|First reviews, more pictures of the latest, hottest cars|
Matches Best In Class For Quality, Driving Dynamics.
Trapezoidal Grille Doesnt Do Its Looks Any Favours
Formidable Choice Of Motors; Wondrous 3 Litre Diesel
Rating **** out of 5
Le Castellet, France
Im not sure if its my imagination, but every time an overly aggressive driver plants himself inches from my boot, more often than not he (and sometimes its a she) seems to be driving an Audi.
Could it be something to do with the fact that I drive a BMW, the natural enemy of Audi? I dismissed this as a personal prejudice, magnifying a difference of opinion I recently had with a passenger who was a rampant, unswerving, blinkered Audiite. But two or three times recently, people have mentioned this same Audi syndrome to me, without any provocation, and none of them drove cars which might remotely be considered an incitement to the Audi driver. (Nissan Sunny, Honda Jazz, Peugeot 406 Estate).
So my prejudices are half-confirmed; Audi drivers do tend to be over-aggressive, but not necessarily because they resent or covet my BMW 330d. Even more reason then, to drive the face-lifted Audi A4, and find out what is driving these guys nuts.
Audi has rushed out its new look A4 to get its ducks in a row to fight off the new BMW 3-series, which is being renewed from the ground up early in 2005.
Impossible To Be Unimpressed
Prejudices apart, it is impossible not to be impressed with the A4 range. There are 11 engines to choice from, ranging from a 1.6 petrol to a 4.2 litre V8, with diesels, turbo-charged petrol, and direct injection petrol motors. There are estate cars, and you can choose front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Audi has added 4 new engines to the range a 2.0 litre direct injection petrol (DIP) turbo, a 3.2 litre petrol DIP, and two diesels a 2.0 litre, and a fabulous 3.0 litre, of which more later.
The car was completely renewed almost 4 years ago with a much bigger body which retained the familiar flowing body shape. The latest resurrection is longer again, by about 38 millimetres, and looks different at the front with the so-called trapezoidal grille which now either adorns or blights depending on your point of view the faces of the A3, A6 and A8 as well. (Im in the blight corner). Audi says that all the body panels save the roof have been renewed, but not much has changed. You will still instantly recognize the car when you see it. Under the skin, the suspension has been revised, cannibalizing components from the recently renewed A6 and top-of-the-range S4 to sharpen up the drive and handling.
Gear Read-Out Would Be Nice
All manual A4s have six-speed gearboxes; none have what I consider to be a must a read-out on the dash to show what gear you are in. (Only the Land Rover Discovery has so far embraced this, I think). There are six-speed automatics with tiptronic manual over-ride, and a multitronic continuously variable automatic gearbox.
Inside the cabin, the trapezoidal motif also stares back at you from the centre of the steering wheel. The dashboard is efficient and well made, but lacks that wow factor that BMW has perfected, which reeks of luxury and premium quality. The automatic gear box controls on the 3.0 litre TDI quattro was surrounded by a metallic, aluminium façade which seemed a bit too Korean for a luxury car. For a biggish car there didnt seem to be a huge amount of room for the back-seat passengers, even compared with the 3-series which is seen as a rear-space laggard. The boot is huge and beats BMW hands down.
On the road the cars I drove were just magnificent. Audi centred its launch on the Le Castellet hotel, located in the mountains north of a spot between Marseilles and Toulon, about 10 miles from the Mediterranean. The roads close to the hotel are twisty and mountainous, but there are also fast, straight B roads and highways too within easy reach. The 2 litre 140 bhp diesel manual produced terrific performance, if on the noisy side, and drove like a pedigree. The 2 litre, 200 bhp direct injection petrol turbo was faster on paper but didnt really feel much better than the diesel.
But handling was impeccable, with the speed-dependent power steering doing a great job of allowing lightness when driving slowly and parking, but stiffening up nicely at higher speeds. Score the A4 ahead of my 3 series on this. The manual gear changes were precise and easy. The suspension was on the harsh side, as you would expect; it is German after all.
The 3 litre diesel quattro was the pick of the bunch. The V6 common rail turbo diesel is a 204 bhp version of the A6s 225 bhp engine, and produces what feels like instant acceleration whenever you put your foot down. It impressed me even more than the fantastic 2.7 litre V6 diesel in Jaguars S Type. The engine uses Volkswagens Piezo variation on the common rail diesel theme, which gives added precision to the fuel injection process and increased efficiency. On the road, this version provided terrific acceleration on demand, and quiet cruising. The four-wheel drive system gives a reassuringly secure feeling that the car is glued to the road as you belt down the highway, with half an eye on the lookout for patrolling flics. I know that in France the speed cops dont trouble the locals too much, but our A4s all had British plates, and would have presented a tasty morsel for any half-awake gendarme, before luncheon at least.
Calm Down, Back Off
So why should Audi drivers be so aggressive?
My recent experience of driving the bigger A6 and the little A3 showed the cars to be a match for the top competition like the BMW. The new A4 showed that it is probably the equal of the current BMW 3-series. We havent got long to find out if BMWs new model will exceed this. So for the time being Audi drivers, calm down, back off. For the next couple of months at least youre driving a car thats a match for anything.
Neil Winton December 5, 2004
home page / more reviews / auto industry news / top of page