August 25, 2002

Road Test: 2002 Audi A4 3.0 quattro
Article and Photos By: Steve Sherwood

With the model changeover from its tried-and-proven A4 2.8 to the redesigned A4 3.0, Audi not only tinkered with the exterior of the vehicle, but added more punch with the 3.0 liter V6 powerplant. Having owned a previous generation A4 2.8 Quattro I eagerly awaited my turn at the helm of the new B6 platform A4. How would the A4 3.0 quattro stack up against the earlier model?

After depositing my 2001 S4 Avant at Anderson-Behl Porsche Audi for some power steering maintenance service, I was surprised to be offered an upgrade from the standard Enterprise Rent-a-Car in the form of a brand new 2002 A4 3.0 Quattro in Tiptronic trim.

My initial impressions of the car were swift and undeniable: it was the best, bar none, rental or loaner car I have ever received in my many years of working with car dealerships. I was further astounded at the level of options this specific car had, since it was essentially loaded save for the navigation system, the sports package (with 17-inch wheels and sports suspension), the ski sack, and the soon to be available Onstar / Cellular phone option.

Driving Impressions

To my dismay, I had already made previous commitments for most of the weekend that I had the new A4. Since I knew I would not be able to do any extensive testing, I decided to grab another Audi enthusiast friend of mine (Frank Amoroso from UrS4 fame) to get another opinion on the car's overall driving and handling.

Our test track would be a nice stretch of Northern California road in the hills behind San Mateo/Belmont. We set out on Highway 92 from Burlingame, past the Interstate 280 freeway, and up to Skyline Boulevard. Skyline - to those who have never experienced an empty stretch of road like Skyline Boulevard, it would be difficult to articulate what you're missing. Distilled to the basics, it is a stretch of road mostly on the top of the ridge that separates the San Francisco Peninsula from the coastal towns just south of San Francisco. The pavement is unusually smooth and silky with consistent radius or increasing radius turns - just the ticket for a nice romp in a new A4 3.0.

With good luck on our side, we actually found a fairly deserted stretch of road to play with on this Sunday morning. Pushing the car through the twisty corridor from Highway 92 to La Honda, we could not help but to reflect on the substantial gains Audi has made since the early 1990's. For one thing, this A4 was definitely stiffer than any stock Audi I had ever driven before (and keep in mind that this specimen was not even shod with the optional 17-inch wheel/tire package). For another, the stock tires felt better than previous Audis I have owned. I attribute this wholeheartedly to the suspension tuning which, like previous Audis, exhibited a bit of understeer. Also, it nearly goes without saying that Audi has once again raised the bar in terms of the comfort and appointments of the A4 3.0.

Feeling pretty satisfied with the stock setup of the A4, we did what any enthusiast would naturally do next - we opted for a quick wheel and tire swap. In our case it was a set of lightweight SSR Competition wheels and R compound tires. As shown in the pictures, however, the car looked a bit high in the saddle with this setup. If one were to change to a set-up similar to this, I would suggest getting a nice set of coilovers to set the ride height to a more desirable level. By now there are a number of aftermarket vendors that would be glad to offer the A4 3.0 owner with a viable solution for this suspension issue.

Overall Highpoints

  • Fit and Finish - After living in an S4 for the past two years I was really accustomed to the premier class fit and finish of the previous B5 platform. I was quite pleased with the atmosphere that Audi has developed in the new platform A4, which is different from the previous platform but still retains some of the Audi-signature style.
  • Brushed aluminum inside door knobs and shift gate look sharp
  • Sport (S) Setting for Tiptronic transmission, resulting in more aggressive shift points
  • Engine sound on hard acceleration (a definite and welcome departure from the engine of past years)
  • Overall exterior ambiance - with color-coded body molding this car has the potential to look quite aggressive with the right suspension and tire/wheel package.

    Overall Lows

  • Stereo - The stereo display looked like it was made for a 6-year old. The whole unit had oversized buttons and digital numbers which seemed out of place in this new A4. The volume button came off in my hand, and this was on a brand new car. Yes, one can expect a few minor issues with cars just unloaded off the transport, but this one was especially annoying to me.
  • Fuel Efficiency - or better put, lack of fuel efficiency. I know I drive "leadfoot" style, but the A4 3.0 appeared to be very close to S4 territory in gulping gas. Taking into consideration the overall weight of this car (more than 3700 lbs.), as well as the fact that it was basically brand new and needed to go through the break-in period, I guess this mileage was about right. It is one of those ageless questions: do you want performance or mileage? You obviously can't have both.
  • Door Trim - beige door trim meant it was very easy to create scuff marks on the lower inside door panels with shoe soles. I can only speculate that this would also be a factor in the cars with the grey or black door panels.
  • Fog Lamp Activation knob - sorry, but it took me several minutes to figure out that this was a pull knob. I wish it had been more intuitive.

    Overall Impressions

    The new B6 platform A4 3.0 will definitely appeal to the masses and be a direct competitor to the BMW 330i. If BMW of North America is worried about this car, it is with good reason. Drivers in the market for a replacement for a BMW 325-328i, Mercedes C-class, Saab, or Volvo would do well to include the A4 3.0 on their list of candidates. The car will appeal to people looking for the refinement of a V6 engine, as well as all the other amenities that go with today's option-laden sports sedans. It's more refined than previous models, tauter, and actually comes off as sportier without sacrificing the established comfort that the V6-model A4 has come to be known for.

    Special Thanks

    A special thanks to George Demar, Audi Service Manager of Anderson-Behel Porsche Audi who set me up with this new A4 for the weekend. Hey George, any S8 loaners around?

    A Second Opinion   By: Frank Amoroso

    To be honest, given the early photos of the neu-A4, I was lukewarm on the styling. However, I always like to reserve judgment until I can see new designs in the sheet metal. By now everyone has seen one on the street, and while there is no accounting for taste, I think most would agree that this is an attractive vehicle. I'll even go as far as to say that the Avant version is downright alluring. One benefit of the new body style is the huge trunk (at least 2.5X the size of my old '87 4000 CSq's).

    What impressed me most about this car was chassis rigidity. Shutting the doors provided a pleasing, Porsche-esque thunk. Combine the chassis with a firm, yet supple, suspension and you get superior ride quality, responsive handling, and very good steering feel, even with stock wheels and tires. This was surprising given this vehicle's recent weight gain.

    As luck would have it, the engine has grown a bit too. The 3.0 liter powerplant was smooth, and had adequate low end grunt for this Tiptronic sled. While not as razor sharp as BMW's old E36 3 series, this particular A4 could go toe to toe with the current E46 325 xi.

    If words like: attractive, very good, and adequate grunt don't really cut it for you, all you need to say is B6 S4 V8. Let's just say that the new A4 responds phenomenally well to the finishing school that is known as Audi's Neckarsulm factory. Using the same basic B6 platform, the new S4 is bound to modify some of the more restrained points of this new A4 3.0 with a nice dose of testosterone. We can't wait to see that beast in person.