2002 Audi A4 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Moving toward the front of the field.
For years the Audi A4 has been one of the best cars in its class. Completely redesigned for 2002, it gets even better.
Some 90 percent of the A4's parts are revised, and there are significant improvements across the board. The new A4 is the first luxury-brand automobile with a continuously variable automatic transmission offered as an option. The cabin, the stereo, the electronic controls and the V6 engine-everything is bigger or more powerful. Perhaps best of all, Audi promises to minimize price increases when the 2002 A4 reaches showrooms in October. Expect hikes of 3 percent or less.
Audi's resurgence as a luxury brand has run concurrent with the A4. This compact sedan has been Audi's bestseller since its introduction in 1995. A combination of thoughtful design, build quality, invigorating performance and sane pricing have made the A4 one of the most respected cars in a class that includes some of the best cars in the world. The redesigned 2002 model has exactly the stuff required in the fiercely competitive market for small luxury sedans.
Two A4 sedans are available, distinguished primarily by their engines: the A4 1.8T ($24,900) with a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and the A4 3.0 ($31,390) with a new 3.0-liter V6.
Remember, the A4 is the entry-level car for a European luxury brand, so all are well equipped, with a full compliment of power amenities. The standard-equipment list gets even longer for 2002, adding sophisticated anti-skid electronics (called ESP for electronic stability program), dual-zone climate control with charcoal filtration, concealed headlight washers and a 150-watt, 10-speaker stereo with six-CD in-dash changer. Standard safety gear includes antilock brakes, dual front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash, front side-impact airbags, and curtain-style head protection airbags on each side of the cabin. Rear side-impact airbags are optional.
Actually, when you add Audi's trademark quattro system to the standard front-drive A4 1.8T or 3.0, you have four distinct vehicle choices. Quattro is one of the most sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems going, and one of Audi's most popular options. (Quattro adds $1750 to the retail price.) Factor in optional automatic transmissions, and there are seven variants. A new six-speed manual for the A4 3.0 is offered only with quattro (all front-drive 3.0 models come with an automatic).
Initially, the new A4 will be offered only as a sedan. An A4 Avant, or wagon, based on the new sedan will follow within six months, while a twin-turbo S4 high-performance sedan will arrive within a year. In the meantime, Avants (both 1.8T and V6) and S4s based on the 2001 A4 sedan will be sold side-by-side with the new sedan.
Other popular A4 options: power glass sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, and built in Homelink garage door operator; a Sport Package ($750-$1000) that includes a sports suspension and 17-inch wheels; leather upholstery for the A4 3.0 ($1320); and Audi's GPS navigation system ($1,350). In early calendar 2002, Audi will offer GM's Onstar telematics system, including emergency locating and lock-out service, accident alerting, theft tracking and various concierge services.
The 2002 A4 is shaped in the signature Bauhaus style established by the larger A6 sedan. It's less angular and more curvaceous than its predecessor. Its beltline is higher, its roof and side glass longer. From the headlights to the door handles to the rear bumper, flush is the theme.
Little chrome or other adornments detract from the A4's basic shape--not even an antenna. (Antennae for the radio, telematics and navigation systems are embedded into the rear glass.) The A4 takes styling cues from both the TT roadster and A6, including a more prominent chrome-trimmed grille and notched-in flush taillights. In short, it's a particularly handsome car. Complaints? The new A4 may be too much the little A6, and not distinct enough it its own right.
The body panels cover lots of changes underneath. For starters, the new A4 is larger than the old. Wheelbase increases 2.1 inches to 104.3, and length 2.7 inches to 179, for dimensions roughly comparable to the BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The A4's unitized body and frame is 45 percent stiffer than it predecessor's, according to Audi, yet substantially lighter. Thicker side windows -3 millimeters thicker--account for a three-decibel reduction in interior noise, by Audi's measure. We found nothing in our road test to discredit these claims.
The A4's slick new look includes smaller, sculpted side mirrors. They may be more stylish or aerodynamic, but from the driver's seat they offer a smaller viewing range. We would sacrifice the look for wider coverage.
This is a still a compact sedan, yet the new design makes great use of the floor space. Every interior dimension is larger, but it's most obvious in the back seat, where taller passengers will find a bit more room to stretch their legs. There's room in back for three, with three-point harness at all positions, but average-size adults will feel much more comfortable with only two. The front seats adjust to accommodate people in the six-foot, five-inch range, and the view out is nearly unobstructed in every direction.
The theme inside the A4 is cool and efficient, as it is in Audi's other sedans, and not deliberately snazzy in fashion of the TT. Materials look and feel richer than those in many cars in this price range, and trim matches flawlessly. A thick, grippy, leather-covered steering wheel and shift lever are standard, with a choice of fabric or leatherette (vinyl) upholstery. The cabin beltline is edged with aluminum in the 1.8T and real wood in the 3.0.
Switches could be larger, yet those most frequently adjusted, including stereo volume, are large enough. After a bit of familiarization, everything in the A4 is easy to find with minimal distraction, and nearly all temperature, ventilation and stereo adjustments can be completed with buttons on the steering wheel hub. Audi's red and white gauge lighting, its warning lights and LEDs, are among the sharpest, most readable going. Its radial sunroof switch is the best; turn it a quarter, half or full turn and the roof opens a corresponding distance. Flow-control switches on each dash vent are illuminated. Wipers make a final sweep several seconds after the washer button is released, cleaning droplets blown back up the windshield. We found nothing to gripe about during a long drive through Vermont's Green Mountains, with the possible exception of the seats. They are comfortable and supportive in nearly all circumstances. Yet a sedan this good should have buckets with more side bolstering to keep occupants firmly in the center.
