Some cars are made for sunny days. And some make the day sunny, no matter the weather. Exhibit A: the A4 Cabriolet. Audi already had a great thing in its 2002 redesigned A4. The subtle lines, the flowing interior, the fun stuff under the hood. They didn't need to go topless to make it great. That they did might just raise the bar on a car that was already a Car & Driver Top 10. But not for the reasons you might think. The beauty of the 2003 A4 Cabriolet is not that it can have its top dropped, but that it doesn't have to in order to be great. Convertibles are strange animals. They're loved on days when it's 70 degrees and sunny. They are loathed on days that are anything but 70 and sunny. Too cold in the winter, too unstable when it's windy and too susceptible to the elements, convertibles suffer when the conditions aren't just right. Until now. I drove the A4 for 400 miles during a very top-up February week of pure Midwest winter. Ice, snow and cold. Awful for a new A4 that is designed for brighter days? On the contrary. In the age of multi-use crossover vehicles, this is the crossover I can live with - a car for all seasons. Top up or down, the A4 blends the best of both worlds. Stunning looks, aggressive power, graceful appointments - oh, and a top that can go down if need be, but that you can live with if Mother Nature says you can't. Maybe the A4 was destined for good things from the start. It begins by sharing its platform with the larger Audi A6 and Volkswagen Passat - both good folks to follow. It builds from there. Under the hood, the A4 offers a choice of either a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine or a 220-horse, 3-liter V-6. The A4 comes with an available four-cylinder in front or all-wheel-drive Quattro. A five-speed manual is standard on the four-cylinder, and a six-speed is standard on the 3-liter Quattro. A five-speed automatic is optional on all models except the front-wheel-drive V-6, which comes with a Multitronic automatic transmission. Our new Cabriolet comes one way, as a 3-liter front-wheel-drive with the Multitronic transmission. The driveline is key. It's here where Audi really separates itself from the pack. The Cabriolet arrives with a meaty setup that delivers a lot of punch and push. Step on the accelerator and watch the RPMs fly as the world flies by. With power distributed directly to the front wheels, the Cabriolet blasts out of the gate, without too much torque steer - that tug on the front wheels that usually happens when too much pressure is sent in that direction. It handles corners without much roll and weaves in and out of traffic with a sports car's demeanor. Not quite a BMW, but balanced enough to know you are getting your money's worth. The ride is very European - firm and sporty, which means you can feel most bumps in the road, which is all by design. The tr ansmission helps smooth out the rough edges, although I can't say it's my favorite choice. Known as Multitronic in Audi lingo, it is the brand's version of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), or a constantly varying gear ratio. What does that mean? No need to worry about five gear ratios or a traditional five-speed automatic. It is a smooth transition from one gear to the next - never downshifting or upshifting - and always allowing the engine to run at just the right level. My problem with CVTs in general is that you lose the sensation of pushing a car to its limit. The transmission is always searching for the optimum gear, rather than you deciding what you'd like. But that doesn't mean it won't work for everyone. Combined with the V-6, the CVT really is silky smooth. And it helps fuel economy. Even though the Cabriolet is heavier than the A4 sedan, even without the gas-sucking problems of the Quattro, it manages to get 20 mpg in the city and 27 the highway. That means plenty of good cruising. Inside the cabin, the Cabriolet was ultra quiet and very smooth. No wild wind buffeting or loud highway rides. Cold air was kept out. Heat was kept in. Around the cabin, there are plenty of Audi's signature comforts - brushed metal, wood and leather. Standard features include supportive 12-way front bucket seats with lumbar, a classy instrument panel and Audi's signature items: Bose stereo with a six-disc changer, power windows, locks and mirrors, as well as heated outside mirrors. One drawback: Audi says you can put four people into the seats. But a quick glance at the back and it's easy to see no one over age 8 is going to enjoy a ride back there. It's easily a place better suited for an overnight bag, or anything you can't fit in the 10 cubic feet of trunk room (not bad for its class). The ragtop is anything but a flap-in-the-breeze roof. With triple thickness and a glass rear window, it ranks on the luxury side of the convertible line. Raising and lowering it is done with the touch of a button and takes about 25 seconds. When in place, it's a perfect blend of form and function. From the street you'd have a tough time figuring this was a convertible. Which brings me back to the point of multi-use. In any season, in any climate, the A4 works. It is a sedan. It is a convertible. It is all the above. On safety, no need to worry whether Audi has scrimped. Like all Audis, the Cabriolet is loaded. There's an electronic stability program to help keep things in control, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, brake assist to prevent skidding, dual front and side airbags, a reinforced windshield and pop-up rollover posts behind the rear seats. Where you might have to scrimp is on the extras in your life. At $46,735 (including heated leather seats, a premium package and 17-inch wheels), this is not a cheap convertible thrill. But where it is positioned is right around a BMW 3-Series but below its Mercedes-Benz SLK, Volvo and Saab competitors. That's heady competition for an automaker moving up against the other Germans. Is it there? It's close. I didn't have many qualms with the A4. It would be nice to have the option of a five- or six-speed transmission and Quattro - Audi says both are on the way this spring. And while it doesn't have the same growl or attitude of a BMW or the refinement of a Benz, it certainly is knocking at the door. In the market for a car for all seasons? It's worth a look. Even in mid-March. Rating: 3.5 High Gear: A stylish interior and exterior, along with sharp handling and a solid ride make the convertible version of the A4 an even sunnier proposition - even if it's not sunny. Low Gear: Price gets to be an issue in the mid-40s and low-end torque could be a bit more beefy. Also, forget the back seats; this is a two-seater.Vehicle type: Front-wheel-drive, front-engine, two-door, four-passenger convertible.Key standard equipment: Power retractable cloth top with heated glass rear window; automatic dual-zone climate control; power windows, locks and mirrors; electronic cruise control; front and side airbags; 12-way adjustable front seats; continuously variable transmission; four-wheel antilock disc brakes; AM/FM CD stereo; keyless entry; security alarm system; tilt steering.Key competition: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Saab 9-3, Volvo C70, Ford ThunderbirdBase engine: 220 horsepower, 3-liter, DOHC V-6Torque: 221 foot-lbs. @ 3,200 rpmWheelbase: 104.5 inchesLength: 180 inchesMPG rating: 20 mpg city/27 mpg highwayManufactured: Rheine, GermanyWarranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles; the drivetrain is four years/50,000 miles; body corrosion is 12 years/unlimited miles; roadside assistance is four years/unlimited miles.Base price: $41,500 Price as tested (including options, destination and delivery): $46,735
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||May 7, 2003|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||January 26, 2003|
|Alan Vonderhaar||Cincinnati.com||December 14, 2002|
|Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||November 13, 2002|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||November 9, 2002|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||October 19, 2002|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||October 6, 2002|
|Jason Stein||March 23, 2003|
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