2004 Audi A4 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Excellent line of sports sedans adds even more models.
The Audi A4 represents a line of fantastic sports sedans. They deliver crisp handling, a firm ride, and a well-controlled suspension that make for a precise, high-quality driving experience. The A4 feels like it's on rails around fast sweepers, especially when equipped with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system, one of the world's best. Beautifully finished interiors exude quality and ergonomic excellence.
Performance and driveability vary by model. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine that comes on 1.8T models delivers excellent performance when paired with a manual gearbox and it's attractively priced, but the 1.8-liter engine doesn't work as well with the available automatic transmission. The V6 engine that comes on 3.0 models is wonderfully smooth and quite strong, and it works very well when paired with the optional automatic. The V8-powered S4 delivers awesome performance and serious enthusiasts love it, but its suspension may be too firm for most drivers.
The A4 was completely redesigned for 2002. Last year, the Cabriolet (convertible) and Avant (wagon) models joined the lineup. For 2004, Audi further expands the A4 family with the V8-powered S4, plus Audi's first Cabriolet quattros, available in both A4 3.0 and S4 trim, combining high performance with top-down exhilaration.
A host of active and passive safety features help keep drivers on the road and protect passengers in an accident.
A4 1.8T models are powered by a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The A4 1.8T sedan ($25,250) comes standard with cloth upholstery, a five-speed manual gearbox, and front-wheel drive. Standard amenities include dual-zone climate control and a 150-watt, 10-speaker stereo with six-CD in-dash changer. The 1.8T is also available with front-wheel drive and a Continuously Variable Transmission, a stepless automatic transmission ($26,400). The 1.8T quattro is available with a six-speed manual ($27,450) or a five-speed Tiptronic automatic ($28,500). The A4 1.8T Avant quattro comes with the six-speed manual ($28,450) or the Tiptronic automatic ($29,500). The Avant adds four-way power seats with adjustable lumbar support to the sedan's list of standard equipment. A4 1.8T Cabriolet ($35,250) shares the wagon's power seats and is available only with the CVT and front-wheel drive. It also comes with a more powerful 180-watt stereo.
The A4 3.0 features a 3.0-liter V6. The A4 3.0 front-drive sedan ($31,150) comes standard with the CVT, 12-way power driver's seat, leather upholstery, an upgraded stereo, driver information display, and other luxury and trim items, in addition to the V6 engine. Quattro sedans add a 12-way power passenger's seat and are offered with a choice of six-speed manual ($32,940) or Tiptronic ($33,990). The A4 3.0 Avant comes only with quattro, and with the six-speed manual ($33,940) or Tiptronic ($34,990). The A4 3.0 Cabriolet is offered with either the CVT and front-wheel drive ($41,800), or quattro and Tiptronic ($43,550).
The S4 is a high-performance variant that shares the same three bodies, but is powered by a 4.2-liter V8 rated at 340 horsepower. The S4 is available as a sedan with six-speed manual ($45,650) or six-speed Tiptronic ($46,800) transmission; Avant with six-speed manual ($46,650) or six-speed Tiptronic ($47,800); or as Cabriolet with the same transmission choices.
Options include a 215-watt Bose sound system for front-drive sedans ($900), the same system with a choice of Sirius or XM satellite radio for Quattro models ($1,000), a navigation system for 3.0 and S4 ($1,350), and OnStar ($750).
The Audi A4 is a handsome car, shaped in the signature Bauhaus style established by the larger A6. The A4 takes styling cues from both the TT roadster and the A6, including its high beltline, prominent chrome-trimmed grille, and notched-in flush taillights. Headlights, bumpers, and door handles are integrated into the body. Few adornments detract from the A4's basic shape, and there is little chrome. On sedans, antennae for the radio, telematics and navigation systems are embedded into the rear glass.
The Avant is sporty looking wagon with a steeply sloped rear hatch that sacrifices some cargo room for a slick, up-market profile. Overall, the Avant is the same length as the sedan. Its rear hatch can open at two different heights, to allow extra clearance for taller owners. It also features a dual-loading cargo floor, a rakish roof-mounted antenna and unique window trim: black on 1.8T, brushed aluminum on 3.0 and S4.
