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2005 Audi A4 Preview

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Preview: 2005 Audi A4
By Carey Russ (c) 2005

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

Up to now, Audi has been the unknown German luxury-sports car manufacturer, at least in the U.S. Up to now. That is posed to change, with the imminent release of the 2005 version of its core model, the A4, and the A4's sports-oriented S4 sibling.

The new A4 follows close on the heels of the larger, recently-introduced 2005 A6, and shares much with that new A6. The A4 has been a very important car for Audi, accounting for half of the company's American sales in recent years. Although Audi has had an entry in the A4's size class - called the ``B-class'' in Europe - since the Fox of 1972, it was the fifth generation of Audi B-class cars, and the first one to be called ``A4'' that propelled the Bavarian manufacturer's resurgence both in Europe and North America when it debuted in 1995. It was freshened in 2002, and now gives way to its successor, which was introduced to the press recently and should be available now.

The newest Audi is an evolutionary development of its predecessor, but it has evolved significantly. It will be most noted for its bold new-look styling, closely-allied to that of the latest A6 and the premium-luxury A8, but the underpinnings are even more changed. Increased chassis rigidity and improvements to its A6- and S4-derived fully-independent four-link front and trapezoidal-link rear suspensions benefit both ride and handling and safety. New engines provide more power more efficiently, with decreased emissions and fuel consumption. Audi's quattro(tm) all-wheel drive system enters its 25th year of giving Audi superb traction and performance enhancement.

As before, the A4 is offered for 2005 with a choice of a V6 or a turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine. But both engines are new to the A4, although the 3.2-liter V6, with 255 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm, is also used in the A6. The 2.0-liter turbo four is completely new, and produces 200 horsepower from 5100 through 6000 rpm, with 207 lb-ft of torque on tap from 1800 through 5000 rpm. The secret weapon of both, so to speak, is Audi's FSI direct gasoline injection technology. As in a diesel, a precise amount of fuel is injected directly into each combustion chamber at precisely the right moment, under extremely high pressure, to ensure maximum vaporization for complete combustion. This improves both fuel economy and emissions - both engines are rated ULEV - and allows a higher compression ratio to be used without pinging, knocking, or other damage, thereby further improving efficiency. The turbo's compression ratio is 10.5:1 instead of the more usual 8 or 9:1; the V6's 12.5:1 is one of the highest, if not the highest, in a non-racing, gasoline-fueled engine. Both run on 91 octane unleaded gasoline.

Transmission choice? Simple for the V6 - a six-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(r) manual-shift mode and quattro fills the bill for all types of driving. The four is offered in front-wheel drive form with a six-speed manual or Audi's ``multitronic'' continuously-variable transmission (CVT), or quattro with either six-speed transmission. EPA fuel economy varies with drivetrain and model, from 23 city / 34 highway with the manual front-drive turbo sedan to 19/26 for the quattro V6 automatic Avant.

Avant? That's Audi's word for wagon, and a full complement is available from the start. The Avant body style adds useful space, with only a minor increase in weight and consequent effect on performance and economy. An Audi Avant has nothing, absolutely nothing, in common with any large wagon that you might have had to have endured back in the time before minivans. An Audi Avant combines driving fun with function like nothing else.

And speaking of driving... well, first a quick tour of the exterior and interior. Outside, the single-frame (as Audi calls it) grille is hard to miss. As on the A6, A8, and upcoming A3, love it or not, you'll see it, and recognize it. The A4's body is very slightly larger, and both more smoothly-rounded in profile and angular in detail, especially at the rear. As on the A6, a distinct and high beltline adds definition. Inside, there are fewer differences from the previous car, but that's not a criticism. Even in the entry-model front-wheel drive four-cylinder car, aluminum trim and fine design and materials give very good comfort and an upscale ambiance. Acceding to the difference in driving habits between Germany and here, North American models get a center console with cupholders and increased storage.

On the road, I had the opportunity to sample nearly all models. Although it is only 200cc larger in displacement than the old 1.8T, the new 2.0-liter turbo four is much stronger than the old engine. In fact, it feels stronger at low rpm speeds than the V6, not surprising as maximum torque is available from 1800 through 5000 rpm, right where the tach needle will be most of the time. The V6 feels a touch more refined, with slightly crisper steering response. Ride quality is very high, smooth over most surfaces, with good road feel. The steering feels much more direct than in the A6, with better feedback, especially at low speeds. I didn't have a chance to push any version hard - I like it when the DMV sends my license in the mail without hassle, thank you - but at normal American road speeds, the A4, like all German Autobahn-capable cars, is far beneath its limits, for relaxed cruising and good safety reserves.

And for anyone who desires more power, there are two possibilities. With Audi, ``S'' denotes a sports model, and the S4 sedan and Avant will fill sports needs with a 340-horsepower 4.2-liter V8, sports-tuned suspension, and, of course, quattro to get that power to the ground. If that's not enough, wait a year or so for the RS4. How does a 420-horsepower naturally-aspirated 4.2-liter V8 sound at its 8200 rpm redline? I suspect that it sounds more than a little like one of the all-conquering, Le Mans-winning Audi R8 race cars. Audi won't be the unknown German car maker for long.