|September 6, 2004
In Search of a True Sports Package
For many years now the die-hard Audi fans in the US have been clamoring for a real bonafide sports package, the type you can sink your teeth into. From as far back as 1997 the Audi A4 had what could rightly be termed a faux sports package, with amenities like jacquard satin sport seats, a sports steering wheel and 16" sports wheels clad with Dunlop SP8000 tires. Did it make that year's car better? You bet it did. But did it feel like a true sports package? Probably not for the driver looking for something truly sporty.
In 1998 Audi upped the ante by offering a sport suspension lowering the car 30mm along with new 7-spoke sport wheels shod with high performance Dunlop SP8000 tires, not the standard M+S tires of prior years. This was again a step in the right direction, but a far cry from what many people were looking for. Why?
The car did look better in its lowered stance, but it still did not corner that well. For the average Audi owner this might have sufficed, but for the enthusiast constituency handling was still lacking. Most of the sports packages that had been offered by the nice folks at Audi of America frankly left the driver wishing for more performance, more sex appeal, more grunt. Unfortunately it was the very performance which BMW had become so adept at providing in their sports packages - a true competitive drawback for Audi. In 2002, when the new B6 platform car arrived with its stiffer chassis it would be yet another chance for Audi to get it right.
It was with slight trepidation that I recently took delivery of a spanking new 2004 Audi A4 1.8T sedan in a color that police officers really take a liking to: Brilliant Red. Could this car, equipped with the new and improved "Ultrasport" trim package, be just what the doctor ordered? Did it deliver? Read below and find out for yourself.
You ever get that warm and fuzzy tingling feeling up your back when you look at certain cars? Well, I did when I first gazed at the 2004 A4 with the Ultra Sport package.
Visually the car looks as good, and in some ways better, than its more potent brother, the new S4. In fact, when it first hit our shores I mistakenly thought an Ultrasport car was an S4. However, there are some aspects of the Ultrasport that are more visibly appealing than the S4 exterior trim. Specifically, the front lower fascia of the A4 Ultrasport is more refined and cleaner than that of the S4. To me the outside lower grills of the S4 seem out of place, and inconsistent with the style of the rest of the car.
The Ultrasport with the RS4-like 18" wheels are as good as the older Avus style wheels of the B5 or B6 platform S4. In fact, I like them better. I think the reason for this is that I have seen the Avus wheels since we first started getting glimpses of the B5 S4 in the UK back in late 1998 and early 1999. The Avus style wheels, which have been around for some time now, are not as fresh as the new RS4 style wheels found on the Ultrasport. The color-matched painted side skirts and lower rear valance enhance the package to make it very high performance S4-like.
Without really flogging the test car, I did manage to do some spirited jaunts in the twisty roads of Los Altos Hills, CA. The car, with the special sports suspension, did pretty well despite it hefty 3,406 lb. curb weight. It was definitely not as tossable as my B5 Audi A4 1.8T; the car has the expected safety inspired understeer characteristic that all new Audis exhibit, but it was a bit more neutral than I expected. Frankly, I had a tough time getting the rear end to step out at all.
While foraging for a nice stretch of road I also managed a nice romp on the 280 freeway between San Jose and San Mateo, including a number of freeway onramps and off ramps. For those familiar with the area you can attest that there are very few places where the pavement is as smooth and the turns as consistent in arch as those of the 280 freeway in the hills behind Palo Alto. This is truly my favorite local testing ground. At freeway cruising speeds this car really excels, feeling extremely solid and connected to the road due largely to the B6 platform's increased chassis stiffness. The balance of the spring rates and shock dampening really make this car fun to drive. Can this be considered a "sport package" suspension? You bet it can.
