Audi is making a comeback.It's far from becoming a major power. In fact, it's still at a speed bump on the road to recovery. But the German automaker all but written off as dead when its 5000 sedan was charged with taking off without telling you in the mid-80s, now can devote more time and energy to looking ahead rather than behind. We previously test drove the Audi A4, the compact front-wheel-drive sedan that replaced the old Audi 90, which replaced the old Audi 4000, a smaller companion to the old Audi 5000. When the 5000 sedan was the target of unintended acceleration charges (which a government investigation concluded was a case of driver's hitting the gas pedal rather than the brake, a design flaw because the two pedals were too close to one another), the 4000 became an object of scorn, too, because it was 1) an Audi; and 2) only one number away from 5000. Audi did what most automakers do when faced with a name that makes consumers cringe--it changed the monickers from 5000 and 4000 to 100 and 90. Audi would have done better to call the 5000/4000 replacements the Edsel and Yugo because the numbers ploy just didn't work. In 1995 the A6 replaced the 100 and for 1996 the A4 replaces the 90 and this fall the A8 replaces the Audi 8 and enough time and moniker madness has come between the old and the new that the 5000 episode is over and Audi can get on with its life. Suffice it to say the A4 is a gem. Thanks to the compact sedan, Audi sales are undergoing unexpected acceleration. Deservedly so. We've tested the car in front-wheel-drive version and now have put it through its paces in Quattro, or all-wheel-drive, form. It was only fitting that the Quattro arrived about the same time Ms. Nature got unruly. First it was snow, then it was a big chill that turned melting snow into ice rinks. Neither ruffled the A4 Quattro. With Quattro, the treads grip whatever is in their path. The tight corner or turn is no problem. The merger ramp no problem. With Quattro there is a sense of security, an air of contentment and relief when traveling along snow-covered roads--or worse roads that alternate between clear and drifted so just about the time you feel at ease you are lifted off the pavement and onto the powder. Quattro provides all-season motoring peace of mind, the ability to hold your course when the pavement is hidden under snow as well as to grip tightly when the blacktop is dry, the sun is shining and you are traveling through the winding, twisting countryside at maybe a mile or two more than the posted limit. The A4 with Quattro also offers traction assist up to 25 m.p.h. to reduce slippage when starting from the light at that snow-caked intersection. The safety package is complete with the addition of dual air bags and anti-lock brakes as standard. The A4 Quattro is powered by a 2.8-liter, 172-horsep ower, V-6 engine. The 2.8 seems a bit more spirited in the front-wheel-drive A4 than in the all-wheel-drive version. One reason is that by adding Quattro, the A4 gained about 200 pounds. Still, when taking off quickly from the light or stop sign, the 2.8 feels as if some outside force is holding one fuel injector shut until you reach third gear. Perhaps 20 more horses, or 200 fewer pounds, would help. The 2.8 was teamed with a five-speed manual, a smooth-shifting, short-throw unit that requires only fingertip effort. Though all-wheel-drive, the A4 Quattro provides surprisingly good fuel economy, 19 miles per gallon city/27 m.p.g. highway. You won't get that kind of mileage in a sport-utility vehicle with four-wheel-drive. A bonus is that the engine and transmission are quiet. TheA4 is roomy up front, a bit cramped in back. The shortage of rear-seat room is one of the few complaints with the car, other than a desire for a little more engine oomph. The test car came with remote lock/unlock buttons on the key fob. In what appears to be an attempt at being stylish and fashionable, the buttons are minuscule and too close together. Bigger buttons with room between would be appreciated. Also, we often had to press the lock or unlock button several times before the magician inside woke up and performed the task. Base price of the A4 is $26,500. Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, gas-charged shocks, power driver's seat, heated front seats, heated driver's side door lock/outside mirrors/windshield washer nozzles, leather-wrapped steering wheel, retained accessory power for windows so they'll open or close after the ignition key is turned off, wiring for cellular phone/CD player, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, tinted glass, rear window defogger, cruise control, power windows, dual power mirrors, power locks, AM-FM stereo with cassette and CD changer capability, intermittent wipers and a warranty that includes 24-hour roadside assistance. All-wheel-drive adds $1,550, which seems like a lot but which Audi cites as one of the reasons for its comeback. Before 1995 if you wanted all-wheel-drive in an Audi, you had to buy a top-of-the-line premium edition with about $7,000 of optional equipment, including Quattro. Now, you can add Quattro for $1,550 as a free-standing option, which Audi says doesn't represent so much a $1,550 penalty as it does a $5,450 savings from the time when you had to spend $7,000. And while Quattro had meant all-wheel-drive teamed only with 5-speed manual, now you can get automatic transmission as well. By making Quattro more readily available, Audi sales rose to 18,124 in 1995 from 12,575 in 1994 and the percentage of cars bought with Quattro jumped to 50 percent in 1995 from 19 percent in 1994. The forecast for 1996 is sales of 25,000 with Quattro accounting for 75 percent of that. Not exactly the 74,000 annual sales pace Audi enjoyed in 1985, but with the addition of a low-cost (under $25,000) 4-cylinder A4 later this year in which Quattro will be an option and an A8 luxury sedan this fall boasting six air bags--two front and side bags in front and rear--again with optional Quattro, Audi feels it will spend far more time in the future looking up than looking back. However, while Audi is rather gleeful about making a recovery, it still hasn't passed the most crucial test--quality that ensures staying power and longevity. It must be noted that the Hyundai Excel at one time set an industry record for first-year sales. When consumers woke up to quantity versus quality and the fact Excel had more of the former and not much of the latter, Excel became an also ran. The history books and junk yards are littered with one-year wonders. So while the A6 and A4 are very good cars and the A8 promises to b e a welcome addition to the lineup, it will take a few years of continued success and the ability to avoid lingering problems to determine whether Audi is on solid footing or tiptoeing through a swamp.
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||September 14, 1996|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||April 13, 1996|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||February 11, 1996|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||January 4, 1996|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||November 19, 1995|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||November 3, 1995|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||October 29, 1995|
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||October 13, 1995|
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