At least that was the prevailing feeling after a week with the 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T quattro. Shining proudly in the sunlight, the Quartz Gray turbocharged sedan, with its clean, rounded body lines finished off with attractive alloy wheels, suggested a prime example of sport and luxury living in true harmony.
But, sometimes optimistic suckers aren’t the cynics they probably should be, so it may take driving the new A4 for a driver to realize that he’s been had, a moment poignantly marked by a slap to the forehead and utterance of Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” With an as-tested price teetering on $40,000 and that promising turbo badge on the engine cover, as well as a long list of standard and optional features, this Audi had a lot to live up to, and in the areas of styling and handling at the limit the A4 passed with varying degrees of success. In the end, however, lackluster performance from the unrefined engine, leather seats that would look more at home in a Hyundai, and a poor value equation when compared to the competition.
When considering a 2005.5 Audi A4, there are two basic choices: the 2.0T and the 3.2, both of which are offered in sedan and Avant (wagon) form. The 2.0T sedan is available with or without Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system and buyers can opt for one of three transmissions: A six-speed automatic, a Multitronic continuously variable automatic transmission, or a Tiptronic six-speed automatic with manual shift and sport modes.
As the 2.0T designation would suggest, power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine that uses premium fuel to generate 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,800 rpm. Other hardware includes ventilated front disc and solid rear disc brakes; an independent, multi-link front suspension with upper and lower control arms and an independent, trapezoidal link rear suspension; front and rear stabilizer bars; vehicle stability and traction control systems; and speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering. More obvious are the standard 16-inch alloy wheels rolling on 215/55 all-season tires, front and rear foglights, and alloy trim surrounding the window frames.
Inside, the 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T buyer is treated to a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, heated mirrors, a 12-way power driver’s seat, a 60/40 split rear bench seat, a six-disc CD changer, and steering wheel mounted audio controls. Option packages are numerous and include features such as a power moonroof, leather seats, sport suspension, xenon headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels, satellite radio, a 200-watt Bose sound system, birch or walnut wood trim, and a navigation system. Base prices for the 2.0T start at $28,070; adding quattro capability raised the price to $30,170 and the Avant goes for $31,170. All prices include a $720 destination charge.
Shoppers looking for more power and a longer list of standard features will be interested in the 2005.5 Audi A4 3.2, with a starting price of $36,120 for the sedan and $37,120 for the Avant. Regardless of which body style you choose, your A4 3.2 will be fitted with quattro all-wheel-drive, the Tiptronic six-speed automatic transmission, and 17-inch alloy wheels wearing Pirelli P6 235/45 all-season tires. Under the hood is a 3.2-liter, 24-valve V6 that ponies up 255 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 243 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,250 rpm. Added standard features include a 12-way power passenger seat, a trip computer, and leather seats (premium leather is optional).
The tally on our 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T window sticker read $39,965, a lofty figure that covered the destination charge; $450 for gray metallic paint; $2,100 for a Premium package with a power sunroof, leather seats, and a Homelink universal transmitter; $1,950 for the Audi navigation system; $1,425 for a Lighting package, complete with adaptive xenon headlights, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, driver memory functions, and more; $1,000 for the Bose sound system and XM satellite radio; $750 for heated front and rear seats and a pass-through ski bag for the trunk; $500 for 17-inch alloy wheels and Pirelli P6 tires; and $150 for headlight washers.
Whew. In a matter of seconds, that entry-luxury level German sedan goes from reasonably priced to expensive, especially when you consider the unrefined nature of that turbo engine, the pleathery-feel of those cowhide seats, and the availability of the A4’s corporate cousins, the redesigned 2005.5 Volkswagen Jetta and 2006 Passat, models that have lower starting prices, and in the case of the Passat, more available power. Move outside of the family for a more powerful Volvo S40 T5 with all-wheel drive and a lower starting price or an Infiniti G35x that offers 280 horsepower, more than the A4 2.0T and A4 3.2. Yet, if the 2005.5 Audi A4 proves too hard to resist, our hard-earned dollars would go to the 2.0T quattro with the manual transmission because it offers some decent features for a palatable price, as well as Audi’s four years or 50,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.
