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Tim tries car reviewing: 2010 Audi A4

“Hey, Tim”, I can hear you saying, “I found a great used 2010 Audi A4 for sale. This is a fantastic coincidence. Should I get it?”

Probably not.

Let me elaborate, before the fanboys come at me with Auto Union-shaped brass knuckles.

Audis have always had a special place in my automotive heart. In the years before I received my first driver’s license, the Audi S4 (specifically, the B4 generation) wooed me with its turbo-V6 charm and near-affordability. Failing that, it’s hard to ignore the APR tunes that, for one, give standard A4s a ton more power, and for another, are backed by the factory warranty. Maybe I dig the brand because of its rally-rich bloodline, or perhaps it was the blue Audi Quattro toy car my father bought me as a child that started the fire.

They’re cool, they’re quick, and we have a history.

It stands to reason, then, that I’d love them even more after my mother bought a 2010 A4 Premium Plus ten years ago, thus handing me a bevy of opportunities to drive one. I will gladly, and freely, admit that it’s a giggle in the corners and is adept at practicality (I wonder where I learned to appreciate all of that?). It has more than enough power and poise to quietly chomp away at the left lane like a 140 mph upper-class Hungry Hungry Hippo.

I do, however, find a few things vexing.

The Outside

You know Julian Höenig, right? Probably not, but Apple does. He’s been with them for almost ten years now as an industrial designer, and before that, he designed this generation of A4. “The challenge was to create a design that fits into the current Audi line”, his resume reads. “The car should be not too far out, but it must be attractive at the same time”.

Yeah, that’s accurate. Succinct, Mr. Höenig!

Practically speaking, it’s a little high-waisted, and the area around the wheels always looked off to me. Maybe it’s the wheel and tire size, the large wheel wells, the wheels themselves, or some combination thereof. I like the stern front end, the LED running lights like glowing eyebrows on a glowering Kristin Scott Thomas.

I’m genuinely struggling in this part of the review, partially because the car’s designer puts it perfectly: it’s an update from the A4 before it. It’s exactly as it should be, with no extravagance. Fresh, but corporate fresh. It keeps up with the other major German manufacturers, in that everyone makes clean refreshes but almost never makes a giant leap. We all know what happened last time that happened; legend has it that BMW still has Chris Bangle’s face on the local pub’s dart board.

The Inside

Julian Höenig didn’t design the interior. Perhaps he had a hand in it, but it’s getting late, and I’m not alert enough to venture into the muddy waters beyond Wikipedia. That’s okay, though, because I have a few more practical observations.

Sight-lines are good, and there’s nothing egregiously wrong with any of the control interfaces. Audi’s Multimedia Interface simply kicks the crap out of BMW’s iDrive from the same era. In a testament to that, I’ve never seen either of my parents get outwardly hostile towards it, but then again, iPhones can be thrown across the room in rage. Your car’s infotainment system cannot, so perhaps it’s just a lot of quiet compromise, like any long-term relationship.

The oversized steering wheel has a few hieroglyphs that aren’t immediately obvious until they’re tested (preferably while the car is stopped), but by-and-large, this generation of A4 has managed to pack a dizzying amount of features into a package that is mostly navigable. When you’re stopped, the car will gladly play your standard-definition DVDs, so pack your copy of Employee of the Month for when the traffic gets heavy.

The seats don’t have nearly enough side bolstering for any sort of sustained performance driving, but that’s why you need an S4 if that’s your bag.

The Drive

I’ve written and deleted about ten introductions to this section, because I don’t want to rely on the easy jokes about this car being German. So I’ll put it this way: the A4 sees your inputs on the gas, brakes, and steering, and in the most efficient way, it simply does what you ask it to. If that just so happens to be a trait of the Germans, then it’s pure coincidence.

It’s both clinical and fun, and I’m truly befuddled as to which one of those it’s more of. The 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-4 will widen your passengers’ eyes upon its quick spool-up, but that’s about it. A sharp plateau of solid, but restrained, power will slot you through the gears beyond that. As with some other cars, I’m sure a cheap-and-cheerful aftermarket tune may induce a little lunacy.

The steering, while over-boosted and artificial, loads up into a corner predictably and is very adept at conveying where the car’s momentum is going. This came in handy for me about ten years ago when driving on Route 9 in upstate New York, when I powered through the middle of a long right-hander a little too greedily. The wheel telegraphed a subtle lightness as the rear of the car began to step out under throttle lift-off. That delicate but noticeable hint had me pulling everything back in order and puttering back home before I wrecked my mother’s nice new car.

Once I did reel the car - and myself - back in, the A4’s titanic brakes helped to lower my speed with the immediacy of a cartoon character getting roped around the neck by a walking cane. The stopping power of this car is hilariously strong, and quite frankly, feels like it was yanked out of an R8. It has the intoxicating effect of luring you to brake later and later into corners, something which you’ll hopefully forgive me for not indulging in.

The real letdown - and my chief gripe with the 2010 Audi A4 - is its transmission. At speed, it does an admirable job at picking the right ratio for the moment, but at low speeds and around town, it’s an idiot. The gearbox suffers from hapless indecision when you’re looking to make a quick getaway, completely halting your progress before finally picking the damn gear and moving on. It’s enough to make me think, at times, that it’s long overdue for a transmission fluid change. Except it isn’t -- many people on Audi online forums agree that it’s a bit of a dope.

The Conclusion

Have you put down the pitchforks yet, Audi drivers? I hope so, because I like this car. I like it in proportion to what it is. I’d love any of the S, R, or RS models that Audi makes. But I like the A4 because it’s a perfectly capable, sporty sedan. It does nothing to shed the stereotypes of the dispassionate German car, but the stereotypical German car is damn good. It doesn’t care about your need to stand out or be an influencer. It’s very capable and it does what you ask. Like a butler. Like if a perfectly average professional athlete was your butler.

So, should you buy a 2010 Audi A4? If it’s an automatic, pass. Also, this car has seen its fair share of maintenance concerns: right before the warranty expired, a good bit of the head and the turbo were replaced after the car began producing white clouds from the exhaust under acceleration. If you’re still game, look for a 2011 or newer, because they’ll have the much better 8-speed transmission. If it’s manual, though, go for it. And get a tune.

As for me, I’ll be saving up for an RS3.

One of these days.