Model years used to mean something. Come September of each year, fathers and sons, and some mothers and daughters, would make the annual pilgrimage to their local dealers to ogle next year's cars. The anticipation was such that we could almost convince ourselves we were sneaking a peak at the future.
Then came emissions and safety regulations. Now government rules dictate that a car's official model year is the calendar year in which it's first built. Thus, the 2005 Audi A4 cannot be a 2006 because Audi started building it in 2004. But there will be no change to the car when, come summer of 2005, it magically transforms into the 2006 A4. Well, no change other than price, that is; although insiders won't say, that likely will go up a bit. So, for true car nuts, now's a chance to buy next year's car before it's next year's car and at this year's price.
But make no mistake. The Audi A4 is all-new. And it's a car nut's car. It's fun to drive, with all the sporty bits and pieces. It has state of the art powertrains, with intercooled turbochargers, multi-stage intake manifolds, variable valve timing and the latest technological advance: direct injection, the cleanest and most efficient means yet devised of blending fuel and air in an engine's cylinders. Audi's progress hasn't stopped with the engines. A six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic returns as an option, but the A4's standard transmission is a new six-speed manual. And a new option is a continuously variable transmission, where a steel belt and a pair of infinitely adjustable pulleys replace gears and hydraulic pumps to deliver a truly seamless shifting experience. Four-wheel independent suspension with geometry that keeps tires on the true track throughout the compression range is augmented with standard electronic stability assistance that keeps the car going where the driver wants it to when the driver can't. And, of course, there's Audi's quattro all-wheel drive.
On top of that, the new Audi A4 line offers function in the form of the A4 Avant, a wagon that doesn't feel or drive like wagons of yesteryear yet delivers all the storage and flexibility of those earlier multi-purpose transporters.
State-of-the-art safety is included, for the most part at no added charge. Besides the electronic stability program, there are antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. Airbags abound, with the only extra-cost set a pair protecting rear seat occupants against side impacts.
Fresh styling distinguishes the new A4 from the previous-generation model. Bottom line: This a satisfying package.
The all-new Audi A4 comes in two body styles, sedan and wagon, the latter called the Avant.
Two engines are offered, a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder and a 255-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6. Buyers of the sedan with the four-cylinder can choose between three transmissions: a six-speed manual, a six-speed automatic or a continuously variable automatic; the four-cylinder Avant does not offer the CVT. The 3.2-liter V6 is fitted exclusively with the six-speed automatic in both body styles. The sedan with the 2.0-liter engine comes with either front-wheel drive, which Audi calls FrontTrak, or quattro all-wheel drive. All V6-powered models come with quattro.
The A4 comes with a luxurious list of standard equipment: dual-zone air conditioning; cruise control; tilt and telescoping steering wheel; power 12-way driver's seat, power auto-heated outside mirrors, power central locking; driver-selected, auto-on running lights; multi-speaker stereo with six-disc CD changer, wired for satellite radio; and carpeted floor mats. Standard upholstery in the 2.0-liter A4 is cloth, in the 3.2-liter A4, leather.
Option packages add myriad features, including a Bose premium system with Sirius or XM satellite radio. Sport Packages ($750) feature firmer suspension components, 17-inch cast alloy wheels and a choice of performance or all-season tires. More fully featured upgrades for the A4 come in the form of a Premium Package and a Lighting Package. On the 2.0-liter A4, the Premium Package comprises power moonroof, Homelink, leather seating surfaces, 12-way power front passenger seat and color driver information system ($2,100). When ordered on the 3.2-liter A4, on which leather upholstery and power front passenger seat are standard, the Premium Package adds driver seat and outside mirror memory settings, rain-sensing windshield wipers, auto-dimming inside mirrors and auto-dimming and power-folding outside mirrors ($2,050). The 2.0-liter A4's Lighting Package, which can be ordered only in combination with the Premium Package, buys adaptive, self-leveling Bi-Xenon headlights, auto-dimming and power folding mirrors, driver seat and mirror memory settings and rain-sensing windshield wipers ($1,425). Stand-alone options are a DVD-based navigation system ($1,950); the 17-inch wheels with all-season tires ($500); headlight washers; power rear and manual side sunshades ($400); wood trim ($400); metallic paint ($450); and California-compliant emissions ($150).