Cabriolet models share the sedan's basic lines and clean, taut surfaces in a two-door convertible body style. The wide arc of the soft top accentuates the A4's pure proportions and subtle wedge shape. Cabriolets come with unique features. Among them: brushed aluminum trim around the windscreen and waist. The cabrio's body-colored air dam, especially in the lighter paint colors, accentuates the openings under the front bumper more than the dark-colored air dam on the sedan and Avant.
S4 models are distinguished by fully painted bumpers, xenon headlights with contrasting titanium-colored inner housings, aluminum-finish exterior mirrors, and a trunk-mounted rear spoiler. The S4 Avant is further distinguished by its aluminum-colored roof rails.
Safety features that come standard on all A4/S4 models include antilock brakes, Brake Assist, and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD); an electronic stability program (ESP); dual front airbags that deploy at different rates depending on the severity of a crash, front side-impact airbags, and three-point seat belts at all five locations with pre-tensioners and force limiters in front. Sedans and Avants also have curtain-style head-protection airbags for front and rear-seat passengers, while the Cabriolet's seat-mounted side-impact airbags are designed to provide head protection. The Cabriolet features an active rollover protection system located in the double rear bulkhead. Should the car roll, electronic sensors trigger two protective hoops that pop up from behind the rear seats in less than a second. Together with the extremely rigid windscreen frame, these hoops help to maintain an intact survival zone designed to protect all occupants. Rear side-impact airbags are optional ($350) on all models except the Cabriolet.
The interior theme of the Audi A4 is cool and efficient, as it is in Audi's other sedans, and not deliberately snazzy in the fashion of the TT. Materials look and feel richer than those in many other cars in this price range, and the trim matches flawlessly. The cabin beltline is trimmed with aluminum in the 1.8T and real wood in the 3.0. The light-colored wood is used to good effect. It's a handsome interior. The interior of the S4 is handsome. Our seats were trimmed in a gray that was almost white, with black (or nearly black) trim, and dark-gray birch trim adds distinction.
The front seats adjust to accommodate people in the six-foot five-inch range. The seats are comfortable and supportive in nearly all circumstances. We thought more side bolstering would have been an improvement, though, to hold driver and passenger firmly when cornering. Leather upholstery is available on the 1.8T sedan and Avant as part of a Premium Package ($2000) that also includes a power moonroof, power seats, HomeLink transmitter and driver information display. A thick, grippy, leather-covered steering wheel and shift lever are standard. The S4 comes with 12-way power Recaro sport seats that are firm, supportive, and comfortable. The S4's leather-wrapped, three-spoke sport steering wheel features shift paddles on Tiptronic models; a four-spoke, wheel with multi-function controls is optional ($150).
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.
Some of the 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. The radial sunroof switch works well; turn it a quarter, half or full turn and the roof opens a corresponding distance. With the Premium Package for 3.0 models ($1,525-$2,300), nearly all temperature, ventilation and stereo adjustments can be made using 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. Flow-control switches on each dash vent are illuminated. In the S4, gray-faced gauges feature the S4 logo.
Attention to detail and thoughtful features are everywhere. The wipers make another final sweep several seconds after the washer is used, cleaning those remaining droplets that were blown 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 in the sedan or Avant, 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 it's comfortable with 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 rear seat is split 60/40 and folds down for carrying even more stuff. The Cold Weather Package ($625) includes heated front seats a nylon ski sack that allows snow skis to slide through the trunk and into the cabin without leaving a damp mess.
The Avant provides a nice, flat cargo area that holds twice as much as the sedan with the seats in place (27.8 cubic feet), and it comes with a retractable luggage cover an.
The Audi A4 3.0 runs among the more powerful cars in its class with its aluminum 3.0-liter V6. It's rated 220 horsepower at 6300 rpm with 221 pounds-feet of torque. By comparison, the BMW 330i and Mercedes C320 make 225 horsepower, 214 pounds-feet of torque, and 215 horsepower, 221 pounds-feet, respectively. Audi remains the only luxury carmaker with advanced five-valve-per-cylinder technology across its product line, a setup that allows the engine to breathe freely. Both the A4 3.0 and A4 1.8T earn California's Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) certification.
