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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

2009 Audi A4

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Audi is on a mission to reinvent itself in the United States, and the 2009 Audi A4 is an important part of that quest. The company hasn't yet grabbed the entry-luxury market by the throat in America as it has in Europe. After spending about a billion dollars thinking about its stance relative to the Bavarian competition, Audi thinks it has the solution in the redesign of the A4, its best-selling car.

Initial impressions revealed nothing but good news. Even hidden under heavy camouflage in spy photos, the 2009 Audi A4 began to excite. It became obvious that the car would borrow many of its razor-sharp lines from the A5 coupe, like its aggressive flat face and austere Bauhaus lines.

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Then the new A4 made its worldwide debut at the
2007 Frankfurt Auto Show. Audi's chairman of the executive board, Rupert Stadler said that dynamics, performance and technology would be the new corporate mantra. The company went further to proclaim that the 2009 Audi A4 is dramatically more engaging to drive, and is the sportiest car in its class. Audi is genuinely hoping to usurp the BMW 3 Series as the driver's choice.

Audi has good reason to have high expectations. The new car is built atop an entirely new all-steel chassis, which Audi calls a Modular Longitudinal Platform (MLP). The new design allows for the placement of engine and transmission a full 5.9 inches rearward by mounting the differential forward of the gearbox, which in turn allows the front wheels to be located closer to the nose. This translates to better driving dynamics.

On the topic of differentials, Audi has changed the all-wheel-drive system around, too. The company states the purpose of the new 40/60 torque split is to increase stability in low-speed corners. But the unwritten goal is, of course, to come closer to the rear-wheel-drive feel of offerings from BMW and Mercedes.

We drove the revamped A4 last October and were immediately able to spackle some concrete behind Audi's bold claims. We wrote of the handling as "a revelation," saying that the car turned in briskly and inspired real driver confidence.

If the chassis is something to write home about, the powertrain options are short of revolutionary. As before, Americans will have a choice of a turbocharged, two-liter four-cylinder in front-wheel-drive models (initially) or a 3.2-liter V6 for the AWD A4.

The grass is greener in Europe, where buyers can opt for three different turbodiesels: a 140-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a 190-hp 2.7-liter V6 and a new "clean" 3.0-liter V6 that makes 240 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque. We wait with the Europeans for the S4, which will likely carry the same 354-hp V8 of the S5.

With $3 billion and three years invested in a complete redesign, the refocused 2009 Audi A4 is sure to make our radar in the months before its release. And its new performance-geared promise makes us all the more eager to put it under the gun of our test equipment.