Significant vehicle changes are usually reserved for regular model years, but in the case of Audi and Volkswagen, mid-year freshenings are fairly common. The latest example is the 2005.5 Audi A4, an entry-luxury sedan and wagon (Avant) that is based on the existing 2005 A4, but features updated styling, more powerful engines, and some new hardware.
Even the casual observer will notice that the new A4 wears a massive grille, now a trait common to all Audi products. The headlights are smaller yet still thoroughly effective, the taillights wrap into the trunk lid, and the alloy wheels feature new designs.
New engine choices include the 200-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 255-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6. The boosted four-cylinder replaces 2005’s 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo, and the six-cylinder fills in for last year’s 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. Torque is also up, and now registers at 207 lb.-ft. and 243 lb.-ft., respectively. Also in powertrain news, the five-speed manual transmission has been removed from the menu, leaving heel-and-toe downshifters with only a six-cog setup. Unfortunately, the A4 still can’t be equipped with Audi’s Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) clutchless manual transmission and its steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
Behind the scenes are suspension systems borrowed from current Audi models – the multi-link front setup comes from the 2005 A6, and the trapezoidal rear link suspension is a detuned version of that found on the 2005 S4. There’s also a new feature that periodically dries the brake rotors in inclement weather to improve stopping capability.
After an outlay of nearly $40,000 for a freshened German sedan with a T-for-turbo badge, you’d expect to be rewarded with a passionate driving experience in a car that’s hard to put to bed at night. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Though our 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T quattro tester was good fun in the twisties, that rackety four-cylinder engine had staff members constantly questioning what was looking more and more like an inflated price tag. With 200 horsepower on tap, the 2.0-liter motor offers decent power, but it’s far from abundant, and returned a disappointing 19.4 mpg overall. We’d experienced the same engine only a few weeks earlier in the Audi A3, a front-wheel-drive model that weighed about 200 pounds less and delivered power through a clutchless manual transmission. Though not perfect, the A3 felt powerful and provided that turbo “whoosh” with its accompanying burst of power. Not so with A4 – despite using the same motor, the A4 2.0T didn’t offer any burst of power, no whooshing sound, and those 200 pounds of extra curb weight felt as though they’d been magnified a time or two. One editor even popped the hood to prove to himself that there really was a turbo under there. And then there’s the grainy engine sound. Gas it on the highway or pin the throttle at a green light and treat your auditory senses to Audi’s harmonic version of the Chevy Cobalt or Hyundai Elantra. If you’re looking for an unrefined four-cylinder in your entry-luxury sedan, Audi’s got ya covered. It’s with that mindset that you’ll enjoy the slight vibration at idle and the subtle knock emanating from the engine compartment.
The six-speed Tiptronic transmission, on the other hand, deserves its share of praise, though one staff member termed it “schizophrenic.” That characterization came from the tranny’s seamless operation at slow or gradually increasing speeds which was in sharp contrast to the jarring gear changes evidenced during sudden highway passes. But that was during regular operation – with a quick click of the shift lever to the sport mode we were able to experience some genuine fun from the A4 2.0T. It’s here that the transmission holds the lower gears longer, serving to keep the revs up and power delivery more immediate. During some spirited mountain driving, the sport mode helped the A4 keep pace with our expectations and, conversely, implemented perfect downshifts as we braked when heading into turns. From a driving enthusiast’s view, it was beautiful, and briefly obstructed any negative thoughts we had about the powertrain.
It was during that same drive that we encountered some noticeable brake fade, mainly after a lengthy downhill run. During routine driving, however, the all-disc setup provided good feedback through the pedal and easy modulation. Handling is one of the A4’s primary strengths, aided by our tester’s optional quattro all-wheel-drive system, extra-cost 17-inch alloys and Pirelli P6 tires, and standard stability and traction control systems. The steering has a nice weightiness to it, though there is some dead space on center, and we exposed more body roll in the corners than expected, with one driver commenting on excessive weight transition.
