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By Jim Flammang
September 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Volkswagens luxury division redesigned its compact, entry-level A4 sedan and A4 Avant wagon for 2002 and made an innovative multitronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) available. The power passenger seat has been deleted from the 3.0 FrontTrak sedan for the 2004 model year. The Audi A4 sedan and A4 Avant get a standard six-speed-manual transmission, a tire-pressure monitor and dual-stage front airbags. All models are ready for either Sirius or XM Satellite Radio.
Audi added another A4 series by reviving the Cabriolet (convertible) body style for the 2003 model year. Promising performance thats comparable to its sedan and wagon siblings, the four-passenger A4 Cabriolet also is available with a CVT, and it shares basic styling touches with the A4 sedan.
The CVT promises greater fuel efficiency than that of a regular automatic transmission. Rather than have it deliver a totally continuous range, engineers incorporated a series of steps to make it feel more familiar. All three body styles come in 1.8T form with a turbocharged engine or in 3.0 guise with a V-6. Sedan and Cabriolet versions are available with FrontTrak front-wheel drive or quattro all-wheel drive. Except for the wagon body, the A4 Avant differs little from the A4 sedan and comes only with quattro all-wheel drive.
Some styling themes on Audis top-selling A4 were adapted from the companys round-profile TT sport coupe and midsize A6, but the A4 is more angular at the rear. A trapezoidal-link independent rear suspension is installed. The A4-based suspension was lowered slightly for use on the Cabriolet. Like the A4 sedan, the A4 Cabriolet has a double grille, a triple-tube headlight module, a contoured tail and chrome exhaust pipes. Flared wheel arches accent the bodysides. Brushed-aluminum trim goes around the windshield and along the waist.
Standard tires are 16-inchers, but 17-inch tires may be installed on the A4 sedan and A4 Avant. The A4 Cabriolets five-spoke cast-alloy wheels hold 16-inch tires. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, a sunroof and a Parktronic rear parking-assistance system and a wind deflector for the convertible are available.
A wide arch roofline for the convertible top enhances the bodys subtle wedge profile. Intended for four-season comfort, the fabric top is triple-layered and padded. A heated glass rear window incorporates electric defrosting. A cover closes flush with the body.
The A4 sedan and A4 Avant seat five people and have four-way power lumbar support. The seat cushions have prominent bolsters. Standard equipment includes automatic dual-zone air conditioning and an Immobilizer II anti-theft system. Audi Telematics by OnStar is optional. Audis navigation system, which works without a video-screen map, is also available.
Four people fit inside the A4 Cabriolets sporty cabin, which features aluminum rings that circle the round air vents. Audis Symphony radio includes an in-dash six-CD changer and nine speakers. Standard equipment on the Cabriolet includes a four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power mirrors and height-adjustable front seats with four-way electric lumbar adjustment. Automatic dual-zone climate control works with sun and pressure sensors. Parktronic parking assistance and a navigation system are available.
Under the Hood
A 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine powers all 1.8T models. An aluminum 220-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 is installed in 3.0 editions. A five-speed or six-speed-manual gearbox is standard, depending on the model. The CVT unit is available only in FrontTrak models, but sedans equipped with quattro all-wheel drive may have a five-speed Tiptronic automatic that permits manual selection of simulated gears.
Standard curtain-type airbags deploy from above the side windows on the A4 sedan and A4 Avant. Side-impact airbags for front occupants are standard on all models, and rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional. An Electronic Stabilization Program incorporates Brake Assist. All seat belts have pretensioners, and LATCH child-safety seat tethers are installed.
Two bars behind the rear seats of the A4 Cabriolet deploy upward when a rollover incident is imminent. A strengthened windshield and A-pillars provide extra protection.
Audis A4 series has a lot to offer, but the highlight is its available multitronic CVT. Operating so subtly that the driver is hardly aware of its presence, the CVT does everything an automatic transmission promises but without any gear changes. The A4s passing response is excellent, and because CVT operation is so subtle, most drivers should quickly get used to the lack of actual shifting.
With its gearshift flicking easily between ratios and mating to clutch action, a manual-shift A4 is also enjoyable, but the levers position may not please everyone. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine responds eagerly but is a little noisier than the V-6. Handling prowess is the strong point. The A4 joyfully tackles twisting roads and takes all the turns in stride. Ride comfort is satisfying due to a nicely absorbent suspension, but passengers can be jostled a bit when the pavement gets harsh. Even though the A4 is snug inside, the seats are outstanding and provide great support with absorbent cushioning.
Emphasizing luxury over sportiness, the A4 Cabriolet delivers a refined top-down experience. This car exhibits strong, confident and quick-responding performance, but its not quite exuberant. The convertible is easy to drive, and it stays impressively flat through curves. It maneuvers capably, but its steering isnt the most precise. Even on imperfect pavement, the ride is comfortable as the suspension transmits minimal fuss. The seats are superb: pleasantly cushioned, masterfully supportive and snugly but not excessively bolstered.