From 1996 to 2001, the Audi A4 has helped fuel the resurgence of Audi in North America. Elegant styling, attention to detail, all-wheel drive, and impeccable road manners made the A4 a very attractive prospect in the entry-level luxury segment. Rather than leave well enough alone, Audi has introduced an all-new A4 for 2002 that offers numerous improvements in key areas.
If there was one major shortcoming the previous generation A4 had, it was the limited rear-seat legroom. I am 6’3”, and was the proud owner of a ’98 A4 2.8. I loved the car, but felt sorry for the poor soul that had to sit behind me. The 2002 A4 is 2.7 inches longer than the old one, and has a wheelbase that is 1.3 inches longer. This slight increase, along with more tightly contoured front seatbacks, helps to add just enough space in the back seat to make it bearable for average size adults. Still not roomy by any stretch of the imagination, but adequate nonetheless.
Horsepower was another area where the A4 slightly lagged behind the competition. The 1.8T was a technical masterpiece with a turbocharger, intercooler and 5 valves per cylinder. Making peak torque between 1950 rpm and 4500 rpm, it felt a lot quicker than its 150 hp rating would suggest. However, it was still a small-displacement four-cylinder in a market segment where silky smooth 170 to 200 horsepower six-cylinder engines were becoming the norm.
The previous generation A4 was also available with a 2.8 liter V6. While the 2.8 was a very smooth and refined engine, it didn’t have the low-end torque that, let’s say, the 2.8 liter inline-6 had in the BMW 3-Series. So in a nutshell, the A4 had average powerplants for the segment. In today’s market, where we see a 260 hp Nissan Maxima, something needed to be done.
Apparently, this need for added power did not fall on deaf ears. The 1.8T now produces an additional 20 hp, but the big news for 2002 is the introduction of a new 3.0 liter V6 for the A4 3.0 model. This makes the A4 3.0 much more competitive with it’s primary competitor – the BMW 330i. The new 3.0 liter pumps out 220 hp, and makes 221 ft-lbs. of torque at a reasonable 3200 rpm. The new 3.0 feels stronger than the former 2.8, especially in the low rpm range, where the 2.8 lacked much grunt.
Another significant addition to the 2002 models is the available CVT (continuously variable transmission). CVTs have been offered before, but only in small economy cars. This was due mainly to the fact that the rubber belts used in previous CVTs could not handle all that much power. Audi spent about 10 years developing their current CVT, which uses a flexible metal chain versus a belt, and can handle the power and torque of the new 3.0 V6.
So what is the big deal about the CVT? Well, since the CVT is continuously variable, it doesn’t have any set gears. This means that the engine can remain at a certain rpm range where it is most efficient, regardless of what speed the car is traveling. In addition, the CVT doesn’t require the use of a power sapping torque converter, as do conventional automatic transmissions. The end result is an automatic transmission that offers the acceleration and fuel economy of a manual transmission. As great as this all sounds, time will tell whether or not the North American market will adopt this new technology. We are all used to the way a conventional automatic and manual transmission feel, and at times, the CVT can seem a bit foreign. Certainly the fact that the CVT is only available at this time in front-wheel drive A4 models doesn’t help, considering the popularity of Quattro in North America.
In addition to the CVT, the 2002 A4 models also come with a tiptronic automatic, 5-speed manual (1.8T) and 6-speed manual (3.0). Although I have not driven it yet, the general consensus from those who have is that the 6-speed manual isn’t quite as slick as the 5-speed unit that is still available in the 1.8T. People complain that it is a bit “notchy”. In fact, it’s too bad that the 6-speed wasn’t offered with the 1.8T, because that is the model that could really use it. On the highway, the 1.8T revs a bit high for my tastes, and could use the extra gear to offer more relaxed cruising at speeds over 70 mph. The tiptronic transmission is a fully automatic transmission with the option of manual gear selection. While some may find this useful, I think it is more of a novelty. For anyone expecting the instantaneous response of a manual transmission, the tiptronic will be disappointing – as gear changes are rather leisurely.
STRONGER BODY STRUCTURE
The 2002 A4 also benefits from a more rigid (an added 45%) body structure. A more rigid body structure helps to improve both handling and crashworthiness. Having owned the previous generation A4, I can tell you that the stronger body structure was immediately evident. The new A4 feels tight as a drum.