Inside the cabin, drivers and passengers alike will notice not only the precise build quality but also the comfortably firm ride, a fair trade-off for an all-wheel-drive sedan that handles so admirably. On everyday drives around town, the 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T quattro does a fine job of absorbing bumps without disrupting the occupants. The same can’t be said of the seat bolsters – they are largely ineffective in corners, forcing front seat passengers to brace their legs against the doors and hard center console. Despite the small exterior mirrors, kudos were given for the A4’s visibility, thanks to retractable rear headrests and tiny but functional C-pillar windows. Not so good are the interior noise levels, with the most egregious offenders being the Pirelli P6 tires and that uncharacteristically loud four-cylinder engine.
Test Vehicle: 2005.5 Audi A4 2.0T quattro
Price as Tested: $39,695 (including a $720 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 200 at 5,100 rpm
Engine Torque: 207 lb.-ft. at 1,800 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 3,583 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 22/30 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 19.4 mpg
Length: 180.6 inches
Width: 69.8 inches
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Height: 56.2 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.3/34.3 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.4/37.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 13.4 cubic feet
Competitors: Acura TL, Acura TSX, BMW 3 Series, Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CTS, Chrysler 300, Ford Five Hundred, Honda Accord, Infiniti G35, Jaguar S-Type, Lexus IS, Lincoln Zephyr, Mazdaspeed 6, Mercedes-Benz C230, Mercedes-Benz C280, Mercedes-Benz C350, Mercury Milan, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Toyota Avalon, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo S40, Volvo V50, Volvo S60
2nd Opinion - Wardlaw
Over the decade that the Audi A4 has been on the road, I’ve been lucky enough to drive a multitude of them, from the first 2.8 four-door to the road-blistering S4, in sedan and wagon (Avant) variants. This is the car that arguably saved Audi in North America after “60 Minutes” essentially accused the company of building luxury cars that would accelerate all by themselves, without warning, through garage walls, into traffic, and would otherwise place occupants in harm’s way. Of course, it turns out these people were stomping on the accelerator rather than the brake pedal, but no fanfare was made of this finding.
Anyway, I’ve loved the A4 from the start, though over time Audi has tested my devotion. The tests began with the redesigned 2002 model, which had austere styling that couldn’t match the original for timeless elegance. Plus, it was a less comfortable car, thanks to a wide center console with hard plastic edges that grew uncomfortable on twisty roads and long highway drives. Furthermore, the second-generation Audi’s laggardly continuously variable transmission and sticky brakes contributed to herky-jerky response around town. And finally, it creaked and squeaked and made quite a racket on anything but smooth pavement. But in a sea of silver BMWs and black Mercedes-Benzes, the Audi A4 stuck out as an original thought.
Now, the Audi A4 gets a new horse-collar grille, taillights that look like “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams’ eyebrows, and Audi’s frustrating MMI navigation interface. The herky-jerky city driving character is gone thanks to our test car’s six-speed automatic and smooth braking ability, but the hard center console remains and the interior plastics do the Macarena over the slightest road imperfections. The back seat is still tight for adults, who must splay their legs around the hard seatback pads that cause pain to knees and shins. And the new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine doesn’t have the zing I remember from the old 1.8T model, grumbling along and creating too much noise for this Audi to proudly wear a luxury designation.
Our gray on gray test car, which looked like a rental except for the brushed aluminum multi-spoke alloys and real aluminum cabin trim, did not have a Sport package, so it sat a little higher off the ground and wore Pirelli P6 four-season tires. The result is that, when driven on my favorite stretch of twisty two-lane near Los Angeles, the Audi bobbed and weaved and transitioned its weight more abruptly than I recall in the A4 Sport models. The transmission’s sport mode helped hold gears for more spirited driving, and the steering, brakes and tires behaved well unless you discount the rubber for squealing before the limit of grip arrived.
I averaged 24.2 mpg over more than 120 miles and three hours of rush-hour city traffic, mountain driving, and highway cruising. Not bad, and good reason to select the 2.0 model over the less fuel efficient 3.2. But at nearly $40,000 as tested, I’d need to think twice about selecting the A4 over a roomier Volkswagen Jetta. I hear that new GLI model, at $10,000 less and with the same engine as our Audi A4 2.0T, is quite a nice car to drive. – Christian Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry