For years, every time Audi brought out a new car, auto writers would say something like, ''This could be the car that puts Audi back on the road.''

But for nearly 10 years, Audi has not been able to break the jinx of the old Audi 5000, the car at the center of a controversy involving sudden unintended acceleration. Though safety agencies in several countries ruled the problem was due to driver error - possibly because of a poor pedal design - Audi's U.S. sales have floundered ever since.

Even though the 5000 debacle is ancient history, it still haunts Audi's sales, which peaked at about 75,000 in the mid-80s.

I'm starting to think that no matter how good a car Audi builds, people just won't give it a chance. And that's a shame, because the A4 could be the car that puts Audi back on the road - if car buyers would just give it equal consideration along with the other cars in its class.

If you are thinking of buying or leasing a mid-size, entry-level luxury car, you will have a very difficult time finding one that equals the A4's performance, safety features and value. I know of no other car in the A4's class that offers the added safety and security of all-wheel drive. No Mercedes-Benz. No BMW. No Japanese car. And nothing from Detroit.

Further, the A4 is attractive, it is loaded with luxury features, and it performs brilliantly.

Note: The A4 is a hot item in Germany, where Audi says the A4 outsells the Mercedes-Benz C-class and is neck-and-neck with the BMW 3-series, both of which are similar in size and price to the A4.


The A4 uses the compact, powerful Audi/Volkswagen 2.8-liter, 172-horsepower V-6 engine. I've said before that I think this is one of the world's best V-6 engines. It is silky-smooth and fast-revving, and it delivers hearty performance when you call for it.

The A4's engine is lighter and has fewer parts than a regular V-6. Because it is so narrow, it only needs one cylinderhead (every other V-6 engine has two). The advantage to this arrangement is that the A4's engine weighs less and has fewer parts than a regular V-6.

Our test car came with a five-speed manual gearbox and the optional ($1,550)''Quattro'' all-wheel-drive system. Audi says 0-to-60 mph comes up in 7.8 seconds - not bad for an all-wheel-drive car. Because all-wheel-drive cars weigh more and have more parts, they generally don't perform as well as two-wheel drive vehicles.

The A4 is generally pleasing to drive around town and on the road. It offers good response at slow speeds and even better performance when the engine is revved hard. In fact, the car really comes alive at about 3,500 rpm. The A4 also has terrific passing power.

The five-speed gearbox shifted quickly and easily, though I feel that the shifter could have a more positive feel. The transmission sort of numbly slips into each gear. (Later in the 1996 model year, Audi will offer a five-speed automatic along with the Quattro all-wheel-drive system.)

Despite some enthusiastic driving, the A4 delivered 21 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway.


The A4 has the most advanced all-wheel drive system Audi has yet designed, and I am convinced that there is not much you can do to make this car spin out of control.

Not only does the system sense which wheels have the most traction, but it shifts the power from the front axle to the rear axle and from side to side, if necessary, to ensure that the wheels that have the most traction get the power. All-wheel drive and the standard anti-lock brakes make for almost foolproof driving.

When you first round a corner in the A4, you might be tempted to think the car's suspension is too soft. Initially, the body leans slightly. Yet take that same corner a bit quicker and the four-wheel suspension firms up nicely.

Audi has done a particularly nice job tuning the suspension to isolate noise and vibration whenthe car is driven over bumpy roads.

Loading the car with passengers and driving aggressively is one way to learn how a car handles under duress. I packed the A4 with three adults and took them for a 45-mile cruise; the A4 lost none of its verve or superb handling characteristics when loaded.

High marks also must be given to the A4's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and to its strong, fade-free, four-wheel anti-lock brakes. The A4 turns a circle in a tight 34.3 feet, and the brakes grab hard to slow the car without any front-end diving. The anti-lock system makes very little noise and works smoothly.

I particularly liked the way the A4's attractive alloy wheels and 16-inch tires filled up the wheelwells and gave the car a beefy appearance.


Our test car came with just about every safety and luxury item Audi offers - and still the price barely topped $30,000.

If you compare the Audi A4 to the BMW 325i, the Mercedes-Benz C-280 and all the Japanese V-6 luxury sedans, you won't find another similar-sized sedan that gives you as much as the A4.

Of course you expect a full menu of power accessories in a $30,000 luxury car, and you get them in the A4. But you also get real wood on the dash, heated leather seats (power, of course) an electric sun roof, a trunk-mounted CD changer, radio-controlled door locks and - one of my favorite features - rear fog lights, which make the car more visible to other drivers.

At first glance, the A4 might appear to lack room in the rear seat. But the seat is angled back slightly so passengers' knees don't touch the front seats, and there is plenty of head and shoulder room.

The front bucket seats are firm and comfortable, though the switches on the side of the lower cushion take a little finesse to maneuver.

The gauges are cleanly styled analog black-with-white numbers that are easily read. At night, the gauges are bathed in red light and the cockpit takes on a jet fighter-like ambience.

Other nice features include one-touch windows, a superb Bose radio, excellent visibility and a pair of console-mounted cupholders.

If value is important to you, the A4 should be high up on your list of vehicles to test drive.

It should be the car that puts Audi back on the road.

Truett's tip: Audi's A4 is a quick, attractive and nimble-handling entry-level sports/luxury sedan - the only one in its class that offers all-wheel drive.