Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
This is one great sedan.
Audi serves up refinement in its A4 sedan and Avant (wagon) models. The A4 comes with a brilliantly designed interior, a smooth ride and excellent handling. It glides over the road, soaking up bumps, yet feels taut on winding roads. Keeping your foot down as you bend it through that high-speed sweeper doesn't cause a knot in your stomach. The A4 always feels like it's on rails.
A4 is available in sedan and wagon body styles. The wagon is called an Avant. Two engines are available, a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 150 horsepower and a 2.8-liter V6 rated at 190 horsepower.
The A4 1.8T sedan starts at $23,990, while the 2.8-liter version retails for $28,790. The A4 1.8T Avant quattro wagon starts at $26,740, while the A4 2.8 Avant quattro wagon goes for $31,540. All come standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. A five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission ($1,075) is optional.
Standard upholstery is a choice of cloth or leatherette. Leather upholstery is optional on the 2.8 Sedan ($1,320).
Audi's fantastic quattro all-wheel-drive system comes standard on Avant wagons. Quattro is a $1,750 option on the sedan models; Audi's sophisticated Anti-Slip Regulation (ASR) traction control system comes standard on front-wheel-drive sedans not equipped with quattro. Anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard. Audi's optional sideguard curtain side airbags ($300) covers the entire side window area to protect occupants in both the front and outside rear seats; unlike front airbags, they remain inflated for about 5 seconds to provide protection if the vehicle rolls over. New Xenon high-intensity discharge low-beam headlights ($500) improve visibility on stormy nights.
Other notable options include sport front seats ($500), a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel ($500), a Bose premium sound system ($650), a six-disc CD changer ($550), a navigation system ($1,280), and an integrated hands-free mobile telephone ($495).
Sedan or wagon, these are great-looking, understated vehicles. EPA classifies the A4 as a compact, but it's an upscale, elegant car in a smaller size.
A4 sports some revisions for 2000: Up front, single-piece headlights give a new clear-glass look. Fog lights have been relocated in the lower front bumper. The radiator grille and front bumper were redesigned and heated windshield washer jets have been concealed. New exterior mirror housings, side turn indicator repeaters and body-colored side moldings improve the profile. New outside door handles provide better grip. Redesigned tail lamps look sportier.
The A4 looks the part of a sophisticated European sports sedan. Few sedans can match its clean, distinctive styling. Its neatly rounded profile features minimal front and rear overhangs and large glass areas. It looks equally elegant from the front and rear. It's a strong basic form with no extraneous trim. The A4's graceful design presents a strong rival to the BMW 3 Series. From the outside, there is little to distinguish the 1.8T from the 2.8 except for unique wheels and a badge in back.
The Avant wagons are just about the slickest small haulers ever conceived. In some ways the Avant is more eye-grabbing than the sedan. While most U.S. manufacturers have turned their backs on wagons, Audi has demonstrated that light cargo capability and svelte sheetmetal are not mutually exclusive concepts. At a tidy 176.7 inches, the Avant is actually 1.3 inches shorter than the sedan. It's not quite an inch taller, and its sloping tailgate lends the same graceful touch as the sedan's curved rear roof pillars.
For 2000, the instrument cluster has been revised with improved white lighting with red pointers. Now there's a digital clock with date. An ammeter and oil temperature gauge are provided in addition to the usual array of instruments. The switch gear has been redesigned for 2000. Like the more expensive A6, the buttons are illuminated and offer improved feel. Air vents on the dash panel have illuminated markings to simplify operation at night. The climate control system automatically adjusts according to the season by sensing the angle of the sun. Auto up and auto down power windows in front, with auto down power windows in the rear are among the standard features that show this is a luxury sports sedan. The center console has been completely redesigned for 2000. Storage cubbies are padded to keep small stuff from rattling. Cup holders have been redesigned.
The spacious, comfortable interior sports understated elegance. Audi's 'Atmospheres' allow customers to select coordinated interior schemes to match their personal tastes at no extra cost. Materials were upgraded for 2000. Doors close with a solid 'thunk.' The front seats are comfortable. Optional sport seats add side bolstering for additional support. A large dead pedal is one of the many indicators that Audi views driving as an active rather than passive activity. Optional leather upholstery is a high-quality treat.
The rear seats have been redesigned for 2000 with more pronounced contours that offer more side support. It is still possible for three people to sit in the rear, but it's more comfortable with two. Audi's attention to detail is impressive. The latch for the trunk lid or Avant's hatch is automatically covered when the rear hatch is opened.
