Auto/motives: Audi improves on classic A4, with high-tech engines, transmissions
Automotive historians have charted the astonishing progress made by Audi since 1994, which coincides with the lifespan of an exceptional sedan named the A4. But after seven years of existence, the time has come to introduce a new A4, a daunting c...
Automotive historians have charted the astonishing progress made by Audi since 1994, which coincides with the lifespan of an exceptional sedan named the A4. But after seven years of existence, the time has come to introduce a new A4, a daunting challenge for the company from Ingolstadt, Germany, which had to try to improve the classic sedan that saved the company.
Audi engineers and designers never flinched, and the 2002 A4 is going to rate as the world's best sedan for the money by consumers who most carefully scrutinize everything available for under $27,000, and particularly the ones who drive in the Northland's ice and snow for half the year.
The new A4 was introduced in the past week to automotive journalists along with its larger brother, the A6, and a sporty A6 wagon called the S6 Avant, at an Audi display in Chantilly, Va. Driving the cars over the twisty, hilly roads of rural Virginia was an excellent way to put the new cars through some brief but rigorous paces. They excelled.
The A has a newly designed rear end and subtle redesigns to the rest of its form. It is stronger, stiffer (with lighter alloy parts on the four-link suspension components), safer and slightly lengthened to enhance interior room, which was one of the few places the original A4 could rationally be criticized. The new A4 is 2.3 inches longer, with 1.3 inches longer wheelbase, 1.3 inches wider and a half-inch higher, which equates to slightly more headroom, shoulder room and legroom, front and rear, with the biggest improvement being almost a full inch greater rear leg room. The leg room is enhanced further by increasing the fore-aft travel of the front buckets by 2 inches and increasing the opening under those seats by 4 inches, allowing rear seat occupants to shove those size 9s farther under the seats.
Having already established itself as a standard for good handling, good performance, good economy, exceptional durability, great traction of standard front-wheel drive, or the incredible traction of the optional quattro all-wheel-drive system, the A4 improves on each of those categories for 2002. Safety is among those improvements, with a more rigid body and sideguard inflatable curtains to supplement front and side airbags and help protect against angular crashes, as well as head-on and side impacts, plus improved steering and a brake assist that can detect a panic stop and immediately put full braking force to work.
But the fun stuff is under the hood. The iron-block 2.8-liter V6 of past years was upgraded a few years ago with the addition of dual-overhead cams and five-valve cylinder heads. It is now replaced by a new 3.0-liter, all aluminum V6 with the 5-valve heads and DOHC design, developing 14 percent more power (220 horsepower at 6,300 RPMs and 221 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 revs), while weighing 44 pounds less than its iron predecessor.
The base engine is the 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which is the engine on which Audi introduced 5-valve technology and an electronic management system to coordinate the turbo boost into an amazingly flat torque curve, with 170 horsepower for the new model run at 5,900 RPMs, and its 166 foot-pounds of torque peaks at 1,950 RPMs and stays flat all the way up to 5,000 RPMs.
Both of these engines are governed by variable-timing of the camshaft to adjust the opening and closing of the valves as you drive. The 3.0 V6 was developed with Audi sharing technology with race-bred engineers from Cosworth, which is now an Audi subsidiary. Both the 3.0 and the 1.8T meet the stringent standards for ULEV -- ultra low emissions vehicles -- meaning the 1.8 is the first turbocharged engine to qualify.
It has always been amusing to note that Audi insists on calling its all-wheel-drive system "quattro," with a lower-case "q," even though major magazines, such as Car & Driver and Automobile, consistently misidentify it as "Quattro," with a capital "Q." And for 2002, almost as if testing journalists, Audi strikes again. It's new (to the U.S.) continuously variable automatic transmission is named "multitronic," with a small "m."
But there is nothing "small" about the strides Audi has made in transmissions. You can get a better-shifting 5-speed manual transmission with the 1.8T, in either front-drive or quattro, and a new 6-speed manual with the 3.0 V6. If you want to go automatic, you get two amazing choices. With quattro A4s powered by either engine, you get a 5-speed Tiptronic automatic that can be switched to operate via thumb-switch controls on the steering wheel. With front-drive A4s powered by either engine, you get the continuously-variable transmission that feels like it never shifts, even though it is always shifting.