The front-wheel drive A4 for 2002 benefits from the addition of the same fully independent rear suspension as in the Quattro. Previously, only Quattro equipped cars got the fully independent rear suspension, while front-drivers made do with a torsion-beam axle with trailing arms.
While the many improvements on the 2002 A4 are welcome, they do come at a price. The 1.8T is only a bit more than the previous generation. However, the sticker prices on the 3.0 models with Quattro that I am seeing on dealer lots are around $38,000. I don’t remember seeing too many previous generation 2.8 models with a stick price of more than $34,000, so the 3.0 has moved upmarket a bit. It should also be noted that the $38,000 sticker still represents an exceptional value if you take a look at the pricing for the BMW 330xi or the Mercedes-Benz C320, which both can easily exceed the $40,000 mark – and usually do.
The 2002 A4 has all the newest safety features one could find on an automobile today. The solid and crashworthy body structure is easily brought to a halt with ABS brakes. In addition, the 2002 A4 offers EBD, which stands for electronic brake pressure distribution. By intelligently distributing braking forces to the appropriate wheel, the system helps reduce stopping distances and increase control. Brake assist is also standard. This system senses an emergency braking maneuver by how quickly and with how much force the drivers foot steps on the brake pedal. When it senses an emergency brake maneuver, it quickly (more quickly than humanly possible) applies maximum braking pressure.
The newest dual-threshold airbags are also standard, which don’t deploy with as much force as the older generation, yet offer the same protection. In addition, there are safety buckle sensors for front passengers that control airbag deployment based on whether the passenger is restrained or not. Side airbags for the front passengers as well as side-curtain airbags for the front and rear passengers are also standard. Side airbags for the rear passengers are an option.
Sensors in the A4 can detect an impact, at which point the following happens: central locking automatically unlocks, interior lighting switched on, fuel pump and engine switched off, hazard warning lights switched on; if Audi Telematics by OnStar® ordered, system automatically contacts OnStar® call center, which further assists.
Finally, if you do find yourself involved in a collision where you suffer some cuts or bruises, there is a first aid kit included in every A4.
ADDED CONVENIENCE FEATURES
As with most cars in this class, the 2002 A4 is loaded with comfort and convenience features. Unlike the previous generation A4, dual-zone automatic climate control and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer are standard in both 1.8T and 3.0 models.
Under the driver’s seat, you’ll find a drawer. That’s right, a drawer. What a great idea. This is an excellent place to store small to medium-size items, such as maps, sunglasses, etc. Every window has one-touch auto-up and auto-down, with pinch-protection.
Another neat feature on the 2002 A4 that I have not seen before is the auto-blink feature. Let’s say you want to change lanes. Simply push down once on the turn-signal lever, then let go, and the blinkers blink three times to signal a lane change. Another feature which shows the attention to detail the Audi engineers have is the windshield washer. Have you ever hit the windshield washer and found that there is always water left on the windshield when done, which necessitates you having to activate the windshield wipers again to finish the process? Well, the Audi engineers came up with a solution. When you wash the windshield on the 2002 A4, the wipers are activated. After a few wipes, there is a pause for about 5 seconds, then the wipers are automatically activated for one more final wipe. Genius!
Xenon headlamps are available on both the 1.8T and 3.0, as is a Bose 200 watt stereo system. In the cold weather package, the A4 now offers heated seats for not only the front passengers, but also for the rear. A power rear sunshade is available in the 3.0 model.
SHARPER RIDE AND HANDLING
The 2002 A4 suspension tuning is a bit more aggressive than the previous generation. Most people who drive the car are in agreement that the standard suspension on the 2002 A4 is equivalent to the previous generation’s sport package. The sport package in the 2002 is therefore a bit more aggressive as well. I found the new sport package to be ideal in its balance between offering exceptional handling with a compliant and comfortable ride. The sport package for 2002 offers 17” wheels shod with 235/45-17 performance tires. Those in cold climates will definitely want to take these tires off the car in the winter in favor of some good winter tires.
For those who like their ride a bit more cushy, the standard suspension for 2002 is probably perfect. The previous generation A4 without the sport suspension tended to wallow a bit at high-speeds. This is no longer the case.
