Pros: Gorgeous design; Robust navigation system; Integrated Google Earth and Street View; Punchy four-cylinder engine
Cons: Built-in connection is 3G only; MMI Terminal difficult to use while driving
Verdict: Audi's stylish 2013 A4 2.0T Quattro pairs built-in 3G and Google navigation with a turbocharged engine to create a truly connected car.
Audi's 2013 A4 2.0T Quattro is the car for the person who can't bear to be disconnected, even while on the road. This $43,910 mid-size luxury sedan packs its own 3G connection, Google navigation suite and Wi-Fi hotspot functionality. Add to that a punchy turbocharged four-cylinder engine and elegant styling, and you've got a ride that commands serious attention. But does it deserve yours? We spent a week with the A4 to find out.
It might not be all-new, but the latest A4 is still a testament to the skills of the designers from Ingolstadt. For 2013, the luxe mid-sized sedan gets a redesigned grill with angled upper corners and sharper hood lines. In addition to stylish new air inlets, the A4 sees a revised version of Audi's trademark LED daytime running lights, which are still the best looking in the land.
All of this comes together to give the 2013 A4 a look that says it's ready to do battle with the best entry-level luxury cars on the planet. Add to that the 18-inch 10-spoke wheels, a decklid spoiler and sleek, angular body panels coated in Phantom Black Pearl paint and you've got one of the most stylish cars you can get for less than $45,000. Not interested in black? How about Ibis White or Moonlight Blue? These are two of the 12 available color options.
True to form, the A4's fit and finish is exquisite. Soft-touch materials blanket the dash and doors, and the sumptuous leather seats felt well bolstered. An elegant silver trim runs around the instrument panel and HVAC vents, while an Aluminum Trigon Inlay hugs the A4's center console. Overall, ergonomics were satisfactory. Most switches and dials are positioned within easy reach of the driver. Unfortunately, when in park, the gear selector tends to obstruct a large portion of the HVAC controls.
Available as part of the $4,200 A4 Premium Plus package, Audi's optional $3,050 MMI Navigation Plus system includes a 6.5-inch 800 x 480 display. Users interact with the infotainment system via a series of controls located in the center console directly behind the gear selector (pictured). The setup, which Audi refers to as its MMI Terminal, includes a combination rotary knob and joystick flanked by two buttons. Drivers use the knob to choose between various onscreen options and press the joystick to make selections.
Each of the surrounding buttons correspond to menu options located in the four corners. If, for example, you are in the Radio menu and want to access the Presets option in the top left corner of the screen, you would press the top left button on the MMI Terminal. Four additional buttons let users access the MMI Navigation system's primary Telephone, Navigation, Media and Radio functions, each of which get their own color-coded interface.
If you're worried about keeping your eyes on the road, you can ignore those buttons and instead use the A4's steering wheel-mounted controls. Two clickable scroll wheels on either side of the steering wheel let users control the Telephone, Navigation, Media and Radio functions via the Driver Information Display situated between the speedometer and tachometer in the A4's instrument cluster. A third button on the right side of the wheel controls the Audi's voice recognition feature. We spent most of our time using the steering-wheel controls, since the MMI Terminal's position on the center console makes it difficult to use while driving.
Previously available in its upmarket A6, A7 and A8 models, 2013 marks the first time Audi's Web-based AudiConnect system makes an appearance in the A4. The system, which is powered by an Nvidia processor, allows users to connect to Google Earth, Google Street View, check the weather forecast, read breaking news stories, find nearby gas prices and even look up information on notable landmarks via the car's 6.5-inch display. Unlike other in-car systems, which run Web-based applications such as Pandora via a user's smartphone connection, the Audi A4 has its own SIM card and data connection powered by T-Mobile.
The benefit to this setup is that users don't have to rely on their smartphone to get online, so using up precious data in your plan isn't a concern. The downside is that AudiConnect uses a 3G connection, which means data speeds will be slower than if it ran on a user's 4G LTE smartphone connection. And let's not forget that this setup requires users to pay separate data fees for their car. Audi provides an initial six-month data package, after which users can choose to pay either $30 a month, or opt for a one-year plan for $324 or a two-year plan for $600. And in case you're wondering, yes, the A4's connection can be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Overall, we found AudiConnect to be an incredibly robust tool. Despite the slower 3G connection, standard satellite views of Google Earth loaded quickly, and we never noticed a buffering effect while we the car was moving. The inclusion of Google Earth and Street View allows users to zoom out far enough to see the entire Earth, or zoom in close enough to read apartment numbers.
AudiConnect's Weather feature displays precipitation maps and three-day forecasts for your immediate vicinity, a specific city or the destination you enter into the Navigation menu. While we give the edge to Mercedes' mbrace system, which let us navigate that system's precipitation map -- something you can't do in the Audi -- Audi's Weather feature is certainly a close second.
AudiConnect News offers a steady stream of top stories from news sources including NPR and AFPNews. Stories are presented as headlines, which users can then click on using the MMI Terminal to open a full text version of the article, as well as any related images. Of course, the feature is unavailable while the vehicle is moving.
