1999 Audi A4 Review
Avant translates as great sports wagon.
Wagon or sedan, the EPA classifies the A4 as a compact. At a tidy 176.7 inches, the Avant is actually 1.3 inches shorter than the sedan. It's not quite an inch taller, and its sloping tailgate lends the same graceful touch as the sedan's curved rear roof pillars.
The A4 sedans and wagons offer two engine choices, both featuring Audi's new five-valves-per-cylinder technology. The standard engine is a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder, generating 150 horsepower and 155 foot-pounds of torque.
Audi's V6 is a five-valve design based on the old two-valve engine. Boasting 190 horsepower, it definitely lends more urgency to forward progress. Don't be deceived into thinking all those valves and cams add up to a high-rpm screamer. The essential trait of this undersquare engine design is torque. It's a highly tractable engine around town, making upshifts well short of the rev limiter.
The A4 1.8T sedan starts at $24,290, while the 2.8-liter version retails for $28,890. The A4 1.8T Avant starts at $26,940, while the 2.8-liter V6 A4 Avant goes for $31,540. (All prices include Audi's standard $500 destination charge.)
Unlike most manufacturers, Audi offers 5-speed manual transmissions as standard equipment. The $1,075 optional automatic is a Porsche Tiptronic, which allows drivers to operate it as a semi-manual. It lends a little more variety to automatic driving than the garden variety automatic and can make commuting more entertaining. As automatics go, this is a good one, but we still prefer manual gearboxes, and our 5-speed tester reflected that. Frankly, we were a little disappointed with the shift action, which lacked precision, but it's still our preference.
Audi's $1,600 Quattro all-wheel drive system was a valuable feature in mid-winter Michigan. After driving Avants of all flavors, we think the Sport package is a bargain at $400, which adds slightly stiffer springs, more aggressive shock damping and heavier antiroll bars. The standard suspension allows just a little too much up and down motion and body roll for such an otherwise sporty little freighter and the Sport suspension offered acceptable ride quality on southeastern Michigan's pothole-infested highways. (The Sport package costs $750 for cars equipped with the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine.)
The final major extra was an $1,190 power moonroof. We checked it for function and sealing, then forgot about it--too much snow coming in with it open, you see.
The A4's outstanding elements of style extend within, where we encountered a black and saddle tan interior that could easily have been conceived for an Orvis catalogue. It's not as spacious as a Volvo V70, but with cooperation from those up front it is possible to get three adults into the back--three friendly adults--and the high-quality leather is a treat for the olfactory system, as well as the backside.
There were a few small demerits. The control stalks are hidden by the steering wheel spokes. Operating the lights and cruise controls is a bit awkward and the two-prong cupholders are virtually useless. We have a little trouble getting used to the lurid red glow of the A4's instruments at night, but they may improve night vision a bit.
On the other hand, the A4 adds an oil temp gauge and ammeter to the usual array of instruments, the power windows are express down all around and express up in front, and storage cubbies are padded to keep small stuff from rattling. Side airbags are included up front. Another winning point: no daytime running lamps, a big plus for stealthy storming around the hinterlands.
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