Like everything else about the A4 3.0, 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 it delivers solid torque throughout the rev range. Variably phased intake and exhaust camshafts and variable-length intake runners optimize air/fuel delivery, boosting horsepower and maintaining 90 percent of peak torque from 2200-5200 rpm. So there's a deep well of power available whether you're winding up a country road or just cruising along. Jab the gas pedal in any situation, 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 gear ratios are nicely matched if you want to shift frequently and really work the engine. Yet the V6 is flexible enough that you can shift less frequently, allowing the engine torque pull the car along. But only rarely will you fall into the passive mode at the wheel of an A4. More often than not you'll want to stretch it. The six-speed itself is a nice gearbox, though not the easiest to coordinate with the clutch for smoothness. An A4 3.0 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 the performance of a BMW 330i.
If you prefer an automatic transmission, you have two options: an A4 quattro (all-wheel drive) with a more traditional five-speed Tiptronic automatic, or a front-drive A4 with Audi's Multitronic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The CVT was designed to handle the high torque load of the 3.0-liter V6. It's lighter than conventional automatics, has fewer moving parts, and theoretically fewer things to go wrong. And, theoretically speaking, it always provides the optimum ratio, at any engine speed, any vehicle speed. In terms of real-world performance, 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. The CVT takes some getting used to, however. Its internal clutch can take a moment to engage and respond. To the driver, this 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 the CVT's different behavior. Audi has programmed its CVT with six pre-defined ranges that act like gears. The CVT can be managed by a Tiptronic-style sequential selector, so drivers can operate it like a conventional automatic with a sport shifter. We recommend driving the CVT before buying it. Having said all that, it works great and is one of the best CVTs available.
We can recommend the five-speed Tiptronic automatic for the A4 3.0 quattro with no caveats. Put it in Drive and leave it there. It offers responsive performance and communicates well with the V6. Fuel economy for the A4 3.0 Tiptronic (18/25 mpg EPA City/Highway) is comparable to that of the A4 3.0 six-speed manual (17/28). Enthusiast drivers can slide the Tiptronic shifter to the right and shift manually. Pull the handle back to downshift, push it forward to upshift. The automatic offers less acceleration performance when compared with either the CVT or manu.
Audi A4 combines high quality, thoughtful design, and invigorating performance at a compelling price. The A4 is one of the most respected cars in a class that includes some of the best cars in the world. It 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 quattro all-wheel drive.
There are at least 14 sedans in this class. 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 is an outstanding small luxury sport sedan. The Avant wagon is a great choice for families of two or three and a dog, offering big cargo capacity and sport-sedan handling. Cabriolet models add the excitement of open-top driving at the expense of some practicality. The V8-powered S4 takes performance to a significantly higher level; while the 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.
In short, the Audi A4 is a well-balanced machine that will hold your interest. It's exciting enough to grab your attention in the short term and substantial enough to grow more attractive with time.
Audi A4 1.8T sedan 5-speed ($25,250); A4 1.8T sedan CVT ($26,400); A4 1.8 T sedan Quattro six-speed ($27,450); A4 1.8T sedan Quattro Tiptronic ($28,500); A4 1.8 T Avant Quattro six-speed ($28,450); A4 1.8T Avant Quattro Tiptronic ($29,500); A4 1.8T Cabriolet CVT ($35,250); A4 3.0 sedan CVT ($31,150): A4 3.0 sedan Quattro six-speed ($32,940); A4 3.0 sedan Quattro Tiptronic ($33,990); A4 3.0 Avant Quattro six-speed ($33,940); A4 3.0 Avant Quattro Tiptronic ($34,990); A4 3.0 Cabriolet CVT ($41,800); A4 3.0 Cabriolet Quattro Tiptronic ($43,550); S4 sedan Quattro six-speed ($45,650); S4 sedan Quattro Tiptronic ($46,800); S4 Avant Quattro six-speed ($46,650), S4 Avant Quattro Tiptronic ($47,800); S4 Cabriolet Quattro six-speed; S4 Cabriolet Quattro Tiptronic.
Options As Tested
Sport Package ($750) includes lowered sports suspension, P235/45YR17 high-performance tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels, brushed aluminum trim; Infotainment Package ($1000) includes 215-watt Bose premium sound system and satellite radio; Premium Package ($2300) 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.
Audi A4 3.0 quattro Tiptronic ($33,990).
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