The Avant wagon offers 31.0 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the seats folded down. It won't hold as much cargo as many sport-utilities, but it holds quite a bit of stuff. And it stops, goes and handles far better than any SUV. Like the sedan, the Avant comes with a new lining for the cargo area and a luggage net is standard. Avant also includes a 12-volt power socket in the rear.
My first impression of this car was of its smoothness, not softness, but the smoothness of fine engineering. Everything melds with everything else. The engine is smooth, the car smoothly accelerates away in a linear fashion with smooth throttle response. The gearbox shifts smoothly through the gears. Braking and steering are smooth and fluid.
As mentioned, two engines are available. Both feature Audi's five-valves-per-cylinder technology.
The 1.8T models come with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates 150 horsepower. The engine is smooth, a distant purr that, like the gearbox, conveys a feeling of highly engineered, precision machinery. It revs so freely that it isn't difficult to rev it past the redline and into the rev limiter. Quick, but smooth acceleration are benefits of the linear response provided by the low-pressure turbocharger. It develops 155 foot-pounds of torque at just 1750 rpm and that power carries all the way through 4600 rpm, so there isn't any appreciable turbo lag. (Torque is that force that launches you away from intersections and propels you up steep hills.) The 1.8-liter turbo is a great engine. It's an excellent choice for enthusiasts who will team it up with the five-speed manual gearbox. It's also an excellent choice for anyone who wants a top-quality, safe sedan that offers a lot of value. The 1.8-liter engine gets about 3 mpg better combined fuel economy than the 2.8-liter V6.
Boasting 190 horsepower, Audi's V6 lends more urgency to forward progress. It's a highly tractable engine with 207 foot-pounds of torque. In other words, it provides the car with instant response when driving around town. Neither you nor the car has to work as hard with this engine as you do with the 1.8-liter turbo. While the V6 isn't a high-revver, it does hustle the Avant down the road in a quicker-than-ordinary hurry, zipping from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds, and 100 mph in 21 seconds. The engine emits a bit more intake noise than we'd like when pressed hard, but in most normal operating conditions we found the interior to be reasonably quiet. The V6 is perfect for those willing to spend a few more dollars for smoother, more relaxed motoring around town and when cruising on the highway. It works better with an automatic than the 1.8-liter turbo.
Audi's 5-speed manual transmission feels like silk. Taking off from a dead stop and going up through the gears feels seamless to your passengers. The shift action lacks the precision of some of the competition's best gearboxes, however. The optional automatic is a Porsche Tiptronic, which allows drivers to operate it as a semi-manual. It lends a little more variety to automatic driving than the garden variety automatic and can make commuting more entertaining. It's an excellent automatic transmission.
This car feels extremely stable. The suspension is firm. Steering is direct and accurate, allowing smooth transitions on winding roads. The A4 provides exceptionally good balance and response in quick side-to-side maneuvers.
The optional Sport Package makes a discernible difference in controlling weight transfer, which lends a significantly higher level of precision to quick changes in direction. The flip side of this is slightly firmer ride quality. The Sport Package makes the A4 more sensitive to tar strips and small bumps than models with the standard suspension setup, but it's a long way from harsh and the tradeoff is worthwhile to enthusiasts for the heightened sense of control. The Sport Package ($750 for 1.8T, $400 for 2.8) lowers the car 20 millimeters and adds slightly stiffer springs, more aggressive shock damping, a thicker rear anti-roll bar, and 16-inch alloy wheels with high-performance P205/55R16 tires along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel. We prefer it. The standard suspension allows just a little too much up and down motion and body roll for this sports sedan and the optional sports suspension offered acceptable rid.
Audi's A4 is a high-quality sedan with posh furnishings, comprehensive features. It comes loaded with character and refinement. With its seamless operation, it is a joy to drive and ride in. And it's a lot of fun to drive fast. Audi A4 comes with so much technology and so many features that we don't have space to cover it all; you'll need to study the product brochure for that.
The A4 Avant wagon truly special. It will outperform most sedans in this size class, and its sleek styling makes sport-utilities seem clunky, boring, and clumsy.
1.8T Sedan FWD ($23,990); 2.8 Sedan FWD ($28,790); 1.8T Avant Quattro Wagon AWD ($26,740); 2.8 Avant Quattro Wagon AWD ($31,540).
Options As Tested
Quattro IV all-wheel-drive system ($1,750) includes Torsen center differential; side airbags ($300); destination charge ($525).
A4 1.8T ($23,990).
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