March 12, 2005

North American Press Launch: All New Audi A4
Article & Photos by: Steve Sherwood

From our perspective, Audi's goal for the B7 A4 was to take pretty darn good car and make it even better. Did they accomplish their goal? Read ahead. The new and improved Audi A4 is actually a 2005 1/2 model year car, but will be sold as a 2005 car. This is a bit of a surprise given that the B6 A4 can also be purchased as a MY2005 vehicle. We attended the North American press launch for the B7 A4 in Tucson, Arizona with the goal of determining just where the new A4 slots in against competitive offerings. Audi has always taken pride in its technological advancements, and this car is no exception, but would this newly revised model position itself as the German B-segment car to beat?

Exterior

While Audi has in fact retained a fair amount of its signature A4 look, there are there are some subtle and not-so-subtle changes that clearly differentiate it from the previous model. Most noticeably is the trapezoidal front grille, which is now ubiquitous in Audi's line-up. We frankly still have mixed feelings about the new role that the larger grille has in the Audi line-up. Yes, it is a design similarity that Audi is carrying forward to all models, but it really takes some time to get used to it.

The taillights have also been transformed into what Audi is describing as a "more muscular" look, the idea being to use this new shape to make the car look wider. The jury is still out on the taillights too, however; we found ourselves thinking Japanese sedan a few times when viewing the A4 from the rear.

The tornado line, which travels down the fenders and through the uppermost portion of the doors, is one of a few hints that Audi is trying to make this car more angular. BMW is, of course, leaning towards this more angular look as well. The car is slightly longer than the previous model, but only by 38 or 41mm (sedan vs. avant). Lastly the previously non-painted lower side skirts have been abandoned, and we now find color-matched lower valences and side skirts. Gone are the days of searching for a body shop to paint these lower valences for a decent price.

Interior

The press has generally declared Audi king of the luxury interiors and we're not about to argue. The interior of the new A4 is immediately familiar, as it is essentially the B6 interior with a few tastefully done enhancements. For example, the dash mounted cup holder assembly has been removed meaning no more spilled Starbuck's half mocha lattes to clean out of the front center of the dashboard. Instead the center console now has two larger cup holders next to the emergency brake assembly. Interestingly, the handbrake assembly still interferes with the armrest inasmuch as one must raise the armrest slightly to fully engage the hand brake. This is an annoying ergonomic design issue that Audi has confessed to knowing about, yet it was not addressed in this redesign.

For the B7 A4 a new version of the brushed aluminum beltline trim is now offered in both the 2.0T and 3.2 models, whereas in previous years the 1.8T was offered in only aluminum and the 3.0 was offered only in wood. There are two wood trims, the first being a dark walnut and the second being a lighter vavona finish. The main selling point here is that the 3.2 buyers will finally be able to choose the nice aluminum trim level if they want.

The A4's radio inherits new functionality that we see as a hit with the technology savvy crowd. Specifically it has two SD card slots found behind the Nav screen that can read MP3 files. The new Navigation system is built-in and uses a DVD drive. The Nav is controlled much like the Audi MMI system found in the A6 and A8 models, however the controls are found just right of the radio rather than being in the center console.

We found this generation Navigation Plus system to be quite responsive in tracking progress. The only minor gripe regarding the Nav Plus system is the difficulty in finding the screen retraction button when the screen is in the flat, opened position. The button to close the screen is there, but quite difficult to locate (particularly in the dark).

For maximum flexibility Audi has designed its new radios to be both Sirius and XM compatible. Cars fitted with the Nav Plus option will get a separate CD changer located in the top portion of the glove compartment.

One very unexpected change is the backlighting of the tachometer and speedometer. These gauges now glow in a very pleasing blue color.

The new car also boasts rain sensors that facilitate intelligent automation within the wiper and braking systems. While driving down the freeway in the rain, for example, the brakes would automatically apply about 1 bar of pressure for about 2.5 seconds. This is enough pressure to wipe the brake rotors of water, allowing the brakes to perform better and therefore stop faster in inclement weather. For this feature to work the driver has to be traveling at least 43mph. When these conditions exist, the system wipes the brake rotors every 185 seconds.

Engines

The new B7 platform is underscored by more powerful engine options. The base car is offered with a turbocharged 4-cylinder 2.0 liter FSI (Fuel Straight Injection) engine, pumping out a total of 200 bhp and 207 ft lbs of torque, an upgrade of 30 bhp and 41 ft lbs of torque over the B6 variant. Since we utilize a B6 A4 1.8T as a daily driver we were anxious to drive the new 2.0T. The butt dyno clearly declares a noticeable difference between the 1.8T and 2.0T engines. I wonder if we can swap out our 1.8T engine?