Safety features include a comprehensive array of airbags and full-coverage side air curtains as standard equipment. Rear-seat side airbags ($350) are optional. Front-seat active head restraints are standard, and all seating positions have adjustable head restraints and three-point seatbelts. Antilock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution are standard. An electronic stability system designed to keep the car going where it's supposed to when the road goes bad or the driver pushes it too far also comes standard. A tire pressure monitor system ($250) is optional.
Other variants on the A4 platform will follow, the most immediate being the S4, due in mid-2005 as a 2006 model. This no-holds-barred sportster will come with a V8 making 340 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque and, according to Audi, capable of 0-60 mph runs in the low five seconds through its standard quattro system. The Cabriolet is set to appear in late summer or early fall of 2006 as a 2007 model and will be offered with the same engines as the sedan and Avant, although transmission choices may be limited to the CVT and six-speed Tiptronic.
Opinions vary on the new Audi signature grille, what designers call a car's "face." On one point, there's agreement: It's different. Whether this is a plus is subjective, but expect the look to appear in clearly recognizable and evolving form on all Audis as each model comes up for refreshing. In part, this is because the new front end moves Audi closer to complying with Europe's impending safety standards mandating survivability levels for auto-pedestrian encounters, although company officials say this was not a primary factor in the design.
The debate over the look aside, the A4 does present a more muscular and more visually planted frontal view than the previous model, this somehow despite the new A4's track being fractionally narrower than the '04's. Headlamp lenses angle upward as they wrap around the fenders, giving the fascia a more assertive look. Laterally split intakes below the body-colored bumper and outboard of the grille do dual duty, housing fog lamps and channeling air toward the front disc brakes. The enlarged, trapezoidal grille opening increases air flow coveted by the turbocharger's intercooler in the four cylinder and the radiator cooling the larger, more powerful V6. A modest hood bulge, a styling cue designers call a "power bulge" by way of hinting at the latent energy lurking beneath, carries the grille's vertical outlines back to the roof's A-pillars.
The side view shows a sharply creased shoulder line running the length of the car, from the trailing corner of the headlamp housings to the leading edge of the tail lamp lenses. Side window glass atop a relatively high beltline is nicely proportioned with the body mass. A bump strip breaks up the expanse of the lower door panels. The front and rear lower-quarter panels dip slightly fore and aft of the round wheel housings, pulling the body closer to the ground.
Good-sized tail lamps tie together the three elements of the new A4's rear fascia, positioned for the most part in the panels framing the trunk lid and license plate surround, but overlapping those two pieces to break up what might otherwise be an overwhelming expanse of metal. Single-tip dual exhausts exit beneath the monochromatic bumper at each end of an inset panel painted a contrasting color to the body's scheme.
The Audi A4 interior keeps the faith with its sporty heritage, with all controls focused on the driver and with few exceptions ergonomically configured and intuitively located. The steering wheel hub repeats the grille's trapezoidal outline. A proper handbrake lever resides in the center console with a pair of cup holders alongside. Colors and finishes are muted. A choice of wood trim is available that nicely complements the interior.
Seats are well bolstered, and well lumbared, perhaps too well for relaxed, long distance cruising. The standard cloth upholstery feels durable and provides a bit of grip. The optional leather surfaces are elegantly stitched and fit our posteriors well. The fold-down, height-adjustable front center armrest aligns with the driver door armrest, encouraging a restful, upright driver posture; it does, however, interfere with the handbrake, requiring either a wrist-contorting, forearm-straining pull-force or folding it up out of the way to gain access to the lever.
Round gauges shaded by a hooded instrument panel look out through the top half of the three-spoke steering wheel. The information display, reporting such data as radio frequency, trip mileage, service interval warning and such, separates the tachometer and speedometer, with fuel and coolant gauges tucked away down in the corners. The seats, mirrors, steering column and other features adjust in every conceivable direction. A minimalist set of secondary controls on the steering wheel spokes manages audio and other functions. Steering column-mounted stalks operate the usual array of features and are clearly marked except the rear window wiper and washer on the Avant, which is controlled by the right-hand lever.
