Story and photos by Paul Williams
According to Len Hunt, VP of Audi USA, “The Audi A4 is the engine of our success and the engine of our growth.”
Consequently, even though the A4 is the entry-level Audi, the manufacturer treats it like royalty. They’ll do whatever it takes to maintain and enhance the model’s desirability, and that includes creating a sexy four-seat cabriolet version, available in October, 2002.
It’s been several years since Audi offered a convertible sedan. Their last was in 1998, and those cars are always snapped up on the used car market, such is their rarity and appeal.
The 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet is sure to continue the appeal, but they won’t be quite as rare. 20,000 will be available worldwide, built in collaboration with Karmann. The US and Canada will see 8,000 Cabriolets for 2003. Expect Canada to get about 10% of that number.
Externally, the car combines flowing lines with an aggressive stance. It definitely has what the dealers refer to as “eyeball.” At a recent press
launch in Laguna Beach, California, I noted several Mercedes CLK owners dangerously driving their convertibles in one direction, while staring at the interesting Audis going the other way.
Click image to enlarge
Surprisingly, the car shares no body panels with the A4 sedan, yet it looks very much like an A4. The silhouette is a subtle wedge shape, 20 mm lower than the sedan, with flared wheel-wells and suitably big wheels to fill them. The rear is particularly impressive, although the car looks good from all angles.
The windshield is clad in a smooth, brushed aluminum frame. This also functions as part of a comprehensive rollover protection system that
includes spring-loaded support posts at the rear. These deploy in an accident to help protect the occupants.
The padded convertible top is triple-layered, with a heated glass rear window. The layers aren’t stitched – they’re sonically welded to prevent
leaks. When the top is up the car seems as quiet inside as a sedan. In fact, the headliner looks like that of a sedan.
The top is raised or lowered in 24 seconds, and other than pressing a button, requires no hands-on activity. It attaches and fastens to the
windshield, and stows away without any latching, snapping or zipping from the driver.
When raised the top tends to block vision out of the rear quarters of the car. This is inevitable, unless rear quarter-lights are added to the design, which would be both impractical and unsightly. Owners should be especially careful backing up.
When lowered, the top stows beneath a smart plastic boot that delivers a tailored, completely flat surface behind the rear seat. The curve of the rear cockpit surround has a distinctive look that’s very Audi. It’s refined and pleasing to the eye.
Inside, the car features an interior that differs significantly from the A4 sedan, but again, doesn’t lose the A4 identity.
The dashboard uses two main gauges, speedometer and tachometer, spaced further apart than the sedan. Minor gauges and four round vents are faired into the dash, and all feature a matte silver surround. The wood trim is genuine.
Storage areas are usefully positioned throughout, including a large drawer under the passenger seat.
The new-design front seats are big, supportive, powered and leather. The rear seats are full-size with plenty of legroom. Two adults can be properly accommodated back there.
Trunk space is generous. If the top is up for an extended period of time, a compartment can be repositioned to further increase the trunk volume.
There are six interior colours available for the Cabriolet, 11 exterior colours (including four exclusive to the Cabriolet), and four colours for the top. Buyers should have no difficulty personalizing the car.
The 3.0-litre V6 aluminum engine makes 220 horsepower at 6300 r.p.m., and 221lbs. ft. of torque at 3200 r.p.m. Currently, this is the only engine available, as is the FrontTrak front-wheel drive system and the multitronic Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). This combination is good for a 0-100 km/h time of 7.7 seconds with a governed top speed of 208 km/h.
This engine, along with the 1.8T engine available in February 2003, meets the stringent US Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) standards. A quattro version will be available in October 2003. Whether or not to make the 5-speed manual transmission available in the future is still under discussion.
The car is a pleasure to drive. It’s smooth and responsive, and if you like the feel of a standard transmission you can switch to a tiptronic mode, giving you the sensation of a six-speed manual.
However, this isn’t a sports car; it’s a sporty car. The six-speed option enables you to engage with the car more directly, but it’s still a somewhat platonic relationship – you know the car can do quite well without your help.
That being said, the steering is sharp and the car takes corners with confidence. If you’d like even sharper handling, there’s a sport package that provides stiffer suspension rates, bigger wheels and lower-profile performance tires. Sports seats are also available.
Safety features include the previously mentioned rollover protection system, dual front and side airbags, reinforced steel and aluminum crossmembers, a rigid occupant cell with side intrusion beams, safety belt pretensioners and the LATCH child safety seat system.
Standard performance features include an electronic stabilization program, four-wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and hydraulic brake assist.
Standard amenities include dual climate control, auto up/down power windows, stereo/CD, power mirrors, locks, foglights, heated windshield washer nozzles, anti-theft system and more.
A range of options including xenon lights, Bose sound, auto dimming mirrors, navigation system and heated seats is also available.
The Audi A4 Cabriolet will compete directly with similar models from BMW and Mercedes Benz. It may not have been invited into such select company, but it seems to like the territory, fits in well, and plans to stay.
Technical Data: 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet
|Base price||$61,200 ($51,000 for the 1.8T, available in Spring, 2003)|
|Type||Luxury four-seat convertible.|
|Engine||3.0-litre V-6, dual overhead camshafts; 220 h.p. at 6300 r.p.m.,221 lb.-ft. of torque at 3200 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||continuously variable multitronic, front-wheel-drive|
|Tires||P215/55/R16 (P235/45/R17 with performance package)|
|Fuel consumption||L/100 km: City 11.5, Hwy. 8.1|
|Warranty||4/80,000 with maintenance, and four-year roadside|
Standard features include: Remote keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, “one-touch” up and down for all power windows, 12-way power front seats, leather upholstery, Front-wheel drive with electronic safety systems, anti-lock brakes, electronic trip computer, Audi Symphony 180W stereo with six disc, in-dash CD player, first aid kit
Options: Premium package, Sport package, xenon headlights, Bose sound, heated front seats, premium leather, 12-way power sport front seats, Audi navigation system.