In addition to the 2.0T there is a normally aspirated V6 3.2 liter FSI engine, posting an impressive 255 bhp and 243 ft lbs of torque.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine also has some other significant changes, specifically the addition of another intercooler found neatly tucked underneath the front headlamp assemblies behind usable lower grilles. It is similar to the set-up in the 225 bhp 1.8T Audi TT. The oil filter on both cars is now cartridge type with a drain valve that must be drained with a special tool. No more Jiffy Lube for oil changes (shame on you if you were going to Jiffy Lube in your Audi)! The new engine has a more-throaty feel, and is a bit noisy when you open the bonnet while the engine is running, especially upon initial start. We actually thought it sounded just a bit like a diesel.

The low-burn feature of the FSI engine will not be available here (Europe only) mainly due to the quality of gasoline that is typically available in the US. While the underlying FSI engine is the same, we will not be able to take advantage of the better mileage found in the cars equipped with the low-burn technology.

One other technology advancement of note is the fact that the fuel system is primed when you open the driver's door. The fuel lines sit low on the engine, and because the injectors are squirting into the cylinders instead of behind the valves they are more susceptible to a vapor-lock problem. By priming the system up front, cranking times can be reduced. There is also no fuel line return line, so vapor that might build up from a hot soak situation can be put under high pressure thereby further reducing the effect of vapor-lock while starting the engine.

Transmission

Supersize me. Gone are the 5-speed manual transmissions of prior years, replaced instead by 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic (Tiptronic) options. Audi's CVT (multitronic) transmission is also available only in the frontrak (front wheeled drive) vehicles. The manual transmission shifter throws seem decent, but we still had some intermittent problems with the 2-3 upshift during our testing romps through the Arizona high desert.

Brakes

With bigger engines Audi reached into its parts box and pulled out the B6 platform S4 brakes for the front of the B7 A4. The A4's rear brakes have also been improved over the B6. As a result we found this car to be extremely responsive and safe feeling.

Performance

With the additional ponies and torque on these new cars, one would naturally expect a bump in performance. In all honesty we found the performance bump to be best felt in the 2.0T version where power delivery feels smooth with essentially no turbo lag. This car flat out feels more powerful than the previous 1.8T cars, as it well should. It really felt like we were driving a different car - which is the point when you go to a completely upgraded model!

The new A4 2.0T has a 0-60 mph time of about 7.2 seconds, according to Audi, but it felt a tad better than that with that new FSI engine. Thinking ahead to potential chip tuning applications, and this car is definitely going to attract a substantial enthusiast following.

The 6-cylinder, 3.2 liter A4 has a more robust 0-60 time, at around 6.5 seconds. Not shabby, but we question whether this is still a bit low for some of the enthusiast market if you take some of the similarly-priced competitors into consideration. With the Acura TL, Infiniti G35, Volvo S60 boasting equal or improved performance, Audi continues to lag slightly in this area.

The Achilles heel of the Audi A4 appears to be its ability to get down and grunt. We see the new 3.2 mated to the Tiptronic as a welcome improvement - it really is a nicely executed powerplant and transmission - but there is still room for even more performance capabilities here. If Audi expects to continue to gain momentum with the A4 and pick up increased sales they really need to not only equal the competition in terms of performance, but exceed them by a very clear margin.

The test cars we drove, in several configurations, did not include the 3.2 engine with a 6-speed transmission. This configuration will not be available until later this year, and we like many enthusiasts eagerly await its arrival. It has the almost the same power (250 vs. 255 bhp) and torque (258 vs. 243 ft lbs) as its more potent brethren, the B5 S4, when originally introduced in the US in late 1999. The power-to-weight ratios are very similar. A car equipped with a 6-speed manual tranny, 3.2 engine and quattro drive train sounds very capable indeed. Make mine in brilliant red.

Suspension/Handling

The suspension of the car is another area where Audi has made improvements. The B7 suspension utilizes all new components, producing a very favorable Teutonic effect. The non-sport package, which Audi plans for 50% of its cars sold, is probably very rewarding for the average buyer. The sport package, which is 30% stiffer and rides 20mm below the non-sport cars, is predictable and very neutral. The sports package is definitely a recommended upgrade for more spirited drivers.

Steering

In past years some reviews have stated that Audi models have had a floaty steering feel. Audi has taken note of this feedback and dramatically improved the steering feel of this new A4. The result is a very connected road feel that is extremely responsive - kudos in this area.

Wheels and Tires

Audi will offer three different 5-spoke wheel variants on the new A4. We expect to see the non-sports package include a 5-spoke 17" wheel with 235/45/17 Pirelli P6 M+S rated all-weather tires, while the sports package should see a split 5-spoke wheel shod in 235/45/17 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx high performance tires. At launch, the 2.0T also has a base level 16" wheel available. We would have liked to see a departure from the standard 5-spoke base wheel design, but alas, it is not offered this year. We expect enthusiasts to be busy in the aftermarket replacing the stockers with something more exciting for warm weather driving.

Later in the year the S-line model will get an 18" option just as currently found on the B6 A4 cabriolet S-line model. The multi-spoke non-sport wheel found in several of our pictures apparently will not be offered on US models at initial launch.

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