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Monday, July 18, 2005

Driving with Chris: Audi A4 2.0T Avant Quattro


Audi A4 2.0T Avant Quattro - Avant means "Station Wagon" in Meaningless-Marketing-ese.

Audis fulfill the same role today that BMW established in the 1980s - a symbol of status and discriminating taste among those who set themselves apart by eschewing the gauche standard of the time (Mercedes in the 1980s, BMW today).

"Huh?" you say in rebuttal.

The point is that Audi has moved well past its former position as mid-level scrapper and fully embraced its role as an even competitor in the marketplace with Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In the form of the new A4 2.0T Avant Quattro, that has manifested itself in two forms - a grossly engorged front grille and an even more bloated bottom line.

More on the price later; but yes, Audi has moved away from its slick, trim, sleek lines towards a chunkier, more substantial look, headlined by angry-looking headlights and taillights and the most substantial schnozz since Streisand. Actually, though I'm still not sure it's a step forward, I've become accustomed to the look and think it looks much nicer on the A4 than on the larger A6.

The real beauty of the A4 Avant - Avant meaning "Station Wagon" in Meaningless-Marketing-ese - is that it adds the utility of a wagon to what has always been one of the slicker sports sedans around. What this means to the much-coveted parasailing-and-rock-climbing demographic is that the Avant can hold a fair amount of outdoor gear while, unlike most SUVs, actually being a lot of fun to drive.

What the A4 Avant is not good at is carrying large numbers of people. The back seats are surprisingly small for a car that is actually not that much smaller than its stablemate, the Volkswagen Passat - to say nothing of much less expensive but similarly capable family cars like the Honda Accord V-6 and Nissan Altima.

The A4's front seats, on the other hand, are a good place to be. The Volkwsagen/Audi group does some of the best interiors in the business. Our tester's black-and-silver motif was classy and stylish; many of the interior pieces are actually made of metal, not shiny plastic. German ergonomics can leave something to be desired, with bits of curiously inexplicable hieroglyphics scattered hither and yon, but after an adjustment period everything makes perfect sense.

The A4 has always been one of the better mild sports sedans around, if not generally a dynamic match for the somewhat less stylish BMW 3-series. As usual, the chassis on the A4 Avant was solid, buttoned-down, and very capable - thanks partially to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system.

One note - Audi's marketing gurus decided a year or two ago that "Quattro" didn't really need to be capitalized. Hey, Audi - that's really stupid. I'm not doing it.

The 2.0T turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a slightly larger version of VW/Audi's ubiquitous 1.8-liter inline four, with variable valve timing and direct injection. What that rigamarole means is that this is an extremely small engine for a car this size and with its performace pretensions and still provides 200 horsepower. That's remarkable for the size of the engine, but in absolute terms it's not that impressive. The new Hyundai Sonata has a 230-horsepower V-6 available, for example.

Although this means the A4 2.0T Avant isn't the fastest car on the road - or even as quick as much of the competition - the 2.0 engine, like the 1.8, is still one of my favorite four-cylinders around. It's a sweet honey of an engine that, after a half-second of weakness, gives a satisfying surge of torque that, combined with the distant whine of the turbocharger, makes the car feel as if it's moving much faster than it is. It feels great in the Volkswagen Jetta, Golf, New Beetle, and Passat, and it feels great in the A4. For the price, I'd even prefer it in most cases to the optional 3.0-liter V-6.

Ah, price. Unfortunately, this is the A4 2.0T Avant Quattro's Achilles Heel. Our tester stickered at $39,750 - an astronomical price for a compact wagon that does many things well but nothing extraordinarily so. A completely stripped version retails for closer to $32K, but odds are that most examples available for sale will be closer to the higher price.

The problem with the A4 sedan is that while it is better in almost every way than the Volkswagen Jetta, the advantages over the larger and less expensive Passat are harder to discern. Add in competition from BMW, Volvo, Infiniti, Lexus, and Acura, along with Volkswagen/Audi's declining reliability record, and it becomes hard to make a case to purchase an A4 sedan for a mid-to-high $30K price, much less pushing $40K. This is especially true when considering the strength of the sportier-than-ever family sedans inhabiting the $25-$30K range.

The A4 Avant Quattro, likewise, is more expensive and less powerful than the slightly smaller Subaru WRX Wagon and the much larger Dodge Magnum Hemi, to say nothing of the wagon variants of the sedan competition.

The Audi A4 2.0T Avant Quattro is a very nice car that would nicely fit a niche at $30,000.

1 Comments:

Blogger Boris said...

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2:26 AM

 

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