2007 A4 New Car Test Drive
Do you remember the first Volkswagen GTI? It was the original sports car in a box when it snarled onto the scene as a 1983 model, back in the days when there was still a VW hatchback named after a creature with long ears and buck teeth.
The GTI was fast on its feet, reasonably quick from a standing start and roomy inside; it had sports-car responses combined with a hatchback's space efficiency. And if the GTI wasn't quite revolutionary (there was the precedent of the Austin Mini Cooper S) it was certainly sensational.
The original GTI added new descriptions to the automotive lexicon, such as pocket rocket and hot hatch. And it spawned a small fleet of wannabes - the Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo, Dodge Omni GLH, Toyota Corolla FX16 and Mazda 323 Turbo, to name just a few.
That wasn't so long ago, but our automotive appetite has obviously changed. America has lost its taste for hatchbacks, preferring cars shaped like bullets rather than boxes, with at least the illusion of a conventional trunk.
The hot hatchback phenomenon is all but history. Although Honda continues to offer the peppy Si version of the Civic hatchback, it's a member of a family that also includes formal coupes and sedans. Only VW persists with a full line of true shoe-box hatchbacks, called Golf.
And only one Golf carries on the concept established by the original GTI. This is it.
The GTI VR6 isn't exactly inexpensive with a price of $19,265. But compared with sport coupes of comparable performance - the Acura Integra GS-R, Ford Probe GT and Mazda MX-6, for example - its comprehensive collection of comfort and convenience features makes it very competitive. The only options you can add are clearcoat metallic paint and a 6-disc CD changer, bringing the price up to $19,935. We were content with the standard equipment on our test model. Volkswagen's Passat sedan and wagon line was named for a cold wind that sweeps across Germany, although VW was hoping that this car would blast the U.S. market with the force of a hurricane. Successor to the competent but unloved VW Quantum, the Passat was supposed to sweep Yankee minds clean of such established family favorites as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. Unfortunately for VW, the Passat's effect on the American market so far has been about as strong as a wispy breeze.
Early Passat popularity problems were perhaps justified by a buzzy 4-cylinder engine that, when combined with VW's lackluster automatic transmission, offered little driving excitement. Then, last year, the car was given needed muscle with a V6 engine transplant, and the automatic gearbox was extensively revised for smoother, crisper shifts. Dynamically the car became more palatable, but the Passat's jelly-bean styling and grille-less nose failed to create much interest.
This shouldn't be the case with 1995's Passat. Mechanically, it's almost identical to last year's model, but the Passat gains a more sophisticated look and represents one of the best values in the market. Powered by Volkswagen's acclaimed V6, the new Passat offers unmatched levels of standard amenities in the family-oriented midsize segment. When comparably equipped, the Passat beats its primary Asian rival by a couple thousand bucks, and VW's service and powertrain warranty are among the best in the business. Volvo sells more cars in America than anywhere outside its home market, Sweden. The two primary reasons for this popularity - reliability and safety - also happen to be two of the most important purchase considerations for new-car buyers.
Volvo's attention to these key factors has created a loyal following, to be sure, but Volvo planners saw the need for a model that could attract a younger, perhaps less conservative crowd to its showrooms. The model that did it, the 850, was Volvo's first front-drive sedan and wagon line, and it accomplished its primary task with great success. The Audi A4 is one of the better cars in a crowd of smaller sport-luxury sedans that, dollar-for-dollar, offers some of the best, most appealing vehicles in the world.
To be sure, Audi's A4/S4 line is more than sedans. For 2007, all-new convertibles augment the existing four-door models and wagons. Also new is the ultra-high performance (and at $66,000, expensive), 420-hp RS4. From the enthusiast driver's perspective, it's one of the best sedans ever.
The A4 line is complex, with 21 variants. The key is thinking according to priorities: body style, engine size, front- or all-wheel drive, transmission type. All are nicely balanced, enjoyable automobiles.
The A4 2.0T, still priced well below $30,000, is fun to drive. Its turbocharged, 200-hp four-cylinder is one of the better small engines going, with satisfying response and spry acceleration, particularly with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It corners like a sports sedan, and high-quality construction is evident inside and out. Audi's optional quattro all-wheel drive system can help keep the driver on the road regardless of the conditions or situation, and buyers don't have to choose a big engine or special model to get it.
