2005 Audi A4
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.