As small families move up to more fuel-efficient premium cars, and even as longtime luxury shoppers and sport-sedan drivers want something a little more manageable (and less ostentatious), the 2012 Audi A4 lands right in the thick of things, with an economical base engine, yet available quattro all-wheel drive, performance-oriented options, and a top S4 performance version. Over the years, the A4 has become as much a purebred sport sedan as a luxury compact. Whether it delivers on the former depends on how you equip it, but across the lineup the latest 2012 Audi A4 has the lines of a performance car. With its last redesign in 2009, the A4 got a more rakish, cabin-back look, with a more aggressive stance, and it continues to wear that look well. We appreciate the A4's aggressive look and true presence, and how the whole design fits together. Inside, the A4 has a deeper, darker binnacled dash that leaves out the large swaths of wood trim of former models.The A4 shows plenty of signs of being a true sport sedan in the way it accelerates, steers, and hunkers down at high speeds?and in its stable, planted feel, no matter if you're on the Interstate or just elbowing your way into traffic. The base 2.0-liter engine in the A4 makes 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of max torque; it doesn't quite churn out the torque just above idle like the 200-hp previous-generation version, and it seems a little more vocal, but this engine is quite a bit more fuel-efficient in our real-world observation?21 or 22 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway. The A4's steering feels firm and reassuring enough at higher cruising speeds yet imparts just a bit of road feel (yet a sense of weighting) in lower-speed corners). It's not quite on par with the all-wheel-drive G37x's awesome feedback near the limit, but it's close and in high-speed hauling it's more satisfying.The cabin of the 2012 Audi A4, while nicely appointed and comfortable for front-seat occupants, is a little snug for those in back?especially with respect to legroom. The new model neither has the breakthrough materials that catapulted Audi so far ahead of the competition a decade ago, nor the stunning interior design of the newer A6 and A7, but it's still well above par in the class. Audi gives buyers a choice of wood and leather colors, and the lighter palette introduced in the current generation is quite handsome and makes the cabin feel airy. Ride comfort can be a little too firm for some kinds of roads?especially if you shoose the Sport Package, which brings 18-inch sport wheels, high-performance tires, and a sport suspension.If you want Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, or iPod connectivity, make sure you check the right option box. A navigation system, HD Radio, and Sirius real-time traffic are also available, as is a high-quality Bang & Olufsen audio system.For 2012, Audi has added a new Style Package for the A4 Premium, made the former S line exterior package standard on Premium Plus and Prestige models, and added a newly available 18-inch, ten-spoke wheel design.For more performance, and even richer appointments, the way to go is the high-performance 333-horsepower S4. The S4 is only offered in sedan form, and in addition to a sport suspension and a host of upgrades, it includes sport seats with alcantara inserts, a three-zone climate control system, and heated washers.2012 Audi A4 Styling The Audi A4's design fits right in with purebred sport sedans, although its luxurious interior no longer stands ahead by leaps and bounds. With its last redesign in 2009, the A4 got a more rakish, cabin-back look, with a more aggressive stance, and it continues to wear that look well. A longer hood and more swept-back styling help the latest A4 fit right in with rear-wheel-drive sport sedans (even though it remains front- or all-wheel drive), and it's longer and wider overall than the previous version. Up close, the deep Audi corporate grille tends to fit in a bit better, with its LED daytime running lights and canted headlamps, on Audi A5/S5 coupes and cabriolets, but it's also an attractive look from all angles for sedans and A4 Avant wagons.Across all of these models, we appreciate the A4's aggressive look and true presence, and how the whole design fits together. From a few paces back, the A4, like the A5 with which it shares its proportions and most of the mechanicals, has serious presence on the street. Add the standout Sport Package wheels and exhaust tips, and Premium-package xenon headlamps and LED running lamps and tail lamps (along with the impressive detailing around the front air dam), and this sport sedan gets quite the look.Inside, the A4 has a deeper, darker binnacled dash that leaves out the large swaths of wood trim of former models. It's still handsome and well finished, but there's more black and metallic plastic and LCD readouts than ever. The best details? A thick steering wheel, a choice of brushed-aluminum or wood trim, and the ubiquitous starter button, along with a more substantial look than either the rival BMW 3-Series or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
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