Smart, beautiful, and it cooks, too.
We've always enjoyed the company of the Audi A4particularly the stylish wagon. Competent and well equipped, the original A4 offered European breeding without the conspicuous-consumer vibe of a BMW or the tweediness of a Volvo. For 2002, thanks to a comprehensive redesign that has yielded improvements from bumper to bumper, the A4 Avantfollowing in the tracks of the smart new sedanretains its stealth-wealth appeal.
Quattro all-wheel drive is now standard on all A4 Avants, and although the base engine is Audi's excellent 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbo four, it's the 3.0-liter V-6 that is the real powertrain news. The all-aluminum, 30-valve six produces 220 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. It's smoother and punchier than the old 2.8-liter engine if still not quite as honey-toned as the straight sixes from BMW. The optional Tiptronic manu-matic transmission operates via the familiar plus-and-minus shifter gate or a pair of Porsche 911style rocker switches on the steering wheel hub. Although generally fuss-free, the five-speed Tiptronic can be annoyingly indecisive during passing maneuvers, and dropping the throttle occasionally provokes embarrassing driveline thunk. For the Avant, the slick six-speed manual is the enthusiast's choice (1.8T buyers get a five-speed manual or the Tiptronic). Audi's clever Multitronic continuously variable transmission isfor now, at leasta no-show in the wagon.
The Avant has grown in every direction, and the cabin has swelled accordingly; it's airy and elbow-roomy now, something the old car definitely wasn't. Material quality and fit and finish areno surpriseabove reproach, bettering cars costing twice the A4 Avant's $28,295 base price. The cargo area is bigger as well (trumping the BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-class wagons). The A4's dainty derriere still doesn't invite really serious wagoneering, however.
All told, Ingolstadt's littlest Avant is again the prom queen of its class: lovely and talented if not exactly tack-sharp. It's the ideal lifestyle vehicle for image-conscious young strivers who think the term off-road refers to the Martha's Vineyard ferry.