Going up the line, there's a smooth V6 and two powerful V8s. Those who frequently carry gear, dogs or cargo will appreciate the A4 Avant, which offers the extra space of a wagon while maintaining the A4's sporty driving character. The new convertibles are stylish, sexy and reasonably practical, and they don't have to cost an arm and a leg. The S4 models will appeal to enthusiast drivers who crave their lusty power and sporty handling, for a lot less cash than the RS4.
Every A4 should appeal to techies. State-of-the-art engines feature direct fuel injection: the cleanest, most efficient means yet devised to blend gasoline and air in an engine's cylinders. Transmission choices include a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual-shift feature and an efficient continuously variable automatic (CVT) that delivers truly seamless shifting. Sophisticated suspension technology is augmented with electronic stability control, which can help the driver avoid a crash. The A4 is stuffed with safety features and offers rear side-impact airbags, while most cars in its class don't.
Unlike other tech-heavy cars, the gizmos blend nicely in the A4, enhancing comfort, convenience and safety, and improving the driving experience.
The A4 can be pricey and it's relatively small. On the other hand, you'll have to look long and hard to find a car that blends driving satisfaction, safety, convenience, practicality, great finish and reasonable ownership cost as well as the A4.
The 2007 Audi A4 line features a vast array of sedans, wagons and convertibles with four-cylinder, V6 or V8 engines, front- or all-wheel drive and a choice of six-speed manual, conventional six-speed automatic or continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmissions. The line includes more than 20 separate variants, including the S4 models.
The A4 2.0T sedan ($28,240) is the least expensive model, powered by 200-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 2.0T Avant ($31,340) and other wagons come only with quattro, which is included in the price. The standard upholstery is cloth. Also standard: dual-zone automatic climate control with cabin filtration, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver's seat, auto-on running lights, a 10-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and 16-inch aluminum wheels.
Option packages for 2.0T: The Premium Package ($1,900) includes a power glass sunroof and 17-inch wheels. The Convenience Package ($1,900) adds driver's seat position memory, Homelink remote transmitter, rain and light sensors, auto-dimming inside mirror with compass, auto-dimming and power folding outside mirrors and Bi-Xenon headlights with adaptive front lighting.
The A4 3.2 sedan comes with the CVT automatic ($35,540) and FronTrak front-wheel drive; the 3.2 quattro comes with all-wheel-drive and the six-speed manual ($36,440) or CVT ($37,640). The 3.2 Avant ($37,440) comes with the manual or the Tiptronic six-speed automatic ($38,640). The A4 3.2 models feature a 255-hp V6 and come standard with leather upholstery, a sunroof, and 17-inch wheels.
Options for the 3.2 models include a Cold Weather Package ($1,000) with heated seats and a ski sack, and Audi's S-line Sport Package ($2,750), which adds 18-inch wheels with performance or all-season tires, sport suspension, brushed aluminum trim and S-line styling tweaks.
The S4 sedan ($47,500) and S4 Avant ($48,500), which feature a 340-hp 4.2-liter V8 and standard quattro. The S4s offer the DTM Appearance Package ($1,500), which is named for Germany's equivalent to NASCAR racing and includes carbon-fiber spoilers.
The A4 Cabriolet, or convertible, has only four seat belts, and is available in five models that roughly correspond to the sedans and wagons: 2.0T CVT ($39,100); 2.0T quattro with conventional automatic ($41,200); 3.2 quattro with automatic ($46,950); S4 manual ($55,700); and S4 automatic ($56,900).
The are lots of stand-alone options for all A4 and S4 models, including a navigation system ($2,100), a Bose stereo upgrade ($1,000) with XM satellite radio receiver, Parktronic distance warning ($350), special wood trim packages ($400) and headlight washers ($150).
The RS4 ($66,000) sits atop the entire lineup. This is a high-performance sedan of the first order, with a 420-hp 4.2-liter V8, manual transmission only and a special quattro system that biases power delivery to the rear wheels. It also includes most of the comfort and convenience features offered across the line.
Safety features that come standard include front-seat front and side-impact airbags, curtains-style head-protection airbags front and rear, and advanced, full-feature electronic stability and anti-lock braking systems (ABS). Rear-seat side airbags ($350) and a tire pressure monitor ($250) are optional.