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Story and photos by Paul Williams
Convertibles are often thought of as summer-only cars, but the new Audi A4 Cabriolet is an all-season convertible: it’s got a triple-layer top, heated seats, grippy tires and a sophisticated traction-control system. And when you are ready to drop the top, it folds up or down in 24 seconds at the push of a button, and stows neatly behind the rear seat. A flush-fitting panel that matches the colour of the interior automatically covers it. Really, the A4 Cab is a convertible you can drive all year round in comfort.
And it is a looker. A4s are known for their pleasing design, and even though the Cabriolet shares no body panels with its namesake sedan, it continues the tradition.
Currently, the A4 Cabriolet is only available in front-drive, V6 or four-cylinder, 1.8T versions, but plans for a Quattro version are underway.
The 220 horsepower V6 engine is smooth and powerful. Zero to 100 km/h takes just 7.5 seconds. The engine’s smoothness is accentuated by the use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) called “multitronic” by Audi. This transmission contributes to an almost silent ride at highway speeds, and unusually low rpm’s in all cruising conditions. There is a selectable manual override, but in my view, the character of this car lends itself more to elegance than sports.
That being said, a “comfort” or “sport” suspension (with 30% stiffer shock absorbers) and sport seats are optional.
The “FrontTrak,” front-wheel drive system works well, although Audis are virtually synonymous with Quattro all-wheel drive, and that might have some impact on purchasing decisions. There’s no torque-steer under acceleration, and the electronic traction control technologies help on poor surfaces. You’re not going to get the grip of a Quattro (if you did, why get a Quattro?) but unless you’re driving in consistently poor conditions, you’ll find the front-drive version satisfactory.
The quality of the stitching, fit and finish, choice of materials and design of Audi interiors has become a signature for the company. Competitors target Audi interiors as examples of what they want to achieve. The interior of this car is no exception. The dashboard features large, aluminum-rimmed vents and gauges, and a centre console that sweeps down from eye-level, and tapers through the front seats, almost to the back. There are similarities and a commonality of switches and small components between it and the dashboard in the A4 sedan, but the Cabriolet’s dash is pretty much unique to the car.
The interior aluminum trim, by the way, complements the massive brushed aluminum windshield surround, a distinctive exterior feature of the car.
Standard interior features include automatic up/down on all four windows, storage compartments under the front seats, dual climate control, automatic blink feature for the turn signals, nine-speaker, 180W audio system with six-disc, in-dash CD changer, and the full range of power amenities. A pass-through ski sack is accessible from the trunk.
Standard leather seat inserts are accented with genuine wood-trim (Walnut or Vavona) and the interior ambiance is luxurious, in a cool and functional way.
While competitors try to match Audi, Audi raises the bar by offering 11 rich exterior colours that can be paired with up to six interior colours, including black, platinum, beige, blue, red and vanilla. Furthermore, matching-colour convertible tops can be specified, including red, blue, black and beige.
While not all combinations of exterior, interior and top colours are available, the range of choices is significant, permitting you to personalize this car to a high degree.
In the unlikely event of a rollover, sensors automatically engage a rollover-protection system. This consists of two spring-loaded posts that protrude from the rear deck, acting like a rollbar. The crash sensor system also shuts of fuel and the engine, unlocks the doors, activates four-way flashers and contacts OnStar (available free for the first year of ownership). The thick, aluminum windshield surround is not just for looks, as it’s also designed work with the rear posts to protect occupants in rollover situations.
The seats in this car are particularly comfortable. I had occasion to make a couple of long trips, and arrived without fatique. The rear-seat, by the way, is big enough to fit two adults with the top up or down, and the trunk is also useful, although not as big as that of the sedan.
Road noise is minimal with the top up, although a crosswind will cause some transient turbulence at the top corner of the A-pillars. With the top down, I found the interior to be quiet, although there was some movement of air in the cabin. If this disturbs you, an optional windscreen that fits behind the front seats is available. It’s easily stowed in the trunk when not in use.
Personally, I don’t understand why you’d buy a convertible, then drive it with the windows up and fit it with screens to stop the wind blowing around. Might as well buy a sedan with a sunroof, but that’s just me.
In short, the Audi A4 Cabriolet is loaded with just about every safety, luxury and convenience feature you could want. If it’s not included, like xenon headlamps, premium leather or auto-dimming outside mirrors, you can order it separately.
At 1730 kg (3814 lb.) the car has some mass, but with a 70-litre fuel tank, it will give good highway range for the $60.00 you’ll pay to fill it with premium gas.
With the top up, the car does turn heads. With the top down, it’s distinctive and classy. If you’re considering one, look at some of the excellent exterior colour choices. There are probably enough silver Audis on the road now..
Technical Data: 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet V6
|Base price (1.8T)||$50,900|
|Price as tested (V6)||$61,200|
|Type||2-door, 4 passenger convertible|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, dual overhead camshafts|
|Horsepower||220 @ 6300 r.p.m.|
|Torque||221 lb.-ft. @ 3200 r.p.m.|
|Tires||Pirelli P6 Four Seasons or Michelin MXM4, 215/55/16, or optional Dunlop, Michelin or Continental performance 235/45/17 (with sport suspension)|
|Curb weight||1730 kg (3814 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2654 mm (104.5 in.)|
|Length||4573 mm (180.0 in.)|
|Width||1911 mm ( 75.2 in.)|
|Height||1391 mm ( 54.8 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||314 litres (11.1 cu. ft) top up|
|252 litres (8.9 cu. ft.) top down|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.5 l/100 km (25 mpg)|
|Hwy: 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|