Most A4’s sold in North America are equipped with Quattro. The front-drive model is as good as front-drivers get. The multi-link front suspension, which has been revised for 2002, completely eliminates any sign of torque steer. Still, the Quattro is the more desirable choice. When I drove the 2002 A4 1.8T Quattro, I aggressively left the dealer lot . I was in first gear, and I quickly made a hard right and merged onto a busy two-lane highway. The Quattro provided exceptional traction, and I didn’t sense even a hint of wheelspin. That is what the Quattro offers. Exceptional traction and an overall feeling of stability. It also helps the A4 perform extremely well in the snow and rain.
It should be noted that Quattro, while having many advantages from a safety and stability standpoint, does have some drawbacks as well. First, it robs some power from the driveline due to increased frictional losses. Second, it adds weight. Together, these two aspects of Quattro work to reduce both acceleration and fuel economy. Even still, the reductions are slight, and the benefits of Quattro clearly outweigh them.
The car I spent the most time with was the 1.8T Quattro with a 5-speed manual transmission and Sport Package. I really enjoyed driving this car. It felt very solid, and the 1.8T engine provided adequate performance. The 5-speed manual coupled with the Sport Package made for a very sporty ride. The handling was flat, with minimal body roll. There was no hint of squat and dive on hard braking and acceleration. The rigidity of the new chassis could clearly be felt. Steering was very nicely weighted and offered good feel. I found the shifter to be smooth and precise, although not as nice as the unit in the new 3-Series.
Going around some fast sweeping turns was a joy in the A4. The car felt glued to the pavement. The Dunlop performance tires were incredible. They offered phenomenal grip coupled with a quiet ride. Some performance tires offer excellent levels of grip, but tend to be noisy due to their sticky rubber compound. This was not the case with the Dunlops.
My overall riding position offered me an excellent view of both the road and the gauge cluster. The seat was very, very comfortable. They were firm and supportive. Unfortunately, the seats on the 1.8T are manually adjustable, aside from the lumbar support. You need to step up to the 3.0 to get power seats. While on the subject of seating, it is a bit odd that you cannot order real leather in the 1.8T. The 1.8T comes with leatherette, which is the modern and more politically palatable word for vinyl. While the Audi folks have done a fabulous job making the leatherette look and feel (but not smell) like leather, some people want real leather. I find it strange that you can order a Volkswagen 1.8T Passat with leather, but you’re out of luck on the A4 1.8T.
The one big issue I do have with the A4’s ergonomics is the center console. Due to its width and positioning, it cuts uncomfortably into my right knee area. I think most tall (over 6’) drivers will find this to be the case. This was also true of my ’98 A4 2.8, and I had hoped they would fix this. Unfortunately, they did not.
I think the BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS300 and Mercedes C-Class are the three primary competitors to the A4. There is also a second tier of competitors that include the VW Passat, Volvo S60 and Acura TL Type S. It could also be argued that a prospective A4 buyer may also look at the Saab 9-3, Subaru Outback H6-3.0 VDC Sedan and Jaguar X-Type. In any case, there are a lot of alternatives. So how does the Audi stack up? It used to be that Audi was the only game in town if you wanted an entry-level luxury sedan with all-wheel drive. Not anymore. Even though most of the systems are not as sophisticated as the Audi’s, all-wheel drive is now offered on the BMW 3-Series, Volvo S60, Jaguar X-Type and Subaru Outback H6-3.0 VDC.
If you are looking for a sports sedan, the BMW and Audi clearly take the lead. The Acura TL, even in Type S form, is a bit soft. The Saab, Subaru, Benz, VW and Jaguar are all set up more for comfort than sport.
In my opinion, BMW still offers the best pure sports sedan. However, the 2002 A4, especially with the new 3.0 and more aggressive sport suspension narrows the gap significantly. The A4 1.8T, while offering good performance for a turbo-four, doesn’t quite match up to the 325i’s 2.5 liter inline-6 in terms of power, smoothness and overall feel of refinement. In terms of value though, the Audi is the clear victor. Add options on the BMW’s, and the prices start to enter the stratosphere. A well-equipped 330xi with an automatic transmission has a sticker price of over $43,000! A similarly equipped A4 3.0 has a sticker price of about $39,000. You can usually get more aggressive discounts on the Audi. The same applies for the Mercedes C-Class, which gets very pricey with options as well.