Our favorite AudiConnect feature was Travel Information, which let us search our immediate vicinity, destination -- or any city, for that matter -- for places of interest. Once a locale is selected, AudiConnect begins populating a list of potential POIs, complete with each location's history.
Maps and Navigation
Thanks to Google Earth, the Audi A4's navigation and map features are some of the best we've seen in a car, with satellite views rendered in razor-sharp detail. Users have the option of entering their destination via the MMI Terminal or, if they are driving, the A4's voice recognition system. We used the latter option on our way to a family member's house for Thanksgiving dinner and were impressed with its accuracy. We also appreciated Audi's decision to prominently display the most common voice commands on the system's 6.5-inch screen when the voice recognition feature was active. However, displaying these options on the Driver Information Display would have been equally helpful.
Drivers can choose either a satellite view of their route or a standard beige-colored map. On the left side of the screen is a list of the next three turns. As you begin to approach a turn, the list transitions to an easy-to-read diagram of the upcoming intersection.
On the screen's right are options for map orientation, zoom level, distance and estimated time of arrival, elevation, and the speed limit of the road you're driving on. Further driving directions are also displayed on the Driver Infomation Display in the A4's instrument panel.
Audi also managed to incorporate Google Local Search and Google Voice Local Search into the A4. With Google Local Search and Voice Local Search, we found restaurants, entertainment venues and even florists near our Manhattan office, as well as directions and estimated arrival times for each.
If you don't want to pull over to search for directions to a destination, you can look them up from your laptop or tablet using Google Maps and send them to your myAudi account. When you enter your car and open the myAudi Destination option under the Navigation menu, your directions will be available for download.
Satellite and Audio
Audi loaded our test A4 with a CD/ DVD player with HD radio, Bluetooth, two SD card readers, an aux-in port, 40GB hard drive, a 30-pin iPod and USB adapter and three months of free Sirius satellite radio. With that many options, it's safe to say we had most of our media needs covered. Thanks to the included Audi Premium Sound system, music sounded pitch-perfect no matter what source we were using. Even with the volume set to its highest, music was never distorted.
We tended to use the Sirius satellite and FM radios the most, followed closely by Bluetooth. Audi's setup displays track information for songs streamed over Bluetooth, something that's been missing from systems found in other vehicles. Users can control audio settings, adjust the volume and change sources using either the MMI Terminal or the A4's steering wheel-mounted controls. We tended to stick to the steering wheel controls as they were easiest to operate while driving.
Our test Audi A4 came packed with a rear-facing camera that streams live video to the car's 6.5-inch display whenever the car is in reverse. Video quality was clear enough to see cracks in the pavement while parked in our driveway, so seeing other cars or stationary objects was no problem. Audi's camera also includes a dynamic guide that moves as users turn the wheel, showing exactly where your car is headed.
If you're looking for additional safety measures, the $9,750 Prestige package includes Audi Side Assist blind-spot monitoring, a feature that can automatically detect when another vehicle is in your car's blind spot and alert you via audible and visual notifications. For $3,250 more, the Driver Assist Package includes Audi Adaptive Cruise Control, which can detect other vehicles in your path and automatically apply the brakes.
Under the hood, the A4 2.0T Quattro packs a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 211 horsepower and an impressive 258 lb-ft of torque. Our Audi's eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission included standard Drive, Sport and Manual modes. While in Sport mode, the transmission will hold gears to the engine's redline in order to get the most out of each shift. In manual mode, you take over the shifting yourself, although it's not as fun as using a true manual transmission.
A bonus of having eight forward gears mated to a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is relatively high fuel economy. The EPA estimates the A4 can get 20 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway for a combined rating of 24 mpg. If you spend your time pushing the Audi to the limit like we did, however, you'll see significantly lower numbers.
The A4 glided over rutted highways and expansion joints with aplomb. And despite its middle-of-the-road 211 horsepower, the Audi's four-cylinder offered a spirited driving experience. That spirit was on full display when we switched over to Sport mode and let the turbocharged four-banger loose on a deserted highway. Smash the gas and you'll hit 60 miles per hour from a standstill in a zippy 6.3 seconds.
But it's not the A4's speed that draws your attention, it's the handling, which comes courtesy of Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Powering around tight corners and onto highway on-ramps was an absolute joy. You felt connected to the car at all times. Steering resistance builds predictably, thanks to the A4's electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering. To put it another way, the A4 is simply fun to drive.
The base Audi A4 will set customers back $32,500. The Premium Plus package that our car came with will cost you an additional $4,200, and offers 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, three-zone climate control and Audi's Convenience Package. This package includes Audi's iPod interface, Bluetooth connectivity and Driver Information System with trip computer. Step up to the Prestige package for $9,750 more and you'll get everything included in the Premium Plus package as well as Audi's MMI Navigation Plus system, Audi Side Assist, a Bang & Olufsen sound system and adaptive lighting.
Audi's 2013 A4 2.0T Quattro is an achievement in more than a few ways. The gorgeous styling helps make this vehicle lust-worthy, and the handling is above reproach. While the A4's AudiConnect suite sets it apart from the competition, paying an additional $40 per month for data -- and 3G data at that -- will probably turn off some. Still, the A4's comprehensive infotainment and navigation features, coupled with strong performance, makes it a luxury car that you'll love to own.
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