by Russell Purcell
Bigger, bolder, better
Audi rebounded from the sudden acceleration scare of the late 1980s (that almost pulled the plug on the sales of the marques in North America) in fine form. Although the charges against Audi and its 5000 model were eventually proven to be groundless, negative publicity severely damaged the company. The first generation of Audi’s smallest offering, the A4 sedan, is largely responsible for their recent success in the North American market.
Available in two forms, the A4 could be equipped with either a 1.8-litre turbo-charged four-cylinder engine, or the much smoother 2.8-litre V6. Both cars were available with Audi’s famous ‘quattro’ all-wheel drive system, and were sales leaders in their respective markets.
For 2002, Audi unleashed the second generation of this big bang-for-the-buck platform, and just in time. The revised A4 features a new level of performance – necessary as the majority of its competitors in the entry-level luxury arena had taken the lead in the always-important horsepower wars. The latest A4 can still be had with the 1.8-litre turbo-charged in-line four, albeit a heavily revised version, but the big news is the all new DOHC 3.0-litre V6. This smooth-revving jewel of an engine produces a healthy 220 horsepower, and when mated to either a 5-speed automatic or my favorite, the slick 6-speed manual transmission, the new A4 will have owners of much more powerful cars double checking their mirrors. For those buyers who prefer an automatic, Audi offers a Tiptronic shifter alongside the stick, as well as a matching set of steering-wheel mounted shift controls, making its use suitable for both left and right-handed drivers.
Click image to enlarge
Visually, the A4 has taken many of its styling cues from its big sister the A6. A distinct waistline crease and bulging wheel flares as well as revised, high-mounted tail lamps grab your eye. Compared to the previous design, the new car is both longer and wider, offering more interior passenger room as well as greater road stability. There are very few cues that distinguish the 3.0 from its less-powerful sister, the 1.8T. The most obvious is the brushed aluminum trim around the side windows of the 3.0 – the 1.8T sports basic black trim. The 3.0 also sits a little lower due to its larger 17-inch wheels and lower profile (235/45) tires, both part of the popular ‘Sport’ package.
Let’s look inside
The new design was a winner in my books as soon as I climbed aboard. I immediately felt more comfortable in the more spacious cockpit, as leg, hip and headroom all seemed much improved. However, the same can not be said when I slid into the back seat area, as my 6’2″, 250 lb. frame was not liking the confinement. Audi designers managed to squeeze out a little more legroom for rear passengers, but I am certain that only adolescent children and small adults are going to find this compartment cozy. The optional Buffalino leather seating in my tester was top-notch, but almost too taut to be considered comfortable. As a result, the standard leatherette or cloth seating surfaces may be a better choice if long trips are on the menu.
Settle into the cockpit and you will quickly find that the lightweight, infinitely adjustable (12-way) sport seats will hold you securely in place, even when tossing the car through the corners. The rear seat folds down (60/40) to increase cargo capacity, a very nice feature for owners wishing to carry luggage and golf clubs for a weekend getaway. The trunk also features a pass-through for carrying longer items, but it is rather small as is the trunk. If hauling kids, pets and cargo are part of your daily routine, then the wagon (known as the Avant) version of this car may be a better choice, as its small cargo area adds a sense of roominess to the passenger compartment.
All of the luxury appointments expected of a $50,000 car are present, including very attractive birds-eye maple trim and a magnificent 8-speaker 120-watt Bose audio system. The list of options for this car is very small, as Audi has equipped the 3.0 with standard features that will put many of its competitors to shame. A power sunroof, heated front/rear seats, Parktronic (an innovative parking assistance system built into the bumpers), Xenon lighting and an onboard navigation system are popular choices.
The A4 is very well equipped to protect its occupants. Next generation airbags deploy from the steering wheel and passenger-side dashboard, and seat mounted side airbags are mounted in the front seats. Taking it one step further the A4 is equipped with “SIDEGUARD” curtain airbags that deploy from the headliner and pillars ensuring that occupants are protected from a side impact, as well as glass and flying debris. Audi’s advanced ABS and quattro systems should help the driver maintain control in an emergency situation. A central locking system coupled with a remote anti-theft vehicle system (which also controls the interior lights) should keep the car safe on the occasions that you are not situated behind the wheel.
The good stuff
Under the hood you will find a 3.0 litre five-valve per cylinder V6 engine that produces a very sporty 220 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 221 lb.-ft of torque. The launch from 0-100 km/h takes about 7 seconds, putting it well in the range of its peers. Partner this with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission and your daily commute just became a little more fun. A sport suspension and grippy high-performance rubber will keep you planted; all the while assisted by the benchmark quattro all-wheel-drive system.
The A4 is amazingly civilized for a car capable of such a high level of performance. Passing slower vehicles is of little concern as power comes on immediately, with plenty of low-end power. The gearbox is very smooth, although the sixth gear may find itself unused even at freeway speeds. The larger disc brakes are controlled by an advanced electronic ABS and traction control system, react instantly, and even stop and go city driving failed to induce any sensation of fade. The steering is beautifully weighted, and very precise. The thick three-spoke sport wheel transmits vital information about the road and grip with aplomb, but maybe too much information.
However, the true joy of this car is the handling. Hitting small irregularities in the road surface fails to knock the car off its cornering line, remaining balanced and composed. The ‘Sport’ package includes 30% stiffer shocks and springs, as well as stronger stabilizer bars. As a result, sharp impacts with speed bumps or potholes sent significant vibrations through the wheel, revealing the sharp-edge of Audi’s new sword. As long as you come to expect this, and are an attentive driver, the ‘Sport’ package is worthwhile, but if cruising comfort is high on your automobile wish list, maybe you should pass on this option group.
Is the A4 for you?
Who is the intended buyer of such a car? The same individual that might visit the Mercedes-Benz or BMW show room looking for a well-engineered European automobile, or conversely, slip behind the wheel of one of the many capable Japanese luxury-sport models now ensconced in our automotive marketplace. Recent domestic players like Cadillac’s edgy CTS and Lincoln’s popular LS also might be on the shopping list.
The availability of a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system in a classy, city-friendly package makes the A4 appealing. BMW’s 3-Series can be outfitted with all-wheel drive, but will cost several thousand dollars more. How about a Volvo S60 AWD you say? Similar money must part your hands before you get the keys to this machine, but its all-wheel-drive system is largely unproven.
Plenty of horsepower, superb handling and an outstanding level of luxury in a compact package will attract affluent professionals and sport-minded enthusiasts to the new A4, while all-wheel drive, race-bred engine technology and the state-of-the-art safety features will keep them happy with their choice.
Technical Data: 2003 Audi A4 3.0 quattro
|Options||$ 1,125 (Sport Package: sport suspension, 234/45R-17 inch tires, 5-spoke spoke alloys)|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 30 valves|
|Horsepower||220 @ 6,300 rpm|
|Torque||221 lb.-ft @ 3,200 rpm|
|Curb weight||1625 kg (3583 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2650 mm (104.3 in)|
|Length||4547 mm (179.0 in)|
|Width||1937 mm (76.3 in)|
|Height||1428 mm (56.2 in)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.4 l/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.6 l/100 km (33 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km; no charge scheduled maintenance|