Audi’s latest small sedan, the A4, has proven to be quite a success. Its handsome styling, crisp handling and potent 6-cylinder engine are winning over a wide variety of automotive enthusiasts. Of course, liking and buying can be two different things. And like any European luxury model, the A4 can be a bit on the pricey side. So in order to expand the A4’s already successful sales numbers, Audi has introduced a more affordable version. But just because it costs fewer dollars doesn’t mean it’s less fun.
And the Audi A4 1.8 Turbo can deliver a lot of driving fun! And well it should, because it’s basically the same A4 that we raved about last year.
But this time those handsome, continental looks house a different powerplant. In place of our last year test car’s 2.8-liter V6 is a turbocharged version of Volkswagen/Audi’s 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. But this long-stroke variant uses both a turbo and a 5-valve cylinder head, to make 150 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque.
And sends the power to all four wheels of our test car’s available Quattro all-wheel-drive system by way of an optional 5-speed automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual is standard. And despite being 22 horses down to its 6-pot sibling, this 100-pound lighter A4 trailed it to 60 by less than half a second at 9.5. And finished the quarter mile in 16.8 seconds, at 82 miles per hour.
Like most Audi’s, power was strongest at the top end. Though the A4’s small low pressure turbo spools up quickly, giving it a thicker mid-range than many other force-fed-fours. But when worked hard on a track like Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway, the 5-speed automatic spent a lot of time hunting for the right gear. It much preferred the gentle bends and even throttle requirements of the surrounding countryside.
As did the A4’s 4-link suspension, which is superbly tuned for both smooth, fast sweepers, and the touch-and-go of modern urban traffic. Pitch it hard into Turn One, however, and front end plow predominates. Lifting off the throttle in mid-corner brought the tail around and saved too much sawing at the wheel. It was best to carry as much speed as possible through a corner, relying on the tremendous grip of the Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and the standard 15-inch, 65-series Goodyear tires. It’s a car that rewards smooth driving and a flowing tarmac with a surprising turn of speed.
But street or track, the standard anti-lock-equipped disc brakes were superb. Stops from 60 averaged 126 feet, with rock-solid stability and plenty of pedal feel. Rock solid is also a good description of the A4’s highway ride. The 1.8 Turbo feels very substantial, and is as quiet as many larger luxury machines.
Though the interior is a bit more frugal compared to that of the top-level 2.8 model. The dash carries none of the 2.8’s rich walnut trim. But the businesslike layout that we liked so much is carried over to the Turbo. Most dash controls are large and well positioned, though others, especially the stereo, are still a little too busy. And while the seats only rate optional imitation leather upholstery and manual controls, support is excellent in all directions. A tilting and telescoping wheel is standard, as are amenities like one-touch power windows. Interior room on all A4 models is generous, especially in the rear seat. The 60/40 split seatback remains standard.
All in all, you get most of the more upscale 2.8 model’s features and performance, but you pay a good deal less. Base price for the Audi A4 1.8 Turbo is $22,990. Add the automatic transmission and Quattro all-wheel-drive, and our test car tops out at $26,065. A sports package with bolstered seats and 16-inch wheels is available for a grand more.
Still the 1.8T represents a savings of about $4,000 over its V-6 sibling. And it is very price and performance competitive with the BMW 3-Series and the Nissan Maxima SE.
We congratulate Audi for this latest addition to the A4 line. Rather than simply sit back and enjoy the A4’s success, the folks from Ingolstadt have chosen to make its potent blend of style, performance and fun available to a wider range of buyers, and with the A4 1.8 Turbo show the world that, even in today’s economy, you can still buy more car for less money.
Engine: Turbocharged, 1.8-Liter, 4-Cylinder
Torque: 155 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 9.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 82 MPH
60-0 MPH: 126 Feet