To be honest, the performance aspect of the 2004 A4 1.8T is what I was worried about prior to getting the test car. After my first few miles in the car, I came to the realization that my doubts were substantiated and that this car was in desperate need of a huge injection of Vitamin B12, aka horsepower. The stock 170 bhp, while sufficient at initial launch due to the DBW configuration and accompanying respectable throttle response, was significantly lacking in the higher gears. I cannot imagine loading this car, as tested, with four to five adults and their gear, and going on any kind of trip. If you are skiing or hiking fan then forget it, the power is just not sufficient for the needs of those who intend on taking this car up to high altitude, fully loaded with passengers and gear. I am sure that with the help of a decent chip tuning program, and the associated influx of power, that this car would improve in the grunt department.
2004 A4 1.8T quattro 6sp - 170 bhp / 3406 lbs - 0.0499 (20.04)
And just for comparison:
2004 S4 quattro 6sp - 344 bhp / 3825 lbs - 0.08993 (11.12)
1999 A4 1.8T quattro 5sp - 150 bhp / 3241 lbs - 0.04628 (21.60) (stock)
The broad conclusion from the statistical data shown above is that the 2001 A4 1.8T sedan, equipped with the slightly aggressive chip tuning from the factory seems more powerful than its 2002-2004 sibling, even though both cars have 170 bhp. The newer platform is definitely heavier, tipping the scale at from 3406 to 3638 lbs, depending upon whether it is a sedan or wagon, tiptronic or manual transmission, or front wheel or quattro drivetrain. This weight issue continues to be a roadblock for me to consider one of the new 1.8T cars. The car just is not powerful enough for the majority of existing B5 A4 1.8T owners that could potentially move up to the newer model.
Test Car Data:
2004 Audi A4 sedan 1.8T quattro MT6 (Base $27,750)
Ultrasport package ($2,950)
Premium package ($2,000)
Lighting package ($750)
California/Northeast Emissions ($150)
Total $34,290 (MSRP)
The Ultrasport package provides a very nice exterior look, very S4-like, in fact a bit better in some ways (front air dam). The aluminum belt line trim is a nice touch as is the leather seating surfaces. The 12-way adjustable driver seat is nice, but it would be nice to find it on the passenger side as well. The base stereo is better than I originally remembered.
The power (underpower) situation is where I honestly I think this 1.8T version of the car needs another 40-50 bhp to do the job better. To me the A4 3.0 Ultrasport is more of a car for me with 220 bhp with factory warranty. Yes, you could modify the A4 1.8T to that territory with a performance chip and cat-back exhaust, but then you would have to consider the potential warranty coverage effects. The car has a nice shifter...but still a relatively long throw, and with being underpowered the 6th gear is almost useless (and this was just with one person in the car).
This is definitely a nice car for the masses, but a bit lacking in the acceleration area for most of the enthusiast crowd. As noted it is a great car for those who want to look like an S4, but don't want the price tag. The price IS the best aspect of this test car. For about $34K plus tax and license you can get a nice mode of transportation. If you are intending to take this car on track, or haul you and your four 180 lbs friends, think again. To feel the necessary punch you will definitely need to visit your local Audi tuner to get a fair amount of performance goodies to add "BEEF" to the equation.
A definite alternative, one that would be covered under the factory warranty, would be the A4 3.0 quattro 6sp Ultrasport. Better yet, let's talk Audi into transplanting the 3.2 liter 255 bhp engine into the A4 Ultrasport. This would have a number of additional horses under the hood, and not be questioned every time you go to the dealer for an oil change due to the modifications. Anyway, the choice is yours.
What's in store for us next Audi? A 2.0 liter turbo? Or something like the 225 bhp TT? Something else? I guess were going to just have to wait and see what Audi brings to our shores in the months and years to come, and whether they can continue onward with the right mix of performance, sportiness and price.
A special thanks needs to go out to Ramy Eldabbagh, one of a few Sales Managers at Stevens Creek Porsche/Audi in San Jose CA for making the arrangements to allow me to have this test car for the weekend. It is always appreciated when the local Audi dealer steps up to the plate and helps out with a test car on occasion.
Pages:  [Gallery]