Audi has boldly changed its shape, as reflected in today's test car, the 2005 A4 2.0 T quattro. The raised, chopped rear, sleek beltline, and rimmed, cross-hatched nose are spreading through the Audi lineup.
Their lineage: Look back to the Auto Union race cars that were dominant on the Grand Prix circuit in the 1930s. Find a picture of the 1938 Auto Union D-Type and look at the grille. It's not replicated on the new Audi, but its essence is strong.
The redesigned A4 comes at us in a relatively short turnaround time: It was last redesigned in 2002. That was a tight, quick car with a subtly elegant interior, even if a bit flat/brickish in its outer appeal.
The new A4 - from its wind-seeking snout, along a body that has gone to a slight wedge, to taillights that bite gracefully into the trunk lid - remains unmistakably Audi. But it's Audi with a badder attitude.
And it's an aggressive look that befits what, depending upon your power plant choice, might now lurk beneath the hood.
That is because Audi has replaced its 1.8-liter turbocharged engine and its 3.0-liter V-6 with a 2.0-liter turbo and a 3.1-liter V-6 and, more significantly, given them what it calls "fuel stratified injection," or FSI. Simply put, the old system injected its fuel through intake lines while the new system injects it directly into the combustion chamber. The result - along with accompanying technical tuning - is that the little turbo now produces 200 horsepower, up by 30 over its predecessor, and the V-6 jumps from 220 horsepower to 255. Further, and for those who favor the deep tug of torque, the 2.0 goes p by 41 lb.-ft. to 207 and the V-6 from 221 to 243.
The result in the turbocharged test car was a strong pull from even low rpms and a powerful surge that stayed that way even as rpms climbed. And the exhaust note, for fans of rumble, was sonorous.
The A4 with the 2.0 comes with three transmission options: a six-speed manual is standard in both front- and all-wheel-drive models, while you can opt for a continuously variable transmission in the front-wheel-drive and a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift option in the all-wheel-drive. The automatic with Tiptronic is the only transmission available on the 3.0, which also comes only as a quattro.
We drove the six-speed manual and found it to be quite tight with short throws. The tightness was fitting for a car that rode that way, handled that way, felt that way. There was no lugging when rpms dropped, and we looked for oomph without upshifting.
The quattro system held us tight in corners and its grip was evident at all four wheels, depending on the situation: snow, sand, hard lane changes in passing. It was all accomplished in a cabin that was remarkably quiet, except for the delightful if distant rumble of the exhaust and the faint jet whisper of faster speeds.
Audi interiors have long been among my favorites. They seem so simple and yet are so refined. The leathers are tight, the stitching is tight (there's a word that seems to keep coming up when we discuss this car), and the layout is efficiently compact. The seats, with adjustments for thighs, hips, back, head, and legs, feel almost rigid at first, yet you appreciate them quickly when you start to push the car's performance and, in long cruising they hold you firm. Five or six hundred nonstop miles in these seats would be a snap.
The snout's chrome-rimmed shape is repeated in the middle of the three-spoke steering wheel, metal bisects define upper and lower cockpit areas, and the central control panel - audio, heat, air conditioning, navigation system - swoops gently down from center dash to the shifter (and there's that metal-rimmed shape from the grille again).
Standard safety features include ABS, electronic stabilization, front side air bags, front and rear side curtain air bags, and crash sensors that unlock the doors, turn on interior lights, turn off the engine and fuel pump, and activate the hazard lights.
The A4 is available as a four-door sedan or five-door wagon. And, of course, there is always the S4 and its thundering, 340-horsepower V-8, but that is a pony kept in another stall.