German automaker Audi wasn't timid when it came time to redesign the A4, a compact sedan that aspires to play in the same luxury territory as BMW, Lexus and Infiniti.
Audi designers opted for a radical redesign that adopts the brand's new family "face" -- a yawning grille, new clear-glass headlights and creases in the hood that give the car a "power bulge."
There is no male/female split here on whether the Germans did the right thing with the 2005 A4, which debuted in March. To us, the design is a hands-down winner, cutting across gender lines to score a slam dunk.
We tested an Audi A4 2.0 T Quattro sedan with several options, including $500 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires and $450 light silver metallic paint. The bottom line: $35,320.
SHE: I'm so glad we are leaving the era of expressionless cars. When I think back on some of the vehicles we drove in the 1990s, like the Buick Century and the Mercury Mystique, they seem completely devoid of emotion. At least cars like the A4 are getting a lot more lively looking.
HE: Boy, it sure took awhile, but that new family styling theme at Audi has really grown on me. Talk about in-your-face design. The look is bold, expressive and so distinctive, you can spot the A4 coming from a mile away. All the Audis have big-time personality, and the A4 is no exception. Even better, with all the mechanical improvements for 2005, the A4 delivers on the promise of that aggressive face. Take the new turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which replaces last year's 1.8-liter unit. It's a performance version of parent Volkswagen's direct-injection gasoline engine family, and it makes an impressive 200 horsepower -- that's 100 horsepower per liter, sweetheart. Audi has wisely harnessed that power to a sweet six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual-shift capability, then sends it to all four wheels through its patented Quattro system. It's tough to beat this combination for all-weather traction and flat-out acceleration in a $35,000 sport sedan.
SHE: You can make the argument that the Audi has a lot of value, with such standard features as side curtain air bags, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated outside mirrors and a six-disc CD changer. But it's easy to rapidly inflate the base price. Our test vehicle, for example, had $4,000 worth of options, and it isn't even fully equipped. Want heated front and rear seats? They're part of a $750 cold-weather package. A power front passenger seat is part of a $2,100 premium package. And I wonder how any manufacturer can justify charging $450 extra for silver paint.
HE: Point taken. I see that by adding a V-8 engine and other goodies, you can quickly run the price of an A4 over $45,000. For the money, the Acura TL is a better car, and some folks will find the new BMW 3 Series more entertaining. Still, the revamped A4 is a major player in this segment, on a number of fronts. We haven't even talked about safety, an area where Audi traditionally excels. In addition to the aforementioned side curtains, the A4's standard equipment includes side air bags for front occupants, electronic stability program and four-wheel disc brakes with antilock.
SHE: The good things about the A4 include a world-class cabin, right down to the cup holders. They don't pop out of the dash any more, but are located more sensibly inside the center console. Audi said they were designed for the U.S. market. But I'd like to get back to the engine, especially with gas prices skyrocketing. That high-performance turbo engine also helps you save fuel. The EPA rates our test car at 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 on the highway, which are pretty impressive numbers for a European sport sedan.
HE: Only a few small, but significant gripes. There is simply not enough legroom in the rear seats for adults. And that wide center stack really encroaches on the driver's knee and legroom. Otherwise, if you're prepared to drop this kind of money on a small performance car, the A4 is well worth a test drive and a closer look.
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He drove, she drove Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor-based automotive information services company.
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2005 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan
Price: Base, $31,370 (including $720 destination charge); as tested, $35,320
Engine: 2.0-liter I-4; 200-hp; 207 lb-ft torque
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city / 30 mpg highway
Where built: Germany
Key competitors: Acura TL, BMW 3 Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35, Jaguar X-Type, Lexus ES 330, Lexus IS, Lincoln LS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Maxima, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy/Outback, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S60
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,408 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Anita's Rating: 4
Likes: Eye-catching new face adds drama and presence. Larger, more powerful engines for '05. World-class cabin is warm, inviting. Detail improvements, including better location for cup holders. Available with front- or all-wheel drive. Agile handling.
Dislikes: Options can really drive up the price. No adjustable pedals or rear-seat DVD entertainment. Service reputation needs some work.
Paul's Rating: 4
Likes: Lovely turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 is lots of fun. Great new six-speed Tiptronic transmission. Terrific safety features. Pretty good fuel economy.
Dislikes: Not enough rear legroom. Wide center console cuts into driver's legroom.
1. Unacceptable, 2. Subpar, 3. Acceptable, 4. Above Average, 5. World Class