Old-fashioned knobs and buttons control audio selections and air conditioning settings, and all easily deciphered and within easy reach in the center stack console. A nice touch is a drawer the size of a credit card above the in-dash CD changer. When DVD navigation is ordered, the stereo panel gives way to the map display, which then doubles as a stereo panel. The navigational display is one of the best of the current generation of such systems. Readily understood controls orient the cursor and shift the map scale, with on-screen telltales stealing very little real estate from the map. The map offers both a flat, two-dimensional and a bird's-eye perspective, the latter with a distant horizon visible running across the upper area of the screen. Audi adds MP3 capability to the A4's step-up stereo with an inventive placement behind the tilt-away map display of pair of slots for Secure Digital memory cards. Still, only stereo volume and pre-set radio stations can be changed without first pressing "Accept" on the opening display panel each and every time the car is started. And the stereo is on all the time the navigational system is active; you don't turn it off, you turn it down.
Interior space in the new A4 matches that of the previous-generation model. It's generally adequate in front but somewhat limited in rear leg room. This is not a car for the full-figured or for people much taller than six feet. Cargo volume remains the same in the new A4, with cubbies in the cargo area's interior side panels and numerous tie downs. In the Avant, a two-way cargo cover also houses a pull-up, vertical netting to restrain stacked objects. Inside pull-down grips on the trunk and liftgate spares fingers from road grime. Front doors have fixed map pockets. Net pouches on the rear of the front seatbacks hold magazines, snacks and other sundries. The glove box isn't especially deep and loses substantial space to the CD changer when the navigational system is ordered. A power point in the center console bin is provided in addition to the cigar lighter in the front ashtray. A flip-down armrest in the rear seat contains two cup holders.
On the finer points, we like the lane-change signal feature, where a tap of the tu
The A4 is Audi's counterpoint to the BMW 3 Series, and to a lesser degree, the Acura TL. As such, it's clearly competitive in the quantifiable, objective measures. Much of the subjective and visceral is present and accountable, too. Even where it follows a different track, it doesn't stray too far. But in one, hugely significant measure, it's far ahead. The TL comes only in front-wheel drive. The 3 Series now offers all-wheel drive, but Audi's quattro system is almost legendary and remains the benchmark in sporty sedan all-wheel drive.
Both engines employ the latest technology in engine management, phased intake runners and variable valve timing, to boost horsepower and flatten the torque curve, making the power more usable over a wide range of speeds and the engine more responsive to the driver's right foot. Both engines use a new type of fuel injection called direct injection, which pumps the fuel directly into the cylinder, instead of into the intake runner where it would haphazardly mix with the air on the way to the engine cylinders. This new system allows more precise metering of the fuel and the timing of its introduction as well as a better blending of the fuel and air, all of which combines to yield more efficient combustion. With this system, both of the A4 engines not only make more horsepower and more torque than last year's, but also get the same or better fuel economy.
Of the two engines offered in the A4, the smoother, more refined is the V6. But all anybody really needs today is the turbocharged four-cylinder. And while traditionalists will swear by the six-speed manual transmission, the Tiptronic is almost as responsive and by far the more accommodating in day-to-day traffic. The Multitronic CVT with the four-cylinder and front-wheel drive is a competent package, but it's a combination that doesn't deliver what we look for in an A4.
Nor are any of the other combinations perfect. The Tiptronic falls short in the sporty, manu-matic game. An algorithm in the powertrain management computer shifts up a gear when that will put the engine at the optimum point in the torque curve, and a button beneath the gas pedal shifts down a gear when mashed, say, when passing on a grade. This is all fine and good as far as an impressive application of computerization is concerned, but it mocks the Tiptronic's promise of a manual-override automatic. In practice, the downshift is occasionally helpful, but the upshift is truly disconcerting when it occurs in the midst of a corner. On the other hand, it works great for holding a lower gear on a grade. The four cylinder suffers some turbo lag, more noticeably with the Tiptronic than with the manual, as with the former the engine management system instead of the driver's right foot controls engine speed during acceleration. The shift throws in the manual could be shorter, and the path from second gear to third gear is a bit notchy.
