When you think of premium German sport-oriented sedans, what is the primary marque that pops into mind? Most will recall the blue-and-white propeller badge and the utterly delectable cars that come attached to it, as well they should. BMW has pretty much pulverized the competition when it comes to imbuing its products with pure driving enjoyment; Mercedes-Benzes are more geared toward stateliness, and Audi, for the past six years, has never quite been able to live up to the lofty standards set by BMW. In many of our comparison tests, including our 2000 Super Luxury Sedans and the Entry-Level Luxury Sedan tests, BMW managed to edge out the Audi in performance and handling to capture the top prize.
Car companies never like being a consistent underdog in their niche, however. In 1996, the Audi A4 debuted to critical and popular acclaim and made Audi a true contender in the mass appeal arena. With its crisply creased trunklid, sexy overall appearance, affordable price and let's-go-and-frolic demeanor, the A4 singularly turned the mainstream American buying public on to the quad-ringed brand. The editors at Edmunds.com concur that the previous A4 is still one of the most desirable vehicles today.
However, six years is an eon in the car industry, so for 2002 Audi has made a host of refinements to its entry-level sedan to make it a better contender in a field crowded with upstarts and revisions like the Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type and Lexus ES 300. And, hold on to your hats, because the A4 may be, could be, possibly, the one to overtake those stubborn Bavarian units that always seem to lollygag about our Most Wanted lists.
One of our greatest complaints about the previous A4 was the miserly rear seat, which provided a meager 33.4 inches of legroom (note, however, that this is still better than the ridiculous 30.2 inches provided by the Lexus IS 300 and only 0.2 inches less than the 33.6 inches of the BMW 330i). Thanks to an increase of 1.3 inches to the wheelbase and an overall increase in length of 2.3 inches, rear knee room is up 0.9 inches to 34.3 inches, with plenty of room for toe wriggling. The A4 is also 1.3 inches wider overall, but there was no increase in rear shoulder space. A fold-down armrest reveals two cupholders with ratcheting adjustors and a first aid kit in the storage compartment. Our test vehicle was equipped with heated seats; this lovely feature is not only available for the driver and the snark who calls "shotgun," it's there for rear-seat passengers, too. All three rear positions have adjustable headrests, and larger rear doors facilitate ingress/egress.
Trunk space has decreased a bit from the previous generation opening up the trunk on its strut-type hinges reveals a loss of 0.3 cubic feet for a total of 13.4 cubic feet, with a rather small opening to access a deep well with cubbies and side cargo nets to hold things in place. There's a power point back there as well as a full-size tire.
Another complaint about the original A4? Severely misplaced cupholders in the front. However, Audi chose to ignore the battle cry of all those who spilled their beverages onto the center stack and audio system; the push-deploy unit is still mounted at the top of the dashboard, although there is a single holder in the center console. And it's such a nice audio system, too because, praise be, almost every 2002 Audi now comes with an in-dash six-disc changer. The only sour note in the stereo package, which earned an excellent rating in terms of sound, is the lack of steering-wheel-mounted controls. These will become available with the addition of a telematics package later in 2002.
Audi interiors are some of the finest in the luxury car kingdom; one look at the inside and we could tell that the company's interior design staff are well-paid. Solid-feeling controls, high-class materials and an ambient red light mounted on the rearview mirror that casts a subtle red glow on your hands as you reach for said controls are all examples of thoughtful interior touches. The power front seats have a multitude of settings as well as power lumbar support adjustment, and articulating headrests and a tilting/telescoping steering wheel help you find a perfect seating position. One of our editors suggested that the seats could use better bolstering, especially for a car equipped with the Sport package. The center console may be a bit lacking, but useful drawers on the bottoms of the seats can hold quite a bit just don't try to access them while you're driving.
While some may prefer the more extroverted luxury feel of the Lexus ES 300 or the Jaguar X-Type, German no-nonsense austerity has made ascetics out of us. The wood trim is real and lustrous, and comes standard on 3.0-liter models. Our test vehicle was decked out with the Leather package, but we've found that the standard leatherette upholstery is just as pleasing if you'd like to save yourself $1,320. There were some uncharacteristic hard plastics around the center stack, and we've seen better-quality materials for the headliner and A-pillar in cheaper cars, but overall, the red-glow controls and gauges in the ebony interior of our test car sated all of our editors.
