First Drive: 2008 Audi A4 3.0 TDI Quattro

Click the A4 TDI for a high-res gallery

This week Audi invited invited a group of auto scribes to come over to their home turf and drive the newest edition of the A4 sedan. We spent a day driving a couple of hundred miles around Bavaria in the A4 TDI 3.0 Quattro and came away very impressed by both the performance and the fuel efficiency. The current generation A4 debuted last September at the Frankfurt Motor Show as a sedan with the new Avant wagon body style coming along last month in Geneva.

For its recent U.S. launch, the A4 arrived with a choice of two gasoline engines, a 2.0L TFSI four cylinder and a naturally aspirated 3.2L V-6. In Europe, buyers also get the option of a 1.8L gas engine and a trio of diesels including a 2.0L four and 2.7L and 3.0L V-6s. We learned the other day that plans for a hybrid version of the A4 have been put on hold because it doesn't make business sense for Audi right now due to the poor exchange rates between the Euro and the dollar. Audi is, however, strongly considering bringing in the 3.0L TDI instead since that engine is already going into the Q7 and the VW Touareg next year. Read on to find out how the A4 TDI felt on the road in Southern Germany.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The car we tested in Germany was an A4 3.0L TDI Quattro sedan. After a visit to Audi's plant in Neckarsulm where the R8 sports car is built, we all set off in a fleet of A4s headed to the home office in Ingolstadt about 130 miles away. The route that was set up on the car's nav system included a mix autobahn, rural roads, curvy mountain roads and urban driving.

The 3.0L V-6 we drove was equipped with a particulate filter that made it completely smoke free. It did not however, have the urea injection system that will be included in the cars that come to the U.S. That latter system is needed to be Tier 2 Bin 5 NOx limits that are about six times tougher than current Euro V standards. The upcoming Euro VI standards for 2012 will be equivalent to T2B5 so that the urea system will be implemented across the board.

The diesel engine produces 240hp and a constant 369lb-ft of torque between 1,500 and 3,000rpm. That latter figure means that at any given speed, acceleration is readily available in any of several gears without the engine feeling like it was straining. In a way, it was almost too bad that shifting felt like an unnecessary option because the six speed manual gearbox was a pleasure to manipulate. Throws weren't as short as a Miata (but what is?) but the linkage was smooth and low in effort.

The combination of Audi's multi-link front suspension and the Quattro full-time all wheel drive system meant that even with all that torque coming from the engine room, the A4 was utterly devoid of torque steer. On the Autobahn many areas in the vicinity of cities and towns have speed limits ranging from 100km/h to 130km/h (60-80mph). However when the signs indicated that the limited speed zone was ending, I opened it up to find out what this mid-sized German sport sedan was capable of.

It turns out it was capable of quite a lot. Cruising at 160km/h (100 mph) was quiet and effortless. The drag coefficient of 0.28 allows the A4 to slip through the air was relatively little effort and almost no wind noise and the engine was just a very muted growl that sounded like it was coming from somewhere well out in front of the car. The V-6 never felt or sounded strained and even at idle; clatter that most people associate with diesel engines was just barely perceptible.

We can thank the modern common-rail injection system running at 24,000 psi and the piezo injectors for this. Those injectors can provide up to seven fuel pulses per combustion cycle. That allows the power delivery to spread out more even across the stroke as well as more precise metering and mixing of the fuel. In the old days, there was just a single injection pulse at the top of the power stroke and that single explosion would cause the knocking sound associated with diesels.

When traffic was light enough to permit higher speeds, a squeeze of the accelerator could take the A4 up to 200km/h and beyond with no apparent let up in acceleration. Above 160km/h, the wind noise starts to pick up a bit it was never objectionable. The serenity in the cabin did have a downside. On several occasions I simply forgot to shift from fifth to sixth gear, which undoubtedly hurt my average fuel consumption.

The A4 3.0 is rated at 26/43/34mpg (U.S) on the EU city/hwy/combined test cycles. In spite of the high speeds on the Autobahn and some aggressive driving on country roads, our A4 managed a very respectable 26.5mpg overall. Remembering to use sixth gear on the highway and driving at speeds that are closer to the legal limit in the United States should easily yield mileage in the mid-thirties.

No matter where you drive an A4, the interior environment is a pleasure to live in. Our car was trimmed out in black leather and alcantara. The front seats are a very comfortable and supportive whether you're running at aircraft lift-off velocities or trundling along in Munich rush hour traffic. The new A4's 110.5 in wheelbase provides for good leg-room in the second row as well as the front seats. The relatively narrow A4 has ample room for two in the rear seats but anyone trying to use the third seat belt back there is going to feel very hemmed in. The 17 cu.ft. trunk is usefully shaped and offers substantially more capacity in the one in the Lexus LS600h.

On the outside, the latest A4 has lovely proportions and continues the new curvier design language that we saw on the A5 coupe, although in a slightly more subdued form. The headlight modules have the now-Audi-standard row of LEDs (referred to as "eye-liner by Audi designers) along the bottom edge along with some fancy structures inside that add visual interest to the face. The lights also flank the standard over-sized Audi grille, which seems better integrated now than on some earlier iterations.

Audi management still hasn't made a final decision about whether to bring the A4 TDI to the U.S. The price of diesel fuel and market acceptance of the Q7 and Jetta will likely play a big part in making that final decision. I say bring it over and let the market decide. I think once Americans drive this car and experience the diesel torque, they will bite.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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