2003 Audi A4 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A benchmark for sport sedans (and sport wagons and sport cabrios).
Audi aims for its A4 to be the benchmark for sports sedans. The A4 might well be THE benchmark if it wasn't for the existence of the BMW 3 Series. In spite of the big shadow cast by rear-wheel-drive BMW, the Audi A4 is a fantastic sports sedan and certainly a leader among front-drive sedans. The A4 is unquestionably a standard against which sport sedans can be measured, and that fits the definition of a benchmark.
A4 delivers crisp handling, a firm ride, and a well-controlled suspension that make for a precise, high-quality driving experience. A4 feels like it's on rails around fast sweepers, especially when equipped with the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. The 3.0 V6 engine is wonderfully smooth and quite strong, while the turbocharged 1.8T delivers spry performance when paired with the manual gearbox. A host of active safety features help keep drivers on the road. A4's beautifully finished interior exudes quality and ergonomic excellence.
A4 was completely redesigned for 2002 and introduced with a new 3.0-liter V6. A new model, the 2003 A4 Cabriolet, brings top-down motoring to the line, and Avant (wagon) models have joined the new generation. Minor interior upgrades are available for 2003.
Audi A4 comes in three body styles: four-door sedan, two-door convertible, and Avant wagon. Two engines are available: A4 1.8T models are powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; A4 3.0 models get a new 3.0-liter V6.
Four transmissions are available: five- and six-speed manuals, a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic, and Audi's multitronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). A4 models are available FrontTrak front-wheel drive or Quattro all-wheel drive. Quattro is one of the most sophisticated all-wheel-drive systems going, and one of Audi's most popular options.
A4 1.8T sedan ($24,950) comes standard with cloth upholstery, a five-speed manual gearbox, and FronTrak. Other models include A4 1.8T FronTrak CVT ($26,100); 1.8T quattro five-speed manual ($26,700); and 1.8T quattro Tiptronic ($27,850).
A4 3.0 sedans comes with leather upholstery. Models include A4 3.0 FronTrak CVT ($31,590); A4 3.0 quattro six-speed manual ($32,290); and 3.0 quattro Tiptronic ($33,340).
Avant models (wagons) are similar to the aforementioned sedans, and retail for about $1000 more. All Avants come with Quattro.
Cabriolet is available initially as a 3.0 FronTrak CVT ($41,500), but a 1.8T version will also be available. Cabriolets do not offer Quattro.
All A4 models are well equipped. They come with a full compliment of power amenities, including power up/auto down for all windows (with pinch protection). Standard equipment includes dual-zone climate control with charcoal filtration, concealed headlight washers and a 150-watt, 10-speaker stereo with six-CD in-dash changer.
Safety features that come standard include antilock brakes, electronic stability program (ESP), dual front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash, front side-impact airbags, curtain-style head protection airbags on each side of the cabin, three-point seat belts at all five locations with pretensioners, force limiters in front. Rear side-impact airbags are optional.
Options for 2003: Premium Package ($2000 for 1.8T) includes leather seating surfaces, power driver's seat with lumbar, glass sunroof, and HomeLink remote transmitter. A Sport Package ($1000 for 1.8T; $750 for 3.0) includes a sports suspension and 17-inch wheels. Audi's GPS navigation system ($1,350) is available for A4 3.0 models.
Audi A4 is shaped in the signature Bauhaus style established by the larger A6 sedan. The A4 takes styling cues from both the TT roadster and A6, including its high beltline, prominent chrome-trimmed grille, and notched-in flush taillights. It's more curvaceous than the more angular pre-2002 A4 models. Headlights, bumpers, and door handles are integrated into the body. Few adornments detract from the A4's basic shape, and there is little chrome. Antennae for the radio, telematics and navigation systems are embedded into the rear glass. A4 is a handsome car, though it looks too much like a little A6, and not distinct enough it its own right.
Cabriolet models share the sedan's basic lines and clean, taut surfaces in a two-door body style. The wide arc of the convertible top accentuates the A4's pure proportions and subtle wedge shape. Cabriolet sports unique features, such as the brushed aluminum trim around the windscreen and waist. Especially in light colors, its body-colored airdam accentuates the openings under the front bumper more than the dark-colored airdam on the sedan and Avant.
Avant is the same length as the sedan. It features a trunk lid that can open at two different heights, to allow extra height for taller owners.
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. The cabin beltline is edged with aluminum in the 1.8T and real wood in the 3.0. The available light-colored wood is used to good effect. It's a handsome interior.
Front seats adjust to accommodate people in the six-foot, five-inch range. The seats 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. A thick, grippy, leather-covered steering wheel and shift lever are standard, with a choice of fabric or leatherette (vinyl) upholstery. The driver's view is nearly unobstructed in every direction. The small, sculpted side mirrors are stylish and aerodynamic, but from the driver's seat they offer a limited viewing range. We would sacrifice the look for wider coverage.
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 love the lock buttons with the little red LED to signal when the doors are locked. Power central locking is executed well, with a central switch to lock all doors. Dealers can program the doors to lock automatically at 8 mph. Turn the key in the driver's door and hold it there and you can raise or lower all windows and sunroof at once. The remote fob is designed to operate at up to 150 feet away.
Rear passengers should find adequate legroom, as the A4's design makes great use of the floor space. There's room in back for three, with three-point harnesses at all positions, but average-size adults will feel much more comfortable with only two.
