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2004 Audi A4

         If you’re looking for a midsize sedan with a hint of luxury, good luck. You’ll need it with the glut of choices available.
     Today’s highways are packed with comfortable, good-looking sedans under $35,000. On the low end there are Camrys, Accords and Maximas with leather seats, navigation systems, and lots of fancy doo-dads. American cars like the Chrysler 300C and Ford Five Hundred offer a little more space for the money — not to mention more attention-getting styling — but they lack the appeal of a luxury brand. For that, there are plenty of solid cars from Infiniti, Lexus, Lincoln, Cadillac and Acura.
     Then there are the German cars, often regarded as the cream of the automotive crop.
     While $35,000 will get you in the door at BMW or Mercedes, it will only buy the smallest and slowest models with the fewest options. That’s like going to a five-star restaurant and ordering a Big Mac.
     On the other hand, you could get a decked-out Passat from Volkswagen, but that’s like going to McDonald’s and ordering filet mignon.
     For people who want a high-class European meal at a fair price, there’s Audi.
     The Audi A4 doesn’t have the same sense of snobbery that you’ll find behind a BMW or Mercedes badge, yet it has more panache than Volkswagen ever will. Its styling is drop-dead gorgeous, but it’s subtle enough to keep from drawing a crowd.
     To sum it up, the A4 is just right.
     So, with the vast number of choices available for entry-level luxury cars, how does Audi make the A4 stand out?
     For starters, it has one of the best interiors money can buy. Everything about the cabin feels remarkably solid, almost like it was molded from concrete before being layered with wood and leather. Nothing wiggles. Nothing feels loose or imprecise. Nothing squeaks.

     The interior looks like it belongs in a car twice the A4’s price, too. Every piece is beautifully constructed and carefully styled to bring a sense of warmth and luxury to the driver. Seats are very firm to give it a sporty feel, and the driver-oriented cockpit is perfect for spirited driving.
     On the road, the A4 is fun in the corners, but it doesn’t provide the same kind of thrill as a true sports sedan.
     The suspension is perfect, allowing very precise handling with little body roll and constant communication with the driver as it sweeps through turns. There’s no wallowing or floating like in traditional luxury cars, but it still feels surprisingly comfortable over rough roads. I’d nominate Audi’s engineers for a Nobel Prize in Suspensions if I could.
     Disappointingly, the car’s steering and brake feel don’t live up to the A4’s sports-sedan billing. The steering wheel feels like it’s connected to the wheels via a rubber rod, which is good enough for most driving but not up to BMW’s lofty standards.
     Similarly, the brakes feel slightly spongy and soft, which would be fine for most family cars, but they fail to match the suspension’s sporty perfection.
     Regardless of these minor gripes, the A4’s trump card is styling. Its carefully shaped curves are like rolling artwork, giving it an athletic stance with a graceful demeanor. No matter which angle you look at it — top, sides, front or back — it’s dripping with charisma.
     All in all, the A4 is one of the best midsize luxury sedans on the road. Its suspension and interior are perfect, and its body is striking without being ostentatious.
     It’s good taste.

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