Used Car Review: 1997-2001 Audi A4

Audi's smart entry-level luxury car

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Used 2000 Audi A4 2.8 quattro Sedan
Used 2000 Audi A4
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author photo by John Rettie December 2005

The Audi A4 is currently the smallest Audi sedan sold in the U.S. competing mainly against the BMW 3-series. Like the 3-series there are several versions of the A4 including a sedan, station wagon called Avant, convertible called Cabriolet and the S4, a high performance version for enthusiasts. One key feature Audi offers is its excellent all-wheel-drive system called Quattro. It is not fitted as standard but is installed on a majority of cars sold so is easy to find.

Audi may not have the cachet of BMW, but it produces some fine cars that are just as well engineered and designed. On the quality and reliability front, Audi's reputation used to lag that of its German rivals. Nowadays though, surveys indicate its models are just as good if not better in some cases.

Since 1994 the smallest sedan sold by Audi in the US has been called the A4. Prior to that it was called the Audi 80 or 90, depending on the engine size. Although the 1997-2001 A4 was slightly shorter than the previous model, it had more interior space, largely thanks to a longer wheelbase, which also helped improve the ride and handling. It was available with the choice of a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a 2.8-liter V-6, with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. Like all Audis it was a front-wheel-drive model with the option of all-wheel-drive Quattro.

Initially the A4 was available only as a four-door sedan. The Avant station wagon appeared in 1998. The S4, a really high performance version of the A4 was introduced in 2000. It came with a twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 engine producing 250 horsepower. Naturally it was only available with a six-speed manual transmission and Quattro. It's a model that gives the BMW M3 a run for its money.

There was no convertible (called the Cabriolet) version of this generation A4, although a handful of older generation Cabriolets were sold in 1997 and 1998.

The A4 generation featured here was replaced in 2002 by a newer version with much the same specifications but with a different body style.

Test Drives

1. 2000 Audi A4 2.8 Quattro, Automatic, 44,000 miles. Asking price: $18,750 (Aug. 2004)
First impressions were good. This was a clean car with no scratches or dents. The interior was also spotless with no apparent wear on the leather seats or carpets. It started immediately and ran without any squeaks or rattles. The brakes felt firm, and the car stopped in a straight line. Shifting was smooth. Tires were also in good condition.

The V-6 engine has much more torque than the 1.8T found in other A4 models making it much more pleasant for driving around town, especially with an automatic transmission.

This very clean Audi A4 belonged to Gayle, a 50-something woman, who drove it daily to and from her job at a university. She loved the car, and her only complaint was that it was an automatic. Not that there was anything wrong with the transmission, just that she preferred shifting herself. She thought the Tiptronic-style automatic would be a good compromise, but found in reality it did not offer the same feel as a manual.

She had owned the car for 18 months, and it replaced a previous Audi A4, which got wrecked. "I was broadsided by a truck and was uninjured. It proved to me how safe the car is, so I definitely wanted another one."

Her favorite feature — the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. "It provides great handling."

This example would be an excellent buy although priced a little high. It's a good alternative to a more ordinary new car for the same price.

2. 1998 Audi A4 1.8T Quattro, Manual, 86,000 miles. Asking price: $12,500 (Aug. 2004)
Erik, a 25-year-old male, had owned this car for three years. He bought it when the odometer read 17,000 miles. The car proved to be trouble-free during this period although he had replaced the turbocharger a few thousand miles ago with a slightly larger one. He says he did that for a slight increase in performance as well as for preventive maintenance.

His reason for selling the car was because he was being provided with a company car in a new job, so he was not using the Audi regularly. This was apparent as I took it for a test drive. Although the car had been under a car cover for ten days it was fairly dirty with bird droppings on the pearl metallic paint work. The car started immediately, which was a good sign, and there were no fluids underneath or any smoke from the exhaust pipe. This indicated the engine was in a good state of tune.

