Volkswagen Passat Wagon and the Subaru Legacy 2.5GT Wagon, though not luxury brands, might also be considered in this class.

Given how much importance Europeans place on driving dynamics, it’s easy to see why wagons are still so popular there. Compared to an SUV or crossover, a typical wagon offers better handling and stability due to its lower centre of gravity, car-like unit-body construction and car-based suspension design; its lighter curb weight means better performance and fuel economy for a given engine size; driver visibility is generally better enhancing driving safety and parking ease; the roof height is lower making it more ‘garage-able’; a lower floor height makes getting in and out easier and loading cargo easier – in fact, wagons often have as much, or more cargo space than similarly-priced SUVs which typically have a very high cargo floor. Lastly, wagons generally have cleaner, more attractive styling. The one area where SUVs are almost always better is ground clearance, an advantage in deep snow and off-road trails.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Still, with standard Quattro all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, traction control, rear differential lock, anti-lock brakes and a good set of snow tires, the Audi A4 Avant is an extremely capable vehicle on any slick or snow-covered paved or gravel surface. It’s not intended to be an off-road vehicle, and most A4 buyers have no intention of going off-road anyway.

The A4 Avant is perhaps the handsomest of all the Euro-wagons on the market. With the possible exception of its large front grille, the A4 Avant is a model of subtlety, sophistication and simplicity. Its clean lines and assured stance are attractive from just about any angle. My test vehicle, a 2008 A4 Avant 2.0TFSI painted in Light Metallic Silver, drew admiring glances and unsolicited comments from bystanders who generally liked its rich paint finish, chrome accents, polished aluminum roof rails, and attractive alloy wheels. The A4 Avant does look expensive, which helps to justify its as-tested price of just under $47,000.

Speaking of price, the base price of the 2008 A4 Avant 2.0TFSI dropped by more than a thousand dollars since it was first announced in April, 2007. At that time, the base A4 Avant was $43,600, an increase of $1,260 over the 2007 model. As of September 1, 2007, the base price was lowered back down to $42,350 – no doubt as a result of strong consumer pressure to bring Canadian prices closer to lower American prices.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Still, a quick check of the Audi USA web site reveals that the ’08 A4 Avant 2.0T starts at U.S.$32,000 – however, the American model doesn’t include standard leather seats and a few other features that are standard in the Canadian A4 – still, the price difference is considerable.

For 2008, the Canadian A4 Avant comes standard with a no-charge Special Edition package which includes bi-xenon headlights, auto-dimming side mirrors, power passenger seat, trip computer, compass, memory selections for driver’s seat and mirrors, delayed headlights, and S-Line badges on the grille, bumpers and trunk. The S-Line badges are a bit deceiving though because this model does not have the optional S-Line Sport Package ($2,000), which includes a sport suspension, three-spoke sport steering wheel with shift paddles, and 18-inch alloys.

My 2008 A4 Avant test vehicle had only two options, a six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission ($1,350) and Light Metallic Silver paint ($750), bringing the as-tested price to $45,700 – plus Freight ($800) and A/C tax ($100) for a total of $46,600.


Driving impressions

A4 Avants are available with two engines: a 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-litre FSI DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, and a 255-hp 3.2-litre FSI DOHC 24-valve V6. Transmission choices are a standard six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic Tiptronic with manual shift mode.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

My test vehicle had the standard 2.0-litre turbo four, which Audi says was the first engine to combine turbocharging with FSI (Fuel Straight Injection). The 2.0T produces 200 hp from 5,100 to 6,000 rpm, and 207 lb-ft. of torque which starts at just 1,800 r.p.m. and remains flat all the way up to 5,000 r.p.m. FSI technology uses a common rail high-pressure fuel injection system to inject fuel directly into the combustion chambers. According to the company, this provides increased torque and power with reduced exhaust emissions when compared with competitor’s engines of a similar size. In fact, Audi says the 2.0T has more torque than some of its competitor’s six cylinder engines. The 2.0TFSI engine was named “Engine of the Year” at the International Engine of the Year (IEOTY) competition in 2006.