The IS300 compares favorably to the A4, but there are some major differences. First off, the IS300 is rear-wheel drive only, so if you are looking for all-wheel drive, you won’t find it on the Lexus. Price-wise, the IS300 costs about the same as a 1.8T Quattro with similar equipment. The IS300 does have a lot in its favor though. The Lexus offers a torquey 215 hp 3.0 liter inline-6 that is a gem of an engine. It revs freely, makes wonderful sounds, and feels utterly refined. The Lexus 3.0 and the A4 3.0 engines are comparable. However, the A4 3.0 is priced much higher than the Lexus, so you need to compare the Lexus to the 1.8T, and the 1.8T just can’t match up with the Lexus 3.0 liter. Driving the Lexus IS300 is an enjoyable experience. The aim of the IS300 design was to match the BMW 3-Series in terms of steering feel and handling. They have done an admirable job, as the IS300 is a blast to drive (especially with the manual transmission). However, don’t count the A4 out just yet in this comparison. The A4 interior is definitely a step up from the Lexus interior. The Lexus interior is “gimmicky” and comes across as being a bit too “plasticky”. The quality of materials in the A4 is higher than that of the Lexus. The A4, which isn’t a big car to begin with, feels more roomy than the Lexus. In fact, rear legroom on the Lexus is nonexistent if tall passengers occupy the front seats. After spending time in both cars, you’ll notice that the obvious attention-to-detail that went into the design of the A4 is lacking on the Lexus. Finally, the Quattro makes the A4 a much better choice for cold climates.
Many buyers will also consider the Acura TL and TL Type S. In fact, the TL is such a great value, that it’s hard not to take a good hard look at it. While the Acura does represent a tremendous value, it lacks substance compared to the A4. The TL is a good touring sedan, but cannot really be seen as a true sports sedan, even in Type S form. Compared to the new A4 styling, the TL is bland. The suspension tuning is geared more toward ride comfort than handling. The interior is not in the same league as the A4 interior. The fake wood trim on the TL looked a little too fake in my opinion, which was a real turnoff in a car approaching $30K.
However, there is a large group of the car buying public that won’t care. They won’t mind the bland styling of the TL. The interior will be adequate. They will love the smooth ride and the quiet and powerful engine. They’ll look at all the features, such as leather and HID headlamps, and think “What a bargain!”. You know what? They would be right. In fact, the TL can probably be had for about $28K, with the Type S coming in just a tick below $30K. That is a lot of car for the money, which is why the TL continues to be a very good seller. However, it still lacks the appeal of the A4 for the enthusiast. The TL just isn’t a drivers car. There is no manual transmission available, and the car lacks the driving dynamics and sporty glued-to-the-road feel of the A4, especially with Quattro.
Take a good thing, and make it better. That sums up the A4 for 2002. Audi has improved the car in almost every area. There seems to be just a bit more of everything. For 2002, there’s more room, more power, more rigidity, more features, etc. Unfortunately, there is also more cost – especially on the V6 model. While I very much like the new additions to the 2002 A4 3.0, I don’t think they justify the rather significant jump in cost. We aren’t talking an increase of a few hundred dollars here. We’re talking thousands. Regardless, if you are making a direct comparison between the A4 and the likes of the BMW 3-Series or M-B C-Class, which many will, the A4 still represents a solid value in the segment.
It seems as though the price increase on the 2002 model was felt more on the 3.0 than the 1.8T. The sticker price on an A4 1.8T with 5-speed manual, Quattro, front and rear heated seats, sport package, metallic paint and xenon headlamps will have a sticker price of $29,700. A 2002 BMW 325xi with the same equipment will have a sticker price of $33,645. That is a difference of about $4,000. The major difference between the two is the fact that the BMW has an inline-6 versus the turbo 4 cylinder in the A4. While I’d rather have the inline-6, I don’t think I’d pay $4,000 more for it, all else being equal. Some may argue that all else is not equal with these two cars, but I think they are very close. I’d give the BMW a slight edge in handling and steering feel. I prefer the interior and exterior styling and fit-and-finish of the A4. In addition, the A4 has a better all-wheel drive system. The BMW sends more power to the rear wheels, and less to the fronts, and the ratio is constant. The Audi system starts at a 50/50 split, then sends up to 66% of power to either the front or rear axle, then can shift power to a single wheel if necessary, depending on wheel slip. I consider it a much more “active” system, whereas the BMW is more “passive”.