All of the assembled test cars handled flawlessly, and while the quattros feel as if they're on rails, the front-drive models may be a little more agile-feeling. But both engines seem perfectly suited to the variety of transmissions, and even though I'm a stick-shift guy, I must admit I'd choose one of the automatics in the A4, just for the hills of Duluth.
The larger, roomier A6 also has the multitronic available, also only on front-drive. The A6 has the 3.0 V6 as a base engine, and also offers a 4.2-liter, 40-valve V8 or a biturbo 2.7-liter V6 with 250 horsepower. Audi intends to add the multitronic to its quattro stable within a few months, and, Audi engineer Marc Trahan confirmed, the intention is to let the multitronic take over, completely phasing out the other automatic Audi transmission.
The price list, in fact, was about as impressive as the notebook-full of features on the new Audis. The A4 starts at $24,900 with the 1.8T, front-wheel-drive and a 5-speed manual; it goes to $26,050 if you add the multitronic CVT, and to $26,650 for the manual with quattro, and $27,800 for the Tiptronic automatic quattro. Moving up to the new 3.0 V6, the front-drive with multitronic is $31,390, and it goes to $32,090 for the quattro with the 6-speed manual, and to a top of $33,140 for the quattro with Tiptronic automatic.
After waiting years to see manufacturers bring continuously variable automatics to the real world, how rare it is that right after testing the new Saturn VUE compact sport-utility vehicle with VTi continuously-variable transmission, we now get introduced to a completely different method of continuously variable automatic. The Saturn method is to compress the little links of the flexible belt that pushes the belt forward from one pulley to another. It works smoothly, although its biggest problem is that it isn't very quick starting up at low RPMs.
The Audi version, by contrast, has little cogs on the outside of each of 1,025 links of its belt, and they lock into the outer walls to pull the belt from one pulley to the other, rather than push it through a stepless and seamless upshifting or downshifting pattern.
The Audi engineers have a step up on their competition, because their multitronic has been developed over the last 10 years and has been available on European Audis since 1999. If it can handle 140 miles per hour on the autobahns, we can assume it will work flawlessly at 70 or 75 in the U.S.A. In brief but spirited driving, it worked best when left in the automatic setting, rather than trying to hand-hold it at certain levels.
Trahan, one of those rare automotive engineers who can translate technical terms into useful, real-world concepts, explained some of the intricacies.
"This is our transmission," he said, with justifiable pride. "It has been internally developed over 10 years and 6 million miles of testing. There are 27 patents on the transmission. Other CVTs I've driven have a flimsy feel, rubber-band-like. Usually, you have to get up to about 20 percent throttle, then it goes up and plateaus. The multitronic has a more nearly upward slope, and our objective was to make it as quick as a manual, as economical as a manual and smoother and more refined than other automatics.
"It is smaller and lighter than most automatics, with magnesium housing and the electronics and hydraulics contained inside. There is no torque converter, because we didn't need it, because we have lower gearing on takeoff and a 2-stage clutch. While most automatics might have gearing from first to fifth, or first to sixth, the multitronic is more like from second-to-12th, almost double the range of gear ratios from ultra low to ultra high."
While every manufacturer would like us to believe their automatics can be as swift accelerating as a stick-shift, Trahan has the numbers to back him up. Consider that the previous pair of transmissions were a 5-speed manual and the Tiptronic automatic, which could be switched into a parallel gate to be shifted manually as a clutchless automanual.
"Our previous A6 would go 0-100 kilometers (0-62 mph) with the Tiptronic," said Trahan. "And it would do it in 8.2 with the stick. But it will do it in 8.1 with the multitronic, so it's actually faster than the manual, and it also gets improved fuel economy."
One of the best features of the Tiptronic is that drivers can have the pleasure of controlling upshifts and downshifts manually, without a clutch, whenever they choose to vary from the simple automatic setting. And just in case you don't appreciate how thorough Audi is in assessing its market, you can select six different "gears" in the multitronic, even though there are no different gears on the continuously shifting belt.
"We know a large percentage of our drivers like the performance feel of shifting the Tiptronic," Trahan said. "So we programmed in six different Tiptronic-like speeds with software, to give you a little bit of the feel of shift-points."
Now, that's thorough. Build 'em a completely seamless-shifting automatic, but make sure the uneasy can switch to make it feel like it has shiftpoints.