Audi got on the tech bandwagon early, which earned models from previous years high points from our tech-centric perspective. With navigation, premium stereo sound, and Bluetooth cell phone integration, we couldn't help but like these cars. But car companies have long product cycles, and the car systems that looked so good in the 2005 model haven't changed any for the 2007 model. The navigation interface in the A4 looks clunky, and the glove box-mounted CD changer doesn't support MP3 CDs.
Navigation or MP3?
The cabin of the A4 feels well built, with aesthetically pleasing materials and colors all around, fitting for Volkswagen's upscale brand. While not cramped, the interior is on the small side, so the car's electronics are packed into the center stack. As opposed to the Audi Q7's console-mounted MultiMedia Interface (MMI) controller, a smaller MMI controller sits just to the right of the car's LCD. The MMI is a very usable system and doesn't take long to learn. Its push-button knob works for selecting and scrolling through choices presented on the screen, while four buttons let the driver choose functions displayed at the corresponding four corners of the screen.
The MMI controls navigation, the stereo, paired cell phones, and other car systems. Although we like how the MMI works, the navigation interface needs improvement, as not all of its menu labels are very intuitive. Users need to press the Route button to enter a destination, and the Route menu offers a submenu titled Destin. Given the size of the screen, there's no need to abbreviate destination. The navigation system also shows its age by lacking retail stores in its points-of-interest database, although it does have restaurants, gas stations, and other useful places.
The navigation works quite well. The map is bright and relatively easy to read, while route guidance is precise and displays upcoming turns. The system doesn't have text-to-speech, a feature that reads out street names and is present on more high-end navigation systems. When we intentionally got off course, it recalculated quickly and quietly, advising us on the next turn that would get us to our destination. The route guidance voice prompts also weren't as insistent as on the Audi Q7 we tested recently. One major drawback of the A4's navigation system is that destinations can't be chosen from the map.
Our A4 came with the Bose premium audio option, the 10 speakers of which include a subwoofer and a center channel. The sound quality of this system is very good, with well-balanced speakers filling the small cabin of the A4 and making it difficult to pinpoint individual sound sources. Bass isn't particularly heavy, and some types of music, such as classic rock, get muddy at higher volumes. But acoustic music sounds particularly clear and crisp.
The CD changer in this system is downright primitive. It's mounted in the glove box, the first sign of trouble, and it doesn't play MP3 or WMA CDs. At least that's its configuration when the car comes with the navigation system. Without navigation, the car gets an in-dash changer that plays MP3 CDs. Making up for the changer, two SD card slots hidden behind the navigation LCD read MP3 tracks. A couple of gigs of music should meet most people's entertainment needs. Our car also came equipped with Sirius satellite radio, which the MMI made easy to navigate.
Bluetooth cell phone integration on the A4 works very well and includes very useful features for accessing a phone's address book and recent calls from the car interface. Strangely, we couldn't pair up a Motorola V551 phone to the system, which works in most cars, but a Sony Ericsson K790a did work. The car also features a voice command system, but it controls only the telephone.
Quattro grips the road
The real high point of this A4 is the handling. The Quattro all-wheel-drive system inspires an almost dangerous feeling of confidence while negotiating tight corners or making high-speed lane changes. We heard no tire squeal around fast corners and were left with the feeling that all the tires were doing their part to get the car quickly around corners. The Quattro system uses Audi's Torsen center differential, which pushes engine torque to the rear or front axle depending on which one needs it the most. The effect is stupendous.