2003 New Car Review: Audi A4 Cabriolet 3.0 CVT


Audi A4 Cabriolet

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

No doubt, convertibles can be wonderful when the weather is good. There is nothing like a brisk drive on an empty scenic road in the spring or fall, with the sun shining and no threat of rain, and a perfect temperate temperature. A fine dream, and therein lies the problem. Even in a sun belt spring day, the weather can turn unpleasant, quickly. And in many parts of the country, winter is real, wet, long, and cold. The height of summer can also be unpleasant, especially when temperatures get into the triple digits. The insulation of many convertible tops is most notable by its absence. Ditto for top-up visibility.

This is not the case with the new Audi A4 Cabriolet. Covering a niche unfilled since the demise of the old Audi Cabriolet in 1998, the 2003 A4 Cabrio builds on the strengths of the second- generation A4 platform. Well-engineered reinforcement to the lower structure makes up for rigidity lost from removal of the sedan's top, while automatically-deployed rollover bars and a reinforced windshield support structure give rollover protection equivalent to that of the sedan. The three-layer top features a heated glass backlight and excellent insulating properties, and operates at the touch of a button, with automatic latching and unlatching. Early production examples of the A4 Cabrio are front- wheel drive cars with Audi's 3.0-liter V6 engine and ``multitronic'' continuously-variable transmission (CVT). A lower-priced model equipped with the 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and Multitronic is expected in early 2003, followed by an all-wheel drive V6 quattro model with a conventional automatic transmission in late 2003.

As can be told from the specification, the A4 Cabrio is more of a luxury car than a sports car. With a weight disadvantage versus the sedan - lower-body reinforcement in convertibles typically weighs much more than the metal removed with the roof - Audi is spot on target making it so. But is it a true four-season luxury car? I've just finished a chilly Fall week with one. The top stayed up most of the time, and the car was snug, quiet, and draft-free. My first drive of the car was at the press introduction last summer in Southern California. What time and place could be more perfect for a convertible? Well, few...but 60-degree foggy mornings and a blazing 105 inland were made much more comfortable with the fast-acting, well-insulated top. It probably won't be anyone's first choice for winter in Northern Minnesota, but should be as good as any other front-wheel drive car in most locations. Just keep the top up, turn on the heat, and order the seven-level seat heaters. Cozy. Come warm days, drop the top and soak up the sunshine.

APPEARANCE: No surprise, the A4 Cabrio looks like an A4 cabrio. But upon closer inspection, notice that no body panels interchange between the sedan and Cabrio. Its two-door body explains some of this, but Audi wanted an even sleeker, more emotional look. And so the Cabrio has a subtle restyling. This is best exemplified by the small ``ducktail'' lip at the rear of the trunk lid. The front bodywork is more rounded, with a stronger resemblance to Audi's TT sports car. The sides are clean, with a strong shoulder line and moderately-flared wheel arches. Aluminum trim surrounds the passenger compartment - is ``Audi'' German for ``aluminum''? And, unlike many convertibles, the A4 Cabriolet looks as good with the top up as with it down.

COMFORT: Top down or up, there is no lack of comfort to go with the A4 Cabrio's style. There is plenty of space for the car's size, and the design and styling show typical Audi understated elegance. In the 3.0-liter model, both front seats are power- adjustable, and firmly comfortable and supportive. There is enough rear seat room for two medium-size adults, and more than is found in most other convertibles made today. Excellent attention to aerodynamic details means just enough breeze in the hair at speed with the top down, and less with the available wind deflector installed. (The only drawback to the wind deflector is that it covers the rear seat.) Visibility is better than the norm for convertibles with the top up. Trunk space is limited by top storage with the top down, but with the top up, the storage compartment may be moved upwards a touch for extra trunk capacity. Back up front, the driver is presented with a well-designed and functional instrument panel and control layout, which help increase both safety and driving pleasure.

SAFETY: The A4 Cabrio has a strong, rigid body structure with front and rear crumple zones and side impact door beams, front and side head-and-thorax air bags, reinforced windshield pillars, and an automatic rollover protection system that is deployed if the air bag sensors detect potential rollover to help protect its occupants.

ROADABILITY: Extra reinforcement to the lower part of the A4 unibody structure means that the Cabrio is nearly as rigid as the A4 sedan or Avant. There is virtually no cowl shake, even at speed on rough roads. This helps handling and steering precision, which are both up to Audi's high standards. The ride quality from the fully- independent suspension is European luxury sport-touring: firm but supple, with great comfort. With the top up, interior noise levels are nearly as low as in the A4 sedan or Avant. Top up or top-down, the A4 Cabrio is the perfect car for a long day on the road.

PERFORMANCE: Like all of Audi's engines, the A4 Cabrio's 3.0- liter V6 is a five valve-per cylinder design for efficient breathing and consequent power output with good fuel economy and low emissions. Its 220 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque are plenty for smooth acceleration, made smoother and quicker by the ``multitronic'' CVT. The multitronic also adds to the Cabrio's luxury ambiance. Smoothness is a premier luxury attribute, and there are smooth-shifting automatic transmissions. But, unless manual-shift mode is selected by the driver, the electro-hydraulically controlled multitronic never shifts. It doesn't get any smoother than that.

CONCLUSIONS: The Audi A4 Cabriolet features four seat, four- season usefulness and comfort.

SPECIFICATIONS 2003 Audi A4 Cabriolet 3.0 CVT

Base Price $ 41,500 Price As Tested $ 46,685 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 30-valve aluminum alloy V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 182 cu. in. Horsepower 220 @ 6300 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 221 @ 3200 rpm Transmission continuously-variable with 6 ratios simulated in manual-shift mode Wheelbase / Length 104.5 in. / 180.0 in. Curb Weight 3814 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.3 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended for optimum performance Tires P235/45 VR 17 Pirelli P6 four season Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, anti-lock, electronic brake force distribution, and stability control standard Suspension, front/rear independent four-link / independent trapezoidal link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20/ 27 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.5 sec (mfg)

OPTIONS AND CHARGES Aquamarine Blue Metallic paint and blue top $ 450 Premium Package - includes: Homelink(r) remote transmitter, wind deflector, auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, memory for driver seat and side mirror positions, Xenon headlights, multi-function steering wheel $ 1,475 Premium leather seats $ 1,000 Bose(r) premium sound system $ 650 17-inch cast alloy wheels $ 500 Heated front seats $ 450 Destination charge $ 660

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