The car drove well with good brakes and no undue noises from the suspension or engine. A small ding behind the front right fender and a scratch along the bottom of the right doorsill were the only serious blemishes. Naturally there were signs of wear on the seats and some interior trim, but nothing serious.

The owner had fitted aftermarket Enkei alloy wheels, which gave the car a sportier look. There were some scratch marks on the edges of each wheel from curbing. It's a problem with wheels like this where the rim protrudes past the tire wall, making it more susceptible to scuffing.

All in all this appeared to be an ideal car for someone who would like to put a little bit of time into sprucing it up. The fundamentals of the car seemed to be fine, and the price made it a good buy for such a person.

3. 2000 Audi S4, Manual, 62,000 miles. Asking price: $22,750 (Sept. 2004)
Believe it or not, this bright blue S4 had belonged to a 17-year-old kid named Ari. He got caught speeding excessively, and his parents took the car away from him. It was for sale on consignment at a specialist used car dealership. It was obvious from the moment I stepped into the car that it had been well looked after. Everything was spotless, although a little too much ArmorAll had been applied to the dashboard, making it too shiny.

Ari had only owned it for a little over three months and had just driven it hard — ostensibly to and from school. He says he bought it from a mechanic at a local Audi dealership who had modified it with a different exhaust system, clutch and suspension. The boost on the twin turbos had been increased, and he claimed it was producing about 330 to 350 horsepower, compared to 250 horsepower in a stock S4.

It was certainly one quick car, as I discovered during a brief road test. It shot away form the line, yet the clutch and transmission were smooth. Unlike a lot of modified performance cars, this S4 was quite tractable around town. The brakes also stopped it rapidly.

Adam, the sales person at the store said the majority of people interested in it were 20-30 years old, and most could not really afford the car even though they hankered after it.

It might not have the cachet of a BMW M3, but this car was just as good. A real sport car wrapped in a sedan body — an ideal stealth family sedan for the father who really wants a sports car?

Market Overview
In Germany and most of Europe, Audi's sales volumes are not far behind those of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. It is highly regarded as an engineering-driven company that produces cars full of technology. Because of its success on the race track, it has also garnered a big following among car enthusiasts in many countries around the world.

Not surprisingly the A4 has managed to net several awards overseas but has no major US awards, although it consistently draws praise from writers on numerous automotive magazines.

Despite all this, Audi has never quite managed to gain the same status in the US as Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Its sales in the US each year are half those of BMW, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz.

Because Audi does not enjoy the same reputation in the US, its cars tend to lose their value more rapidly. This might be a negative attribute for the buyer of a new Audi, but it's good news for anyone looking for a used Audi. Generally it is less costly to buy a used A4 than a similarly configured BMW 3-series.

Overall, Audi sold about 150,000 A4s between 1997 and 2001. Half of them were powered by the 1.8T four-cylinder engine, and around one third had a manual transmission. Over 80% were fitted with the very worthwhile Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The S4 was only sold in small numbers in 2000 and 2001.

A used Audi A4 is a good buy for a person who wants a sporty sedan that's a relatively rare sight on the road. Like most European sports sedans, it's very much a car for a driving enthusiast. If you like the thought of having all-wheel-drive for use in areas of the country with adverse weather conditions, a Quattro version of the A4 should be high on your shopping list. Although BMW offered an all-wheel-drive version of the 3-series, they are extremely few and far between.

The A4's reputation is mixed. Most owners have had no problems with their cars while others appear to have been less fortunate.

If you can find a used A4 that's had one owner, or at least one who owned the car for a few years, who kept good maintenance records, it should be a good buy.

Those who want a really great sports sedan should look for a S4; they are rare but offer tremendous performance. If an S4 is stretching the budget, an A4 with a 1.8T engine and a manual transmission is still great fun to drive. If you want an automatic, try finding a 2.8 with the V-6 engine.

2005 L.L.C.

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Used 2000 Audi A4 2.8 quattro Sedan
Used 2000 Audi A4
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo. Used Car Review: 1997-2001 Audi A4 - Autotrader