by Paul Williams
For the past five years or so, Audi has barely put a foot wrong. There was
that little snafu with the TT crashing at something close to the speed of
sound, but they fixed that with a rear spoiler.
Other than that, the only bad things you can say about Audis is that their
high performance models tend to stay in Europe, and when new models do come
to North America, the US tends to get them first. Oh, and they can be a bit
As usual, Canadians were behind the Americans getting the attractive A4
Avant wagon, but we have them now in both 3.0-litre V6 and 1.8-litre
turbo-four (1.8T) versions.
Either way, there’s an additional cost of about $1400 over the equivalent
sedan. But for that premium you get a lot of utility and a very pleasing and
distinctive design. Actually, I’d say the A4 Avant is one of the nicest
looking vehicles on the road, which is saying a lot for a guy who’s not that
enamoured with station wagons.
Standard features on the 1.8T Avant include quattro all-wheel drive plus electronic safety
systems, leather upholstery, anti-lock brakes, electronic trip computer, 6-disc in-dash CD player with 150 watt, 10-speaker sound system, and first aid kit.
My Atlas Gray 1.8T Avant came with the 5-speed automatic transmission, and a
premium package consisting of a Homelink remote transmitter, glass sunroof
and 12-way power driver’s seat. It rode on optional 17″ six-spoke alloy
wheels and was fitted with xenon headlights.
Click image to enlarge
The big news for 2003 is inside. My first thought upon entering the car was
that the vinyl interior was now truly leather-like. I was even softening my
position that the cloth interior was the way to go with the 1.8T.
Well, it was leather-like because it was leather. For the first time since
its introduction, leather-seating surfaces are standard on all A4 quattros
with the 1.8T engine. Only the front-drive A4 gets cloth.
It’s about time. These are not inexpensive cars and vinyl (or leatherette,
if you prefer) always seemed a bit cheap to me. Audi’s full leather
interiors, though, are some of the best in the business and would have
dramatically jacked up the price of a 1.8T.
The compromise is the standard leather seating surfaces, with the full
leather interior an option on the V6 car.
Once comfortably settled behind the wheel, you notice that each front seat
is heatable to six levels. Number three is plenty powerful to quickly warm
your nether regions.
Audi dashboards and controls continue to remind me of high-end sound
systems. Flush-mounted black buttons on a black background click
satisfyingly at the touch of your finger. The red illumination contrasts to
give an appropriately technical ambiance.
Mind you, some of those buttons and switches are very small. Don’t go
fumbling about trying to distinguish between the front and rear rear-window
defrost while driving down the road. You’ll connect with the back end of the
car in front of you before you work it out.
Like all precision pieces of technology, Audis come with a comprehensive
operating manual that tells you where the switches are and what they do.
You’ll save a lot of time and aggravation if you’ll relent and simply read
this thing. The payoff is that you’ll get to know your car, and something of
the engineers and designers who built it.
You’ll learn that the steering wheel, for instance, tilts and telescopes
into a multitude of positions. Noteworthy is how the shape of the instrument
cluster perfectly matches the shape of the opening in the steering wheel, so
nothing is blocked or obscured.
It’s a satisfying feature that suggests people were thinking when they
designed this car.
Likewise the little flip-down centre sun visor above the rear-view mirror,
the useful storage tray under the driver and passenger seat, the centre
armrest that can fold out of your way when not required, the tray for your
manuals under the steering wheel to free up space in your glove box, the
one-touch up and down for all windows.
The car is filled with these little details, and they nicely complement the
major standard features like the in-dash, six disc CD changer, trip
computer, automatic dual climate control, power windows, locks, mirrors,
delayed accessory power, retractable cargo cover, luggage net and first aid
You won’t want for much inside this car.
On the road the Avant was tested in rough weather conditions on a busy major
highway. Snow, slush, rain and wind conspired to challenge all motorists,
with several ending up in the ditch at the side of the road.
While the Audi isn’t simply a winter car, one has to admit that the
company’s reputation is associated with its vehicles’ ability in bad
weather. And when you’re facing the conditions that I did, you’re very
pleased to be in an Avant with sophisticated all-wheel drive, grippy 17″
performance winter tires, electronic stabilization program and anti-lock
brakes with electronic brake distribution and hydraulic brake assist.
In short, you’ve got to be pretty stupid to slide this thing off the
In better conditions, under brisk acceleration (0-100km/h: 8.5 seconds)
the Avant makes a very sporty sound from its dual exhaust, although it’s quiet enough at cruising speeds. The four-cylinder turbo motor remains at 170 horsepower, and moves the car
with surprising enthusiasm.
Handling is quick and nimble. Rapid lane changes (of which I needed to make
one) happen in a controlled and predictable manner. The car is very stable.
Click image to enlarge
Rear seat room is plenty sufficient for two adult passengers, maybe three,
and the rear cargo area can easily handle their luggage. For more room the
rear seat folds flat.
Notable is a washable lower-level in the cargo area that you can use to
separate muddy boots and other soiled items from the rest of your gear.
Additionally, the rear cargo door features a latching mechanism that
obviates slamming it shut. This is great when you’re leaving the vehicle
laden with groceries, and have no hands free to close the door.
The Avant is not a cushy wagon or an alternative to a family van. It’s a
sporty vehicle, efficient and capable. It’s for people who require a high
level of safety, performance and style in a practical configuration.
Technical Data: 2003 Audi A4 1.8T Avant quattro
|Options||$4,755 (metallic paint, 17″ alloy wheels, xenon lights, premium package, “Tiptronic”5-speed automatic transmission)|
|Price as tested||$44,170|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger mid-sized wagon|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.8-litre four cylinder, dual overhead camshafts with turbo|
|Horsepower||170 @ 5900 r.p.m.|
|Torque||166 lb.-ft. @ 1950-5000 r.p.m.|
|Tires||Dunlop P235/45/17 winter radials (all-seasons are standard)|
|Curb weight||1600 kg (3660 lbs)|
|Wheelbase||2650 mm (104.3 in.)|
|Length||4545 mm (178.9 in.)|
|Width||1772 mm (69.8 in.)|
|Height||1428 mm (56.2 in.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 with maintenance, and four-year roadside assistance with full scheduled maintenance|