The A4 contains many of the features we consider essential in a proper entry-level luxury sedan. Climate control is dual-zone; if it only had an off button instead of requiring occupants to press the fan control button repeatedly to shut the system off, it would be more lauded. After all, it does have a charcoal-activated filter. Predictably, all four windows are one-touch up and down, and the sunroof is operated by Volkswagen/Audi's traditional flick-of-the-wrist dial. A trip computer and concealed headlamp washers are nice bonuses. And our test vehicle was equipped with self-leveling xenon headlamps, which provided excellent illumination. Questionably, though, there's no auto-on headlamp feature. Optional, but not on our vehicle, is a color-screen navigation system, still integrated into the gauge cluster, which is supposedly improved over the needlessly complex system in the previous model. We'll let you know if it is when we get our hands on a test car so equipped.
Perhaps the most contentious change on the new model is the styling. When our staff first caught glimpses of a spy shot, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, mourning the loss of the fresh, sexy rear for a carbon copy of the "Baby Got Back" rump of the A6. We liked the added heft of the front end, but the hindquarters still lack the ability to evoke a unilateral "that's a good-looking car" response, as the car seems to be striving more toward luxury than sport.
It did gain weight over the previous A4 a significant 200 pounds more than last year's A4 2.8 quattro for a total of 3,583 pounds, even taking into account the 40 percent loss in the weight of the suspension (thanks to extensive use of aluminum componentry). Accordingly, the Audi loses some of the nimble lightness that was a key characteristic of the original A4. However, Audi engineers were able to dial in 45 percent greater torsional rigidity than the 2001 model. This, along with the new independent rear suspension as well as the all-wheel-drive traction of quattro, resulted in a ride that was both comfortable and able to handily consume any gnarled road we threw at it. Although in sea-level areas of Southern California quattro is more of an excuse to drive unreasonably fast on racetracks, we can see the all-wheel-drive system, enhanced by an electronic differential lock, being very handy on slick, frozen roads.
Equipped with the Sport package, the A4 gains 30 percent stiffer shocks and springs, thicker stabilizer bars front and rear, a lower ride height and 17-inch 235/45R17 Michelin Pilots. During our drives, the A4 stuck to the road like an errant grain of rice on a fuzzy sweater. Body roll was properly quelled, and even though there was more movement than in more sport-oriented vehicles like the Lexus IS 300 and the BMW 330i Sport, it still achieved a speed of 62.7 mph through our 600-feet slalom course, comparable to the BMW at 62.8 mph. Around town, the A4 provided a supple, complaint ride. Yes, the 2002 Audi A4 is worthy of the sport sedan title.
The smooth and more relaxed power delivery of the 3.0-liter V6 furthers the A4's appeal to a certain degree. Launching from a standstill to 60 mph took 7.0 seconds. This isn't too impressive, especially considering that this is a manual shift unit. In comparison, the BMW 330i with 225 horsepower, equipped with an automatic transmission, took 6.7 seconds. Don't forget, however, that the Audi has a hefty all-wheel-drive system; we've yet to test a 330xi. Additionally, while many German cars could be improved in the low-end torque department, the A4 seemed especially deficient in this department. Peak horsepower is achieved at 6,300 revs, and 221 pound-feet of torque are accessible at 3,200 rpm. While this is plenty to get you around town, it lacks a pin-you-to-the-seat fervor that a 200-plus horsepower vehicle should have. Monitoring the power in our test car was the aforementioned six-speed manual transmission (a five-speed automatic is optional). While a six-speed earns points for being a rarity in this class, shifting action leaves a bit to be desired. Long throws and notchy engagement of the gears detracted from some of the fun of driving, although the clutch was easy to modulate. Fuel economy averaged out to 18 miles to the gallon, typical for a vehicle of this type.
Brake pedal feel and action were some of the most impressive we've ever felt. The ventilated front and solid rear discs stopped the car from 60 to 0 mph in a scant 115 feet, besting the distance set by the class-leading Lexus IS 300 at 117 by 2 feet. Nary a trace of fade was to be found, even after a downhill canyon run. The A4's steering is quick and direct, but it lacks the extrasensory ability to communicate with your fingers, plus its turning circle of 36.4 feet is slightly more cumbersome than those of its primary competitors. Ah, well, the BMW's voodoo steering rack always ruins it for the rest of the cars in this class.
Apropos of most German vehicles, the A4 possesses a comprehensive list of passive and active safety systems to hopefully keep you from damaging the car or, worse, yourself. Standard on the A4 are stability control, four-wheel disc brakes enhanced with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA). If you should find yourself in a collision, front, side and side curtain airbags should provide soft impact points within the stronger structure of the 2002 A4. Optional are rear side airbags and OnStar telematics, which notifies the authorities when the airbags are deployed.
