For decades, Audi was the bridesmaid of German luxury brands: An occasional bouquet got tossed its way, but the big dance was reserved for Mercedes and BMW. Then Audi refashioned itself as the high-design alternative, and suddenly every Hollywood blockbuster—think Iron Man—decided that their too-cool star would naturally drive one. The latest Audi A4 has grown as lavish and expensive as anything in the class.

Inside, the Audi combines appointments of its usual boutique grade with a raft of techno-gadgets. Those include a steering and suspension system with a slew of driver-selectable performance parameters and the latest Multi-Media Information system, which neatly manages audio, navigation and vehicle functions.

The driving experience is familiar Audi: A bank-vault chassis and Quattro all-wheel drive. The Audi’s 6.3 second sprint to 60 mph is reasonable, but more than a full second behind a BMW 335i. If you can’t abide that, an S4 model with a 333-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6 is due in 2010.

Fond memories of the old underdog A4?You may struggle to get your brain around this upscale chariot: The V-6 Quattro 3.2 model starts above forty grand, more than a Mercedes C350 Sport. I prefer the turbo 2.0 model Quattro: At $7,300 less, it cranks more torque than the V-6 and tops it with 27 mpg highway economy. Even that loaded 2.0 model can reach $49,000. Apparently this is what happens when everyone tells you your cars are beautiful.


Audi A4

Price: $32,700

Engine: Turbocharged, 2-liter four-cylinder

Horsepower: 211

Torque: 258 pound-feet

Weight: 3,715 pounds

Zero to 60 mph: 6.3 seconds

Top Speed: 130 mph