As the domestic auto industry suffers a sales slowdown, importers like Audi are on the rise. Sales and market share are up sharply. To quicken that pace, over the next three years, Audi will redesign all of its trendsetting coupes and sedans. Indeed, the first rework is already here. It’s the 2002 A4. All-new from the ground up, the A4 promises a new level of sport sedan refinement from this already formidable German car maker. Is this the beginning of a golden age for Audi?
While it may be too early to make such a grand proclamation, the arrival of the all-new 2002 Audi A4 is certainly a shining moment in the company’s somewhat uneven history. And, from what we just saw at the 2001 Frankfurt International Motor Show, the A4 is just the beginning of a new wave of striking new Audis.
When styling the new A4, Audi designers chose a sharpening of the existing skin, rather than a radical exterior redesign. Indeed, the most obvious changes have been made to the A4’s tail end, which is now a slightly more chiseled, less rounded, but more substantial look than its predecessor. The A4’s exterior dimensions are also more substantial. The body is 1.3 inches wider, and 2.3-inches longer, sitting on a wheelbase stretched 1.3 inches to 104.3. All contributing to a new A4 that now also drives more substantial. Causing one of our staff to remark he felt as though he was driving the mid-size A6, rather than a compact sport sedan.
The feel of more substance is carried into the A4’s interior as well. As nearly all interior dimensions have grown accordingly for a less pinched in feel. The manually adjustable front buckets in our 1.8T tester were typically German-firm, covered in perforated leatherette. Seat backs house 4-way power lumbar support and side impact airbags. There’s also the Sideguard air curtain that gives head impact protection for front and outboard rear passengers. The driver faces a manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a quickly read, easy-on- the-eyes gauge cluster. The A4’s center stack hosts the audio head which now features a standard 6-disc in-dash CD changer, with controls set high in the stack, right where our head writer likes them. They’re also getting easier to use. Just below is the automatic dual-zone climate control system and switchgear for the optional heated front seats. Rear seats are also heated and there’s also a little more leg room than before. The folding rear seat backs are a 60/40 split, opening the way to the trunk which swallows up a generous 13.4 cubic feet of luggage.
At the other end of the car, under the hood our tester came with one of our favorite engines, the 1.8 liter, DOHC, 20-valve, turbocharged in-line 4. This little all-alloy pocket rocket also utilizes variable valve timing on the intake valves to produce 170 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque which is available from 1950 to 5000 rpms.
The A4 can also be had with Audi’s new 3.0 liter, DOHC, 30-valve, V6. Replacing the 2.8, this new V6 features variable valve timing for both intake and exhaust valves and spins out 220 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. We drove the V-6 extensively at the press introduction and were favorably impressed with its improved response and smoothness.
Our tester, however, came with the fabulous 4-banger and another new goody from Audi, a multitronic, continuously variable automatic transmission, or CVT. Lighter and simpler than a conventional automatic, this front-wheel drive CVT uses a strong link-plate chain, rather than a more common metal belt, stretched between two variators that operate like split pulleys whose sides can be moved together or farther apart. These variators move in opposite directions, giving the multitronic an infinitely variable drive ratio.
The CVT also uses an electronic multi-plate wet clutch instead of a torque converter. And the CVT has been programmed with 6 different ranges or speeds, so you can use the Tiptronic mode to manually shift the tranny, either with the shifter, or buttons on the steering wheel. It’s great fun, and it is also available with the V-6. But it’s not yet available with Quattro all-wheel drive. For that you have to stick with A4’s fine 5-speed manual or conventional 5-speed automatic.
Although our 4 was a little sluggish off-line, with the CVT we hit 60 in 8 seconds. The quarter mile in 16.3 seconds at 85 mph. The 1.8T’s flat torque curve feels perfect for the CVT tranny.
Stops from 60 came in a rather longish 131 feet. But pedal feel and stability from the 4- wheel discs with ABS and Brake Assist is first rate. Also playing a big role in stability is the new all-independent alloy suspension. A four link configuration up front, and a trapezoid-link set up in the rear. That, plus a body structure that is now 45 percent stiffer, gives the new A4 more substantial, more confident handling as well, even before the standard ESP stability system kicks in. While some may miss the old car’s tippy-toe, turn-on-a-whim agility, we found the new A4 more reassuring on tricky roads with no unpleasant surprises.
And, although prices on the 2002 A4 are not yet available, if it’s anywhere near the $24,500 base price of the 2001 model, it’s also one of the most tempting.
The beginning of a new golden age for Audi? Well, it certainly looks that way. And if the substantially improved, more to our liking 2002 A4, and the hints we saw at Frankfurt, are any indication of what the future holds, we say, baby… shine on!
Engine: 1.8 Liter, Dohc, 20-valve, Turbocharged In-line 4
Torque: 166 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.0 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.3 Seconds @ 85 MPH
60-0 MPH: 131 Feet