Entry-level luxury sport sedans are some of our very favorite vehicles, and the contenders seem to be getting better and more numerous. While the BMW 330i remains at the head of the class for pure driving enjoyment, Audi has masterfully rendered a more accommodating vehicle in terms of passenger comfort and price premium a comparatively equipped BMW will cost a few thousand dollars more. If you should happen to jump into a Volkswagen Passat, you'll probably see why the platform-sharing vehicles are similar in many ways, although the A4 is fancier and sharper than its cousin. However, this is more of a compliment to the VeeDub than a derogatory remark about the A4, which can smartly compete in the entry-level luxury sport sedan arena. Plus, its free scheduled maintenance of 4 years/50,000 miles adds to its already extensive list of positive attributes. The Audi has the competition beat on price and interior refinements; we'd love to see if this can overcome its slight deficiency in performance. By the looks of things, it might.
System Score: 8.0
Components: The audio systems in Audi and VW vehicles have been some of our favorites in the last few years. They always seem to sound good and are generally appointed with solid ergonomics. The two companies take a somewhat different approach to speaker placement than the rest of the industry. Instead of loading the back deck with hefty 6-by-9s or a second set of conical speakers, the Audi/V-Dub folks opt for speakers in all four doors. This may seem odd to American consumers, who generally ascribe to the bigger-is-better philosophy; but if you stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense. After all, home loudspeakers come in their own enclosures, and sound better because of it. A sealed or semi-sealed enclosure produces a partial vacuum, which in turn creates "speaker damping" a design technology that improves communication between the amplifier and the speaker, in the process reducing the excursion or "throw" of the speaker cone. Not only does this improve sound, but it also increases the power-handling capabilities of the speaker. That, in short, is why Audi and VW sound systems sound so good.
This Bose setup begins with a nicely appointed head unit boasting 18 AM/18 FM presets, a cassette deck and a built-in six-disc CD changer. Surprise-and-delight features include round, ridged detented knobs for both volume and tuning, a "mid" tone control for increased sonic flexibility, a wide topography with plenty of space between most controls and excellent radio positioning in the upper-center portion of the dash. It also has a cool-looking red display that matches the rest of the interior controls.
Speakerwise, the vehicle has the identical setup in all four doors: a 6.5-inch mid-bass driver coupled to a 1-inch tweeter. These sound pretty good by themselves, but the Bose folks have gone one better by positioning a 10-inch subwoofer on the back deck. No, this doesn't shoot holes in our statements above. The subwoofer is specifically designed to work in a "free air" environment, with built-in suspension that controls the excursion of the cone (essentially working as a vacuum) and improving power-handling and speaker-amp communication.
Performance: This is a very good-sounding system. The door speakers produce a punchy and tight mid-bass attack, complemented in the lower frequencies by the 10-inch Bose subwoofer. Highs are clear and unsullied without being brassy, mids have excellent definition and detail, and the overall sound of the system is superb. We did, however, take off some points for the soundstage, which we felt could have been improved by better positioning of the tweeters. Also, the high end, on selected cuts, got just slightly overcooked, producing a strident response. Other than that, you'll love the sound of this system.
Best Feature: Sonic accuracy and balance.
Worst Feature: No steering wheel controls.
Conclusion: We liked this system quite a bit. Nevertheless, we took off points for soundstage problems, as well as a lack of steering wheel controls. It seems to us that a car in this price range should offer at least the rudimentary volume up/down and seek/scan controls on the steering wheel. After all, these features are commonly found on competing models. We've also seen these controls in cars costing thousands less than the A4 and missed having them in this otherwise excellent system. Scott Memmer
Editor-in-Chief Karl Brauer says: The A4 gets credit for transforming Audi from a minor player in the U.S. market (thank you, 60 Minutes) to a viable BMW alternative for those seeking the ultimate driving experience without ponying up the ultimate monthly payment. The stylish and fun A4 captured the hearts of American enthusiasts while simultaneously making everyone forget the term "unintended acceleration."
That's not an easy act to follow, and when Audi first unveiled the 2002 version, some of its fans (yours truly included) feared the company had tried to fix something that wasn't broken. It took some serious seat time in the latest A4 to understand what the latest model is all about. The 2002 A4 appears to be more about luxury and less about sport. It has grown in size while taking on substantial weight. But don't assume that the new version no longer qualifies as a German sport sedan. The quattro all-wheel-drive system works as magnificently as ever, slinging the car around corners with tenacity. And this year you can get an advanced CVT transmission (on two-wheel-drive models), as well as a more powerful and super-smooth V6. And that bit about size and weight gain? That translates into a functional rear seat and positively serene ride. All in all, it's a 15 percent gain in luxury with maybe a 10 percent loss in performance, resulting in an overall net gain.
Sure the Bimmer is more fun to drive, but that's been the case for years. Now, however, the Audi is clearly more comfortable and accommodating for buyers who actually want to transport passengers in their sport sedan. Throw in a price range that consistently undercuts the Bavarian rival, and this A4 promises to keep Audi's fortunes alive in the New World.
Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says: The previous A4 was Audi's savior; without it, the company could have slid out of the North American market completely. It was a great car, and we praised it highly. Now, there is a new A4. If the last was a savior, what is this? A peacekeeper? There's no question that it's better than the old car and the most competitive product in Audi's lineup. If I were shopping for an entry-level luxury sport sedan, the A4 would have to be very high on the list. Thanks to the all-wheel drive, the A4 is steady and confidence-inspiring during handling maneuvers and capable when the road gets wet. Even when equipped with the Sport package, as our test car was, the ride quality is acceptable. If you like to drive, getting this option makes sense unless you live in an area with bombed-out roads (Detroit comes to mind). The 3.0-liter is a smooth engine, but with quattro at least power delivery is soft down low. If you can't swing a 3.0 quattro, I suspect a front-drive 1.8T would provide also almost as much fun. And honestly, that's what I'd likely end up buying anyway. Audi has done well here, but there are also other capable luxury sedans. Shop carefully.
"I just purchased a 2002 A4 3.0 cvt, sports, premium, bose, xenon. I have to say that it is what bmw 330i's should aspire to be. The handling on this car is superb ,the interiors are exuberant and the acceleration... well, simply exhilarating. I waited a year to get this car, , and finally after I made my decision, I still had to wait to get the color and options I wanted, but let me tell you my friends it was worth every effort and time and money I spent.... this is my dream car! Favorite Features: everything!" By Ming Blue, "Audi A4," February 21, 2001
"I'd been looking at the A4 for 3 years and finally took the plunge. I was a little hesitant about the new styling but once I drove it, wow. Very solid on the road, smooth shifting 5 spd manual...surprising amount of power in the 1.8T, great gas mileage, nice highway ride. The low end torque is great but power on the highway in 5th is much better than I expected. Overall I think it's a great car for the money. Compared to the Passat, which I think is a nice car, the A4 is more polished and more solid on the road. Only complaint might be that the seats are kinda hard, but that's standard for the Audi's. I haven't found it a problem so far. Great car!" By Lou, "Audi A4," February 04, 2002
"My wife and I were looking for sedans in the $25-$30K region. We drove the Passat, Maxima, Altima, and Subaru WRX. We happened to be at a dealer who sold all of these makes so we were able to test drive back to back to back. Even though it doesn't have the raw power that some of the others do, the combination of build quality and with a sporting flair could not be matched in our eyes. It didn't hurt that we got in the last of the low interest rates as well!" By AudiFan, "Audi A4," January 29, 2002
My wife and I have been searching for a new car. We have driven the S40, VW Passat and Audi A4 1.8 quattro. The first test drive was not as convincing as the second, we had just driven the VW w/15" rims (large passenger tires) and the A4 sports suspension did not sit well with us. The handling and features were paramount over the previous autos. Three weeks later, we drove the Audi without the sport suspension. This is what we had been dreaming of. Safety features out the wazoo, a solid feel, ingenious engineering, and very smooth shifting on the 1.8 Quattro. A terrific car for the money! By Auditestdriver, "Audi A4," January 02, 2002
"As of the posting of this article, I've now had the Audi A4 3.0 quattro for 9 days and have driven it for over 600 miles on various types of roads and road conditions. I can't help but to get a grin on my face when I sit down in the driver's seat. It's pretty much loaded with all the options except, navigation system, power sunshades, sport package, On-Star, and parking assist. Handling is very tight and responsive. I've taken some pretty sharp turns with no complaints from the A4. It is also very good in rainy conditions (I was caught in an all-night downpour the night I had picked it up!). There is excellent pickup when stepping on the gas. Granted, it's not a stick, but the Tiptronic is smooth in shifting and allows the driver the option to control that more in "manual mode". Fit and finish are tops. I have the Dolphin Gray exterior with the Beige leather interior. The wood trim is perfect. Every seam to every door, hinge, lid, etc. lined up with no deviation in gaps. The ergonomics are designed with the driver in mind. The Bose system is the best I've heard! Thanks to great sound insulation, I'm hearing a lot more detail from my music. Of course that still doesn't detract from the symphonic sound of the 220 hp 3.0 V6! The only thing I might complain would be the cup holder that pops out from the dash. It doesn't seem to hold onto my travel mug securely, but it does when placed into the holder found within the center armrest. Not that big of a deal. On top of what the A4 has to offer, I also like Audi's free maintenance for 4 years or 50,000 miles! All I can say is that I'm pleased with my choice. By cyberpmg, "Audi A4," Friday, November 09, 2001
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