Trunk space in the A4 sedan is among the largest in the class (13.4 cubic feet, compared to just 10.7 in the BMW 3 Series and 12.2 in the Mercedes C-Class). Moreover, the lid swings high and back for easy access. Four tie-down hooks in the carpeted floor and a removable grocery net are designed to keep things in place. 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.
Avant holds twice as much cargo as the sedan with the seats in place (27.8 cu. ft.), providing a nice, flat cargo area. It comes with a retractable luggage cover and a partition net. Fold down the rear seats The rear seats fold to reveal 60.6 cu. ft. of cargo capacity.
Cabriolet offers just 10.2 cu. ft. of cargo space. It does, however, come with a padded convertible top that's triple-layered and features a heated glass rear window with electric defrost. Audi says its engineers used a special process to seal the top's three layers for precise fit and finish. Horizontal crossbars keep the top stiff to preventing ballooning at speed and there's a distinct absense of tent ridges. Press a button and the fully automatic top drops in just 24 seconds, and a cover closes over it for a flush fit.
Audi's 3.0-liter V6 puts the A4 among the more powerful cars in the class. It's rated 220 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 221 pounds-feet of torque. By comparison, the BMW 330i and Mercedes C320 make 225 horsepower, 214 pounds-feet of torque, and 215 horsepower, 229 pounds-feet, respectively. Audi remains the only luxury carmaker with advanced five-valve-per-cylinder technology across its product line. Introduced for 2002, Audi's 3.0 features an aluminum engine block cast using the latest technology for maximum strength and durability. Cleaner and more fuel-efficient than the old 2.8-liter engine, the 3.0 earns California's Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle certification.
Like everything else about the A4, the V6 engine is very smooth. Press down on the throttle and power comes on linearly, evenly. It does not paste you to the back of the seat, but delivers solid torque throughout the rev range. Variable-timing intake and exhaust camshafts optimize air/fuel delivery and combustion, boosting horsepower and presenting 90 percent of peak torque from 2200-5200 rpm. So there's a deep well of power available whether you're winding up on an empty country road or just cruising along. Jab the gas pedal, and the A4 responds immediately.
With the six-speed manual, the A4 3.0 is a match for BMW's 330i, long the performance benchmark in this class. The six-speed's 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 shift less frequently, allowing the engine torque pull the car along. It's a nice gearbox, though not the easiest to coordinate with the clutch for smoothness. An A4 Quattro with the six-speed manual can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds and can turn the standing quarter-mile in 15.2 seconds. That's comparable to a BMW 330i. The A4 is quick, 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 have two options: A4 quattros are available with a five-speed Tiptronic automatic. A4 FronTrak models offer Audi's Multitronic continuously variable transmission. Audi's CVT was designed to handle high torque loads, such as those from its 3.0 V6. It's lighter than conventional automatics, has fewer moving 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. An A4 3.0 FronTrak with the CVT accelerates as quickly as an A4 3.0 quattro with the six-speed, according to Audi, and gets about the same mileage as an A4 with a manual transmission.
CVT takes some getting used to, however. Its clutch can take a second to 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, that act like gears. It can be managed by a Tiptronic sequential selector, so drivers can operate it like a conventional automatic with a sport shifter. We recommend driving the CVT before buying it.
The five-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission is a good choice for A4 3.0 models. Put it in Drive and leave it there. It offers responsive performance and communicates well with the 3.0-liter V6. Fuel economy for the A4 3.0 automatic nearly matches that of the A4 3.0 six-speed manual. Enthusiast drivers can slap the Tiptronic shifter to the right and shift manually. Pull the handle back to downshift, push it forward to upshift. The automatic does, of course, diminish acceleration performance when compared with either the CVT or manual gearbox (by 0.5 seconds in the quarter-mile, according to Audi). Still, the five-speed automa.
Audi A4 combines high quality, thoughtful design, and invigorating performance at a compelling price. A4 is one of the most respected cars in a class that includes some of the best cars in the world.
A4 delivers good performance in a practical package. It offers amenities and safety features found in large luxury sedans at a much lower price of entry. And it offers the option of all-wheel drive.
There are at least 14 sedans in this category 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 this latest-generation A4 is a much better car than its predecessor.
The A4 3.0 sedans are outstanding small luxury sport sedans. Avant wagons are a great choice for families of two or three and a dog, offering big cargo capacity and sport sedan handling. A4 1.8T delivers the luxury and performance of a true European sports sedan at a price that puts it in reach of many new-car buyers. Anyone shopping this class should take a long look at Audi.
1.8T 5-speed manual ($24,950); 1.8T CVT ($26,100); 1.8T quattro 5-speed manual ($26,700);1.8T quattro 5-speed Tiptronic ($27,850); 3.0 CVT ($31,590); 3.0 6-speed manual ($32,290); 3.0 5-speed Tiptronic ($33,340); A4 3.0 Cabriolet ($41,500).
Options As Tested
leather upholstery ($1000); Sport Package ($750) includes sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and ultra-high performance summer tires; Bose premium sound system ($650); Premium Package ($2250) includes power glass sunroof, multi-function steering wheel, xenon headlamps, HomeLink universal garage-door operator, auto-dimming power folding exterior mirrors, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, memory for driver's seat and mirror adjustments; metallic pearl paint ($450); Cold Weather Package ($625) includes heated front seats, ski sack.
A4 Avant 3.0 quattro 5-speed automatic ($34,340).
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