The 2002 A4's trunk is among the largest in the class (13.4 cubic feet, compared to 10.7 in the BMW 3 Series and 12.2 in the Mercedes C-Class). Moreover, the lid swings high and backs for easy access. There are four tie-down hooks in the carpeted floor and a removable grocery net. The cold-weather package includes a nylon ski sack that allows snow skis to slide through the trunk and into the cabin without leaving a damp mess.
We tried all of the new A4s in the gorgeous Green Mountains, where the twisting roads climb up and down and are seldom clogged with traffic. Yet we spent the most time in the sportiest and-as in often the case-most expensive variant: the A4 3.0 quattro. It was a pleasant, thoroughly satisfying experience.
Audi's new 3.0-liter V6 is a big improvement (though the old one was already pretty good), and it makes the A4 one of the more powerful cars in the class. Displacement has been increased 200 cubic centimeters. The new aluminum engine block is manufactured using the latest casting technology for maximum strength and durability, and Audi remains the only luxury carmaker with advanced five-valve-per-cylinder technology across its product line. The company says the new 3.0-liter engine is more fuel-efficient and cleaner than the old 2.8-liter engine, allowing the 3.0 to earn California's Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle certification. Horsepower increases by 30 to 220 at 6300 rpm, while torque increases by 14 to 221 pounds-feet. For comparison, the BMW 330i and Mercedes C320 make 225 horsepower, 214 pounds-feet of torque, and 215 horsepower, 229 pounds-feet, respectively.
The first thing you notice at the wheel of the A4 is the engine. The 3.0 is smoother and stronger than the 2.8, and very even in its power delivery. Whether you're putting along in a residential neighborhood or wound up on an empty country road, there's a deep well of acceleration-producing torque. Even with an automatic transmission, the A4 responds immediately when you jab the gas pedal.
With the new six-speed manual, the A4 3.0 is more a match for BMW's 330i-long the performance benchmark in this class. Its gear ratios are nicely matched if you want to shift frequently and really work the engine. Yet the new V6 is flexible enough that you can choose a gear -- second, third or fourth -- and drive it about 80 percent of the time like an automatic, rarely changing gears. We'd guess that the 2002 A4 3.0 will hit 60 mph from a stop in a tick under 7 seconds. That's a bit slower than the 330i, but this new Audi is quick, and it's the fastest A4 yet. Rarely will you fall into the passive mode at the wheel. More often than not you'll want to stretch it.
If you prefer an automatic transmission, you'll have two options. A4s with quattro offer a conventional five-speed automatic, while front-drive models have the new continuously variable transmission (CVT). Until now, CVTs were reserved for economy cars, and unable to cope with the high torque of a V6 engine. Audi's CVT has an electric clutch (like that on a manual transmission, without the pedal). It's lighter than conventional automatics, with fewer working parts-and theoretically fewer things to go wrong. The practical advantage of a CVT? It provides the best transmission ratio for optimum performance or economy in any particular driving conditions. Audi claims that with the CVT, the A4 accelerates as quickly and gets the same mileage as an A4 with a manual transmission. (Fuel economy typically suffers significantly with a traditional automatic.)
Those claims aside, the CVT takes some getting used to. Its clutch can take a second engage, much like a torque converter that's slow to lock up. To the driver it can feel like sloppiness in the drivetrain. Depending on circumstances, you get rolling too slowly, or with a jerk, and working the throttle can require some practice. It's really a matter of getting used to different behavior. Audi has programmed its CVT with six pre-defined ranges, or gears, which can be managed by a Tiptronic sequential selector. Drivers can operate it like a conventional automatic with a sport shifter. Nonetheless, we recommend driving the CVT before buying it.
Whatever the engine/transmission combination, the A4 had plenty of punch to climb from the valleys into the mountains of southwestern Vermont. We never tapped the steering wheel impatiently, waiting for the acceleration to.
The so-called small-luxury or near luxury or entry luxury or sports sedan market includes some of the best cars in the world, whatever your taste or preference. The status conscious can find a high-end nameplate in the $25,000-$35,000 price range. Driving enthusiasts get good performance in a practical package, and the frugal get most of the amenities and safety features found in large luxury sedans, with decent fuel economy and a much lower price of entry. The A4 covers all these bases and goes a step further with the option of all-wheel drive.
There are at least 14 sedans in this category -from 10 different manufacturers--and sales are strong. Yet the competition is brutal, and today's hot ticket can quickly become tomorrow's has-been. It's no fluke that the A4 has remained near the top in sales since its introduction seven years ago, and the 2002 A4 is a much better car than its predecessor.
Anyone shopping this class of automobile would be foolish not to take a long look at Audi.
1.8T 5-speed manual ($24,900); 1.8T CVT ($26,050); 1.8T quattro 5-speed manual ($26,650);1.8T quattro 5-speed Tiptronic ($27,800); 3.0 CVT ($31,390); 3.0 6-speed manual ($32,090); 3.0 5-speed Tiptronic ($33,140).
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($750) includes sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and performance tires; Preferred Package ($1800) includes glass sunroof, leather upholstery; Premium Package ($550) includes auto-dimming power folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, memory for driver's seat and mirror adjustments, HomeLink universal garage-door operator; heated front and rear seats ($525); GPS navigation system ($1,350).
A4 3.0 quattro 6-speed manual ($32,090).
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