Steering response is crisp, with comforting directional stability. Brakes, though, are difficult to manage, almost as if all the electronic assist systems confuse each other. Stopping power is impressive, and we noticed no fade, but smooth stops are nigh impossible, as the brake pads seem to continue pressing against the discs even as the pressure on the pedal is eased. Ride and handling with the base suspension is firm, not stiff; the optional sport suspension tends more toward stiff, almost harsh, although not quite in the kidney-belt range. With either, there's little pogoing over undulating pavement on fast and narrow winding roads. Quick left-right-left transitions are handled with finesse, in the Avant, too. The V6 models, which weigh in about 150 pounds heavier, feel a mite less agile and a tick or two slower in response to driver inputs. All models, both sedan and Avant, and regardless of powertrain, feel planted and confident at speed, even into the low three digits.
Wind and road noise
The all-new Audi A4 is fun and spirited, if not quite fully satisfying in some mostly minor ways. It's a bit pricey, but not uncompetitively so. It delivers plenty of power, respectable gas mileage for its class, state-of-the-art sound and, above all, quattro all-wheel drive. That makes it hard to beat.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Tucson, Arizona.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Audi A4 2.0T FrontTrak MT6 ($27,350); A4 2.0T FrontTrak Multitronic CVT ($28,550); A4 2.0T quattro MT6 ($29,450); A4 2.0T quattro AT6 ($30,650); A4 2.0T Avant quattro MT6 ($30,450); A4 2.0T Avant quattro AT6 ($31,650); A4 3.2 quattro ($35,400); A4 3.2 Avant quattro ($36,400) |
|2.0-liter, double overhead cam, 16-valve, direct-injection, turbocharged inline four; 3.2-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, direct-injection V6 |
|6-speed manual; 6-speed Tiptronic automatic; Multitronic CVT |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|two-stage, dual front airbags; front seat-mounted side impact airbags; full-coverage side air curtains; active front seat head restraints; adjustable head restraints and three-point seatbelts at all seating positions; electronic stability system with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; rear seat LATCH fitments; first aid kit (in rear seat center armrest); front fog lights; rear fog light |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|rear-seat side-impact airbags; tire pressure monitor |
|Basic warranty: |
|4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Ingolstadt, Germany |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Audi A4 2.0T quattro ($30,650) |
|Standard equipment: |
|automatic dual-zone climate control; cruise control; power windows, central locking and outside mirrors; 12-way power driver seat; manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel; 10-speaker, AM/FM stereo with in-dash 6-disc CD changer and pre-wired for XM or Sirius satellite radio; front and rear seat floor mats |
|Options as tested: |
|Premium Package ($2,100) includes leather seating surfaces, 12-way power front passenger seat, power tilt/slide moonroof, Homelink remote transmitter, color driver information display; Lighting Package ($1,425) includes bi-xenon adaptive HID headlights, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, auto-headlights and rain sensor, auto-dimming and power folding outside mirrors, four memory settings for driver's seat and outside mirrors; Audio Package ($1,000) with Bose and XM Satellite Radio; Cold Weather Package ($750) includes heated front and rear seats, ski sack ($750); Sport Package ($750) includes 17-inch cast allow wheels, all-season tires, special suspension; headlight washers ($150); California emissions ($150); metallic paint ($450) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|all-wheel drive |
|2.0-liter dohc 16v direct-injection turbocharged inline-4 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|200 @ 5100 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|207 @ 1800 |
|6-speed Tiptronic automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|22/30 mpg. |
|104.3 in. |
|180.6/69.8/56.2 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|59.9/59.9 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|36.4 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|38.4/na/41.3 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|37.2/na/34.3 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|13.4 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|Suspension F: |
|independent, four-link, double-wishbone, coil spring, gas-pressure shocks, stabilizer bar |
|Suspension R: |
|independent, trapezoidal link, coil spring, gas pressure shocks, stabilizer bar |
|Ground clearance: |
|4.2 in. |
|Curb weight: |
|3583 lbs. |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc with ABS, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|16.6 gal. |