From a standing start, there is a slight lag in throttle response, but the turbo boost comes on quickly and the A4 Avant accelerates rapidly from 0 to 100 km/h in about 7.6 seconds, according to the automaker. Highway passing is no problem because the boost is always on past 1,800 r.pm., and maximum torque is always available at higher speeds. Freeway cruising is relaxed and quiet, with the engine turning over just 2,000 r.p.m. at a steady 100 km/h. Fuel consumption is a rated at 10.8 litres/100 km City and 7.2 litres/100 km Highway, but the 2.0T uses more expensive Premium unleaded gas.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

The only criticism I have of this engine is the “rattling” sound it makes at idle and under light acceleration. The sound is almost diesel-like, and though it’s not accompanied by undue engine vibrations, it detracts from the otherwise smooth, sophisticated character of the car. I understand this noise is partly due to the FSI system. Perhaps some extra sound insulation would be a good idea.

The A4’s driving dynamics are superb, and for this reason alone, many buyers should justify switching from a crossover to an A4 Avant. With the A4’s engine and transmission mounted longitudinally rather than transversely, the A4 Avant offers more lateral stability, improved ride quality, and fewer driveline vibrations than some transverse powertrain layouts. Combined with a fully independent suspension – a four-link front suspension and self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension, both made of light-alloy components to reduce unsprung weight – the A4 Avant offers nimble handling and an excellent ride. The standard Pirelli P6 FourSeasons 235/45R-17 inch tires on my press car provided excellent grip in during a week of dry and wet weather conditions. The A4 Avant feels lighter than its 1700 kg (3748 lbs) would indicate, perhaps because it has so much power, agility and braking performance.

To the driver, the standard Quattro all-wheel drive system is essentially invisible. It operates automatically transferring torque via a Torsen differential to the front and rear as needed. As well, the car’s traction control works with the rear electronic differential lock to provide yaw (directional) control. In addition, the standard Electronic Stabilization Control automatically brakes some or all of the wheels to help steer the car back to its intended direction if it starts to slip sideways. All of this is done seamlessly.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Though some critics dislike the extremely light steering feel of Audi’s Servotronic speed-dependent rack and pinion steering, I found myself enjoying the ease of getting in and out of tight parking spots. At higher speeds, the firmer steering feel provides excellent straight-line tracking and cornering response is quick without being too sensitive. And the A4 Avant’s turning diameter of 11.1 metres (36.4 ft.) makes it easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces.

The A4’s brakes are fantastic. Pedal feel is not too grabby, but when you put your foot down, this wagon stops on a dime. The A4 Avant includes four discs, anti-lock and brake assist for emergency stops. It even includes an automatic disc wiping feature to keep the disc rotors dry.

Another important aspect to the A4 Avant’s performance is the driver’s outward visibility. Unlike many SUVs, the A4 Avant has excellent sight-lines in all directions – there are no bulky pillars to block vision – even the three rear head restraints don’t restrict rear vision because they can be pushed down flush with the top of the seatbacks. The rear window includes a handy wiper and washer to keep it clean in the winter.


Interior impressions

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Audi interiors have long been praised for their attractiveness and functionality, and they really set the standard for other automakers to follow back in the early 90s. The A4/S4 was given the “2005 Auto Interior of the Year” award by Ward’s Automotive Reports, a noted industry publication. But while still very attractive, some of the functionality is starting to fall behind other automakers, in my opinion. Let’s start with what’s good.

Fit and finish is excellent. Top grade plastics in the dash, comfortable, quality leather seats, real aluminum trim, clean uncomplicated dash design, easy to read gauges and displays, and many thoughtful touches highlight this attractive cockpit.

