By Dan Tsuchiya
Does anyone buy sedans with manual transmissions anymore? Many drivers view cars simply as transportation to get from point A to point B. Add a few extra dollars for a luxury sedan and the list of drivers interested in shifting further drops. But the manual transmission in the 2012 Audi A4 might bring back some of those drivers who have drifted off to "Automatic Land."
When the current A4 debuted in 2009, it was up against a strong contingent, the C-class Mercedes and 3 Series BMW. Audi increased the competition with roomier and better looking A4. Introduction in early 2010 of the direct-injected turbo 2.0L engine made the car more balanced and agile.
Since then, Audi has tweaked the package to what it is today, offering a balanced sport package that not only takes design cues from the S4 but also provides handling that surpasses the competition.
When you run the A4 through town, it is one of the most forgiving manual transmissions, with a gradual clutch, smooth take offs and effortless short throw shifts. The turbocharged direct injection four-cylinder with 256 lb.-ft. of torque allows the car to zip around with ease, and offers great gas mileage. The torque is available in the low RPM range so it pulls like a much larger engine and provides effortless acceleration.
Since the direct injected four is compact and light, it sits way back in the engine bay with a majority of its weight behind the front wheels. Combine this with Audi’s mostly aluminum race bred suspension and all-wheel drive quattro system, and you get a car with amazing balance and grip — even during wet conditions. Bottom line, the A4 will out handle its 2WD competition from Mercedes and BMW. This is a balance hard to find in any vehicle, let alone a sedan.
Although the interior is roomy and comfortable, with a simple dash and Audi’s almost intuitive MMI interface, there is room for improvement. The gauges are too simple and look inexpensive. The S-line headliner should be Alcantara, to match the door panels and seats, instead of cloth. And the Alcantara sport seats look too Lamborghini- like. The driver door also rattled over bumps, which influenced our opinion of build quality.
Audi excelled with the exterior design of the A5/S5 line and they were smart to extend styling details with the S-line package on the A4. They took what was an already attractive, yet conservative, sedan and borrowed some of the better styling cues from the two-door cousin. This has allowed the A4 to stay ahead of the competition.
If you’re looking to buy a sedan with a manual gearbox, the 2012 A4 should be at the top of the list. The turbocharged direct inject four cylinder is the perfect combination for this sedan, so much so the competition has and will be copying this for years.
The balance, performance, and seeming compliance of the sport suspension are a combination rarely found. Except for some interior shortcomings, kudos to Audi for adding the final touches and keeping the A4 at the top of its game.