Every brand has one–the staple seller; the for-the-masses car on which a corporation’s fortunes rest. Audi’s bread-and-butter line, the A4 comes in sedan, two-door convertible and wagon variants. Of course, with the falling value of the dollar eating profits and ever-encroaching competition from Japanese, German and even American luxury brands, the A4 is more important to Audi’s lineup than ever.
Every brand has one–the staple seller; the for-the-masses car on which a corporation’s fortunes rest. Audi’s bread-and-butter line, the A4 comes in sedan, two-door convertible and wagon variants. Of course, with the falling value of the dollar eating profits and ever-encroaching competition from Japanese, German and even American luxury brands, the A4 is more important to Audi’s lineup than ever. As their most popular car, Audi needs the new A4 to bring buyers into Audi showrooms and continue to create the legions of satisfied customers that previous models have. The A4 has been a staff favorite here at Roadfly since the model was introduced; now, for the 2005 model year, Audi has redesigned the car inside and out.
Let’s start by taking a look at that distinctive new exterior. The engineers in Ingolstadt gave the A4 a serious facelift, with a prominent front end that does a good job of distinguishing the new model from previous versions. It’s a corporate look, shared across Audi’s model range from the baby A3 hatchback to the A8 uber-sedan–and it has proven somewhat controversial. After living with it for a week, we can say for sure that the look does grow on you.
The overall design is clean and angular. Tight tolerances between panels lend a solid, well-built feel to the body, which seems bigger than it actually is–only 180 inches long–thanks to the slab-sided design. Hooded headlamps and jeweled LED taillights look expensive and upscale.
Stepping inside, you’ll find the A4 to be surprisingly roomy. A total of 90 cubic feet of passenger space exists front and rear, with 13.4 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk. It feels a lot bigger inside than rivals such as the BMW 3-Series. Moreover, if you’ll pardon the cliche, the A4’s ergonomically-designed interior fits like a glove. Everything falls to hand, from the audio controls with redundant thumbwheels and buttons on the steering wheel, to the dual-zone climate control system. And there’s even a neat slide-out credit-card holder right in the dash, which comes in handy for such things as electronic gate passes and toll change. Taller drivers will need to learn to operate the cruise control by memory, as it’s somewhat obscured by the wheel, and is not illuminated at night. But with so much technology on board, we think Audi’s done a heck of a job packaging it all in a user-friendly way.
Standard features on the bottom-of-the-barrel base Audi A4 include power windows, doors and locks, as well as keyless entry and a power driver’s seat. In addition, our test car included such goodies as XM Satellite radio, heated seats, and the $1,400 sunroof package that also adds leather seats. Audi also offers an $1,800 Premium package, which adds toys like a power front passenger seat, rain sensing wipers, electrically-folding outside mirrors, Homelink and more. Bluetooth, bi-xenon headlights, voice control and a color trip computer are also available, as part of a $1,700 uplevel Technology package.
Get behind the wheel, and the smiles continue. Our test car, which came with the turbocharged engine found in the majority of A4s to hit the market, had power to spare. Tied to a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shifting capabilities, the turbo powerplant gives good acceleration at almost any engine speed. Turbo lag is palpable at times, but it doesn’t take too long to spool up (think Subaru WRX), and the reward once it does is simple joy. Official figures claim it takes only seven and a half seconds to get to 60 miles per hour, while the top speed is electronically governed at 130 miles per hour.
This little four-banger is packed full of modern technology. Variable valve timing, direct injection, and the intercooled turbo, top the list; Audi managed to extract 200 horsepower from just two liters here. Moreover, 207 pound-feet of torque is available on a broad plateau between 1800 and 5000 R.P.M.
Also available in the A4 line is an 3.2-liter V6, with 255 horsepower. And for the truly power-mad, the hot-rod S4 comes with a 340-horse V8 that rockets the car to sixty in well under six seconds–one of our very favorite autos ever, especially in cabriolet form.
More important than numbers, though, is the way this car feels. Drive it slow, and you’re rewarded with a comfortable ride and a serene drive. Push it a little, and the car seems to hunker down, with accurate if heavy steering and what seems to be great gobs of grip. That tied-to-the-road feeling, plus a slight bias towards understeer, makes the A4 a confidence-enhancing machine.
Of course, aiding in that feeling of superb traction is Audi’s optional Quattro all-wheel-drive (standard A4s carry front-drive power). Built by Torsen, the system generally splits torque equally, but can divert as much as 67% of power to any one wheel with grip. Besides giving great control in rain and snow, we like the way Quattro gives this Audi a securely planted feel, even in dry cornering.
The A4’s suspension consists of a four-link independent setup in front, and a trapezoidal-link system in the rear. Optional 17-inch rims, shod with 235/45 tires, complete the package.
Audi did not skimp on the safety front, either. The A4 comes equipped with airbags covering the front passengers and side curtain areas front and rear. Rear side impact airbags are optional. Anti-lock brakes and traction control are standard as well. In addition, the A4 has active head restraints and seatbelt pretensioners to reduce dangerous passenger movement in a crash.
Fuel economy being the hot-button issue that it is today, the A4’s EPA ratings of 22 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway are reassuring. Our test car actually came close to those numbers in fairly aggressive driving. That’s an impressive result, compared with the thirsty sports sedans we’ve tested lately.
With so much interior content and luxury packed into such a fun-to-drive small German sedan, you’d expect to pay a premium price. You won’t be disappointed there, although the A4 still represents something of a bargain when compared to similar 3-Series models from BMW, or C-class sedans from Mercedes-Benz. Base price on the Audi A4 with the two-liter turbo is $27,640. Some of the bigger options, such as the $2,000 Quattro package, pushed our as-tested price to $35,870. And that’s having skipped the $2,000 navigation package, which includes a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox. Still, when compared with similar BMW models that can cost several thousand dollars more, the A4 is one of the best ways to buy into German engineering in a sports-sedan package, without breaking the bank.
Audi’s new A4 is a technological and engineering marvel. Fun to drive, luxurious, and comfortable, all at a modest premium price. For years, we’ve watched Audi sales slowly encroaching on the German competition–it looks as if the new A4 can only further that trend.