by Paul Williams
In 1996, Audi quietly introduced a car that would transform the company’s
reputation and fortunes.
Where people used to speak of BMW and Mercedes in the same breath, now it’s
Audi, BMW and Mercedes. That’s no small achievement, and all down to the
popularity of the Audi A4.
At one time or another the A4 has been “car of the year” in numerous
magazines around the world. It’s interiors set new standards, its 1.8 litre
turbo engine won awards, and its Quattro all-wheel drive system has arguably
inspired similar options from Volvo, Jaguar, BMW and Volkswagen.
How do you top that?
Well, you don’t, really. What you do is develop it. The new-look, 2002 A4
continues with the same attributes as its predecessor, but brings some new
features to the table.
One of those features is an innovative continuously variable transmission
(CVT), called a “multitronic” gearbox by Audi. More on that later.
Externally the 2002 A4 evolves into a longer, wider and slightly taller car. The
3.25 cm increase in wheelbase addresses a common complaint about the earlier
car – tight accommodations in the rear seat.
Now there is ample leg and knee-room for rear-seat passengers. Although the
car still isn’t big by any means, it does project a substantial and athletic
Click image to enlarge
The front treatment is a refinement of earlier A4s, but it’s the rear that
changes dramatically. Gone is the much-admired trunk and rear body panel
design, replaced with rounded flanks similar to those on the Audi A6. The
car also acquires an aggressive dual exhaust.
It can take time for the eye to become accustomed to revised car designs.
The new A4 has a tough act to follow, but after a while it grows on you.
Pretty soon you find you like the look of this car very much indeed. It’s a
design that has staying power. In five years time I expect it will not look
Audi interiors really have to be experienced. My test car had the
no-extra-charge perforated leatherette interior, but I’m also familiar with
the cloth interior. Frankly, I’d take the cloth any day, but that’s personal
preference. Both are trimmed with high-gloss fibreglass accent panels.
The leatherette is nicely done but vinyl leaves irregular gaps between joins
on the doors, armrest and console. Cloth is more forgiving, and fills up
those little gaps. However, leather is not available on any 1.8T model, so
if you want the leather look, you’ll have to opt for leatherette.
Behind the wheel the driver grips a thick-rimmed, sporty steering wheel and
faces an array of gauges and controls that are a model of organization.
Except for the tachometer and speedometer, all dash illumination is red. I
think it looks great. Driving in an Audi at night is a wonderful experience,
with all those coolly glowing red lights from the radio to the fresh air
vents, to the overhead ambient LED lighting and switches for the windows and
But some people hate it.
What can I say? It’s a matter of taste, and if you give it a chance, I think
you’ll find it suits the character of the car and works very well.
Audi’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system is one of the best,
and in the A4 you now get standard dual climate control. Press the button
marked “Auto,” set the temperature for your side of the car using the + or –
controls, and that’s it. The windows never fog, the car’s never too hot or
too cold, the ventilation seems to emerge right where you need it, when you
One thing I didn’t like was the cruise control. A stalk protruding from the
steering column at the eight o’clock position controls it. I mishandled it
several times, and never really got its measure.
Now, about that CVT gearbox. My test car was a front-drive (FrontTrak in
Audi-speak) car. Currently the CVT is not available with the Quattro option,
and can only be ordered with the A4 1.8T and A6 3.0 litre V6.
The CVT provides you with one, infinitely variable, forward gear. It doesn’t
step though a series of 3, 4, or 5 gears like a conventional automatic
transmission. Put your foot on the gas and it will hum all the way to top
speed without taking a breath.
The transmission itself uses a complex steel chain between two pulleys to
drive the car. The transmission is simpler, lighter and smoother than a
comparable automatic gearbox. It’s also faster than the manual in a
If you think this is some kind of weird, untested technology, it’s not.
Belt-driven CVTs were available in the 1960s, and Subaru used a chain-driven
system in its Justy sub-compact. The problem was applying the technology to
bigger, more powerful engines.
That problem is now solved. CVTs are already in use in Toyota’s Prius, and
England’s MG-F sports car. Ford, GM, Honda, Mazda, Nissan and most other
manufacturers have a CVT either in or near production. In the future, when
you order an automatic transmission, you’ll probably get a CVT.
In the Audi this transmission contributes to a supernatural quietness on the
road. While cruising, all you can hear is minimal tire noise. In the city
the car is mostly operating at a low 1500 r.p.m. On the highway 110 km/h
barely breaks 2000 r.p.m. Under hard acceleration the car leaps away. Torque
is available instantly, at any r.p.m.
If you want to shift manually, the transmission allows you to step through
gears like a tiptronic, but these really aren’t gears. They’re
computer-generated pseudo-gears, for that nostalgic hands-on feeling.
My only complaint was a low-level drivetrain vibration noticed at about
110-115 km/h. It occurred while accelerating and decelerating. It wasn’t
bad, but given the total lack of vibration at any other speed, it was
Once underway, a bank of electronic stability programs, braking assists and
brake distribution controls keep you on the straight and narrow. A few days
of wet weather gave me a chance to see if Audi has improved their
unimpressive windshield-washer. They haven’t, but the headlamp washers got
Click image to enlarge
The 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder engine uses a low-pressure turbo and generates 170
horsepower. While the 220 horsepower V6 engine is inherently smoother, the 1.8T FrontTrak is your ticket to a “bargain” Audi, if $33,600 can ever be considered a bargain.
It’s a sweet motor. Refined and quiet for a four-cylinder, especially when
mated to the CVT, it’s plenty powerful to drive the car. Fuel economy is
good. I drove from Ottawa to London, about 680 km, with some fuel to spare.
It’s a 70-litre tank.
Audis look and feel expensive. There’s a reason for that. If you’re not
careful you can easily run a V6 A4 to well over $50,000. The A4 FrontTrack
gets you in the club for a lot less, but still gives you one of the nicest
near-luxury sedans you can buy.
Technical Data: 2002 Audi A4 1.8T
|Price as tested||$37,125 (includes sunroof, metallic paint, comfort and convenience packages)|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.8 litre four cylinder, DOHC, turbocharger, intercooler|
|Horsepower||170 @ 5700 rpm|
|Torque||225 Nm @ 1950-4700 rpm|
|Transmission||continuously variable multitronic|
|Wheelbase||2650 mm (104.3 in.)|
|Length||4548 mm (179.1 in.)|
|Width||1772 mm (69.8 in.)|
|Height||1428 mm (56.2 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||445 litres (15.7 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.3 l/100 km (25 mpg)|
|6.4 l/100 km (44 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|