The driving position is very comfortable, with an adjustable tilt/telescopic steering wheel and height adjustable driver (and passenger) seat to help most drivers find the right seating position. The front seats also have multi-temperature seat heaters. I particularly liked the thumb scrolls on the steering wheel for adjusting the audio system.

The large round tach and speedo are easy to read, and the tach includes a display with the time and date. Between the gauges is a display with a digital readout for the radio station, outside temperature, ‘km to empty’, and gear selections – the latter is useful when changing gears with the manual Tiptronic shift lever. The centre stack has a large, easy to read red digital display for the radio, and two unique slide out trays for coins, cards, valuables or what-have-you. The heater includes separate driver and passenger temperature controls. At the bottom of the centre stack is a covered ashtray and lighter/12-volt outlet, behind that are two cupholders with spring-loaded cup grips, and further back under the armrest another 12-volt powerpoint and open tray. The folding armrest has a shallow storage bin inside it.

My criticisms centre around the size of the buttons on the radio and heater – while they are backlit in a luminous red at night, they are too small to be read and/or operated at a glance. Many manufacturers have increased the size of dash buttons and script to make them easier to read, and I think Audi needs to do this too. Of course, with limited real estate on the centre console, this is easier said than done – which is one reason Audi went to its “Advanced MMI (Multi Media Interface) system” on some models with one large dial to scroll and point to selections on a screen. Still, automakers like Hyundai seem to be able to design very nice, simple dash layouts with buttons, so it can be done.

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

Another small criticism: the round coolant and fuel gauges are very small and interior storage for front passengers is limited in the A4.

Rear passengers in the A4 Avant have adequate but not generous legroom, and plenty of headroom. For storage, there are two nets on the back of the front seats, and a centre folding armrest with two pop-out cupholders and an enclosed storage area.

The cargo area behind the rear seats is about twice the size of an A4 sedan’s trunk, and the split folding rear seatbacks fold down almost flat to double that again. With the rear seats up, the cargo floor measures about three feet; with the seats folded, it increases to five feet. I would have liked to see a fold-flat front passenger seat as well.

The nicely-finished carpeted cargo area includes a steel scuff guard near the bumper, four chrome tie-down hooks, a net on the left wall, an elastic strap on the right side, a 12-volt outlet, and a sliding privacy cover with a vertical trunk divider. Under the cargo floor is a shallow storage area, and underneath that is a full-size spare tire. The rear hatch can be unlocked remotely with the key fob.

Despite some criticisms, I think the A4’s interior is still one of the nicest you’ll come across with a good combination of style, functionality and practicality.


Safety features

2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition
2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Special Edition. Click image to enlarge

The A4/S4 was the first car in the mid-size luxury segment to receive a “Double Best Pick” rating for its occupant protection in both frontal and side impact crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2008 A4 Avant four stars for driver and passenger in frontal collisions and five stars for front passengers and four stars for rear passengers in side impacts.

The A4’s cabin includes two-stage front airbags, front seat side airbags, and curtain airbags for both rows of seats. Rear side airbags are an extra $500, and probably worth it. LATCH capable child seats can be mounted on the outer positions of the rear seat.


Verdict

A stylish, comfortable, roomy wagon with great performance, the 2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0T has a few minor interior ergonomics issues and a curious “rattling” sound from the standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine.


Pricing: 2008 Audi A4 Avant 2.0TFSI Quattro Special Edition

  • Base price: $43,600
  • Options: $ 2,100 (six-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission, $1,350; Special Edition Package: bi-xenon headlights, auto-dimming side mirrors, power passenger seat, trip computer, compass, memory for driver’s seat and mirrors, delayed headlights, No Charge; Light Silver Metallic exterior colour, $750)
  • Freight: $800
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $46,600 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • TBA


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Competitors

  • 2008 BMW 328xi
  • 2008 Saab 9-3 SportCombi
  • 2008 Subaru Legacy 2.5GT wagon
  • 2008 Volvo V50


Crash test results


Manufacturer’s web site

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