2005 Audi A4

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2005 Audi A4

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Nifty premium auto gets major upgrades, but a controversial grille.
Pros:
  • Fast
  • Agile
  • Fairly roomy
Cons:
  • Controversial grille
  • Long-throw clutch
  • Sluggish if not in correct manual gear

Audi did a good job upgrading its restyled, upscale mid-2005 A4 sedan and station wagon, but gave it an over-the-top grille that might even be called "Edselesque."

At least the grille looks a little better in person than in photographs; it is derived from Audi's Nuvolari quattro concept car.

Aside from the grille, the slightly wedge-shaped A4 sedan and wagon look good, with the wagon as attractive as the sedan. They have a high window line similar to that of the muscular-looking Chrysler 300's, along with a gently curved roof and flared wheel arches. The A4 has a "tight" look—as if the body is shrink-wrapped around the cockpit and mechanical components.

Newly designed, larger bumpers are body colored and reach a long way down, seemingly yanking the A4 closer to the road. That's an old American custom car technique that often makes for a sleeker look.

The quiet, form-fitting interior is elegantly simple, with a hub on the steering wheel that repeats the grille shape.

Regular A4 sedan and wagon models are accompanied by the limited-production, hot rod S4, which shares the same new styling and new features of regular A4s. I tested all of them, but not the A4/S4 Cabriolet convertible, which gets similar changes later in the year.

Reasons for Changes
The A4 was redone for 2002 with new styling, a slightly larger, roomier body and higher-horsepower V6, along with a continuously variable automatic (CVT) transmission. It could have been left alone for another year or so, with a few minor upgrades.

So why the polarizing "single frame" grille (as Audi calls it)? The A4 is Audi's top-selling line, and automakers seldom get too adventuresome with best-selling models.

Well, for one thing, Audi thought the grille is needed to help distinguish the A4 from rivals such a the new BMW 3-Series, revised Mercedes-Benz C-Class and last year's redesigned Acura TL. Also, the A4 was considered too conservative in an ultracompetitive market to fit with new Audi models.

Well Equipped
The new A4s are well-equipped with comfort, convenience and safety items, although there are some desirable, pricey option packages. One is a $2,100 package that contains items including a power tilt-and-slide glass sunroof.

The new A4 sedan costs from $27,350 to $35,400. The wagon, which Audi calls the "Avant," lists from $30,450 to $36,400. The S4 is $46,100 with its 6-speed manual gearbox.

The A4 comes with front-wheel drive or Audi's accomplished all-wheel-drive "quattro" system.

Larger Engines
Bigger new engines are the smooth, strong turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 200 horsepower (up from 170) and the 3.2-liter V6 with 255 horsepower, or 35 more than its predecessor V6.

Both engines are smooth and designed for U.S. driving, with a wide torque curve for strong acceleration at low speeds and when merging into high-speed traffic and passing on highways.

However, a driver can get caught flat-footed if in the wrong gear with the manual transmission and 4-cylinder engine. Too low a gear at too low a speed results in sluggish acceleration. Also, downshifts from sixth to fourth gear are needed for the best 65-75 mph passing with the 4-cylinder.

The turbocharged 4-cylinder makes the A4 fast enough for average driving, but Audi offers the V6 because competitors offer 6-cylinder engines. The V6 also fits well between the 4-cylinder and the S4's ferocious-but-docile 4.2-liter 340-horsepower V8.

Variety of Transmissions
Engines are hooked to a slick 6-speed manual gearbox with a light, but long-throw, clutch, along with a new 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature or (except in the wagon) a continuously variable automatic transmission.

The engines have direct fuel injection, which was on the engine in the Le Mans, France, race-winning Audi R8. Direct injection is used for the first time with a turbocharged 4-cylinder in the A4. It injects fuel directly into combustion chambers for more power and better fuel economy.

The S4 continues as the rocket of the A4 line with its carryover V8 and specially tuned exhaust. It has a sport suspension with stiffer shock absorbers and springs, stronger stabilizer bars and lowered ride height. Handling of the S4 is sharper than with regular A4s, and its ride is only slightly firmer.

Fuel economy varies with engine, transmission and drive systems. It's an estimated 22 mpg city and 30-31 highway with the 4-cylinder and 19 and 26 with the V6. The S4 provides only 15 city, 21 highway.

Fun to Drive
The A4 is fun, with quick, accurate steering that has one of the best electric-assist features on the market. A new rear suspension helps provide sharper handling and a supple ride. A standard anti-skid system helps keep drivers out of trouble. And anti-lock brakes with a linear pedal action and electronic brake-pressure distribution allow quick, sure stops.

Oversized wheels and tires are a big cosmetic deal with hot cars and also enhance handling, so the S4 is offered with 18-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels wearing high performance tires for an extra $450. (However, 18-inch "Avus Alloy" wheels with high-performance summer tires are standard.) Offered for the regular 4- and 6-cylinder A4 versions are 17-inch wheels (vs. standard 16-inchers) with wider all-season tires for $500.

Front bucket seats provide above-average support while zooming through curves. Gauges can be quickly read, and controls are easily reached. Even cupholders are designed to prevent spills.

Four 6-footers fit comfortably, as long as a driver doesn't move his seat back too far, in which case a long-legged person behind him will find leg room becomes rather tight.

Overcoming Doors
The doors can be difficult to open because they snap with uncommon firmness into their partway-open detents; that can prevent door-banging but makes you feel as if you're attempting to overcome them instead of normally opening or closing them.

There's no such resistance from the smooth-operating lid of the large trunk, which has a low, wide opening. Rear seatbacks fold forward to enlarge the cargo area, but should sit flatter when flipped forward. Also, the bottom seat cushions don't fold forward for more cargo room, even in the wagon.

The A4 generally is more alluring than ever, but some potential buyers will have to get past that oversized grille to fully love it.

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BB03 - 8/20/2014 7:45:13 PM