2002 Audi A4

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2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet

This 2003 review is representative of model years 2002 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.75

Bottom Line:

For the first time since 1988, German automaker Audi has a four-person convertible in its U.S. lineup. The 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet was worth the wait.
Pros:
  • Pleasant scoot via variable gears
  • Quiet interior
  • Nice details on soft-top
Cons:
  • Lacks reliability data
  • Must wait for Quattro version
  • No manual transmission

I'm a sucker for baby blue, the pastel color of robin's eggs and blankets for baby boys. So when a new convertible in light blue grabbed my attention, I wondered if my attraction would be only as deep as the paint.

But no, Audi's new 2003 A4 Cabrio has other attractions, too.

Competent handling, honest four-passenger seating, quiet interior, luxury appointments, numerous safety items and pleasant scoot from the up-level V6 engine and high-tech continuously variable transmission (CVT) all make for a commendable vehicle, especially for drivers wanting to make the most out of every cloudless day.

Some firsts
The two-door power-top A4 Cabrio—which builds on Audi's best-selling line, the A4—is the first four-person convertible in the States from Audi since 1998.

It's also the first in the convertible segment here with a CVT. It's the only transmission available in the A4 Cabrio.

CVTs offer an infinite range of gears for maximum performance and optimum fuel economy. But for a driver, they are like an automatic transmission, with no clutch pedal on the floor.

Smooth performance
In the test car, the CVT was paired with the up-level 3.0-liter all-aluminum double overhead cam five valve V6 and worked smoothly to find just the right gears to give the driver a good feel of scoot and power.

Torque here is 221 lb-ft at 3200 rpm, but Audi officials say 90 percent of the peak torque in the A4 Cabrio 3.0 is available from 2200 to 5200 rpm.

In regular driving, I never felt that I lacked an extra power boost when I needed it. And the powerplant pulled the rather heavy A4 Cabrio in mountain terrain without feeling sluggish.

Audi officials say you can use regular gasoline here, though premium unleaded is recommended for top performance.

In part because of the car's weight, fuel economy for the Cabrio with 3.0-liter V6 is rated at just 20 miles a gallon in city driving. On highways the rating is 27 mpg.

Sometime around mid-2003 model year, Audi officials planned to add the base engine to the lineup. It's a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder capable of 166 lb-ft of torque at 1950 to 5000 rpm. Fuel economy here is an improved 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Again, though, the only transmission is a CVT.

Surprisingly hefty
The A4 Cabrio 3.0's weight of 3,814 pounds is surprising for a subcompact car. Note this is 164 pounds more than a V6-powered Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Cabriolet. In fact, the A4 Cabrio with V6 weighs more than the CLK430 Cabrio with V8, too. And the A4 Cabrio 1.8T weighs about as much as the CLK320 even though this Audi has only a four cylinder.

I guess that's one way of saying there's a sense of solidity in the front-wheel-drive A4 Cabrio, as the body structure feels taut and there's no body shudder or shake.

The car handles mountain twisties competently, though the 16-inch, all-season tires did begin to squeal when really pushed.

The A4 Cabrio sits 0.8 inch lower to the ground than its A4 sedan sibling. But much of the styling has a familiar, A4 look to it.

Usable back seat
The Cabrio's back seat really can hold two adults. At 5 feet 4, my head didn't brush the fabric roof when I sat back there, and I had adequate room for my legs.

Specs show this Audi's back-seat legroom of 32.4 inches is more than the 27.4 inches in the Mercedes CLK Cabrio and the 32 inches in the back seat of the BMW 3-Series convertibles.

The A4 Cabrio beats out the other two competitors in maximum trunk room, too. The A4 convertible has 10.2 cubic feet available vs. 9.4 cubic feet in the CLK Cabrio and 7.7 in the 325Cic.

Details, details
Note the A4 has a "variable soft-top compartment" in the trunk for use when the top is up on the car that helps allow this maximum 10.2 cubic feet.

This compartment is an area normally reserved for the folded top, but a turn of a lever folds this area upward into the trunk top, allowing use of this area in the trunk for cargo—as long you don't put the top down.

There's no reliability data yet on this new convertible. But details in this car impress.

The A4 Cabrio's fabric top is padded and triple-layered for all-weather insulation and to give an interior that's quite quiet. The top is sonically welded, because welding makes the top more leak-proof than sewing does, company officials said.

This roof, by the way, is fully automatic, and can go up or down in 24 seconds. It's about the time Audi estimated that someone might sit at a stoplight.

Note that the folded roof fabric doesn't sit exposed at the back of the seats or require riders to snap down a manual boot. The A4 Cabrio's tonneau closes down over the fabric automatically and sits flush with the car body.

Owners will find the pull-down pass-through area in the car that allows long items to fit from the trunk up between the rear seats is wide enough for a golf bag.

And there are standard pop-up supports at the back of the rear seats in case of a rollover crash. Front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes and a stability control system are standard safety features, too.

A final note: You may want to wait for another A4 Cabrio model. By 2004, the A4 Cabrio will offer Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive.

And if you, like me, like baby blue, ask for Audi's Aquamarine Blue metallic paint. It's a winner, especially when matched with Audi's blue fabric top.

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BB06 - 7/30/2014 8:29:00 AM