Having been a previous owner of an A4 2.8, I recently purchased a new car. However, I did not purchase another A4. I do a lot of my driving on the highway, as I have a long commute. For this type of driving, I appreciate a quiet and smooth 6 cylinder that has a relaxed feel at speed. I looked at the A4 3.0, and while I still think it is a decent value, it has obviously gone upmarket a bit. This move upmarket put it out of my price range, as there aren’t any used ’02 A4 3.0’s to be found, and a new one well-equipped costs over $37,000. So I decided to look at the A4 1.8T Quattro. I was close to purchasing this car. However, two things stopped me. First, I wanted the 6 cylinder. Second, I found the A4 to be too small. My wife and I recently had a child, and have plans to eventually have another. For the two of us and two kids, plus the baggage that always ends up being toted around when kids come into the picture, I thought he A4 would be tight. The trunk is a bit on the small size, and at 6’3”, I felt a bit cramped in the car. The BMW 325i had the inline-6, but I couldn’t justify the extra cost, and thought it too was small for a growing family that doesn’t have an SUV as a second car.
So what did I end up with? Well, I got a Passat GLX with a 5-speed manual transmission. With the Passat, I got just about everything I wanted in a car, save for a sport package. The Passat rides on a stretched version of the previous generation A4 chassis. It has the same 30-valve 2.8 liter V6 that the previous generation A4 had, which was an exceptionally smooth and silky engine. While the suspension isn’t as firm as an A4 with sports package, it does offer a great ride and has better handling than the Japanese sedans in the same segment. If I want to stiffen it up, I can always turn to the aftermarket for a sports suspension – which would run about $900 installed. I also got the added space I thought we needed, along with a cavernous trunk. In terms of features, the Passat GLX comes packed with them. The GLX comes with leather, genuine walnut wood trim, heated power driver and passenger seats with memory, rain-sensing wipers, and a monsoon stereo with 8-speakers and in-dash CD to name just a few.
Since I opted for the manual transmission, I couldn’t get the 4Motion (which is mechanically identical to Audi’s Quattro system), as it is only available with an automatic transmission. This was a tough decision, as they are both great features. For me, it came down to the fact that I feel much more in control when driving a manual transmission. I find that I pay much more attention to what is going on around me when driving a manual, which adds more of a safety margin than a bit more traction. Besides, the front-wheel drive will do exceptionally well in the snow, especially with a good set of snow tires. The Passat was purchased for $27,200, which I think is a bargain.
The engine characteristics of the V6 coupled with a very low coefficient of drag make the Passat an incredible highway car. It really shines at speeds over 70 mph with exceptional high-speed passing power and effortless cruising capabilities. Perfect for my long commute. Overall, I am very happy with the decision I have made. I wanted something a little larger than the A4, and more exciting than something like an Acura TL…and I feel that is exactly what I got.
The Passat will certainly cannibalize sales of the A4 1.8T – it did in my case anyway. Volkswagen Audi Group (V.A.G.) has given certain attributes to the Audi only, in order to differentiate the two. For example, you can’t get the 1.8T and 4Motion/Quattro in the Passat, but you can in the Audi. You cannot get the 4Motion/Quattro and manual transmission in the Passat, but you can in the Audi. Also, you can get a sport package with a revised suspension and larger wheels and tires on the Audi, but not on the Passat. Still, I think that buyers will see that the V6 Passat about the same as a comparably equipped 1.8T A4, and about $6,500 less than an A4 3.0, and just may decide that the Passat is the way to go. I actually don’t see that much cannibalization between the Passat V6 and the A4 3.0, because I don’t think the buyer willing to spend $38K will be interested in a Passat. However, that may prove untrue in a matter of months, when VW unveils the W8. The W8 will be the first VW offered with a V8. The W8 will be a Passat with a 275 hp V8 and 4Motion all-wheel drive. It will have other goodies liked subtle flared fenders and larger 17” wheel and tires, and should be quite appealing to enthusiasts, especially if they offer it with a 6-speed manual transmission. Initially it will only be available with an automatic, and the list price is apparently set at $37,900 with the automatic transmission.
With all of the above taken into consideration, I might still be buying an A4 1.8T Quattro if it was a little larger and had more trunk space (especially with the Quattro, which reduces trunk size to 13.4 cu.ft. on the ’02 A4). While it doesn’t have a V6, I could probably live with the 1.8T. The A4’s exceptionally rigid chassis, Quattro all-wheel drive, and sport package setup makes it an extremely satisfying car to drive. The beautiful styling and extraordinary attention-to-detail make it a very satisfying car to own.
For anyone interested, I also have an extensive review of the Passat GLX for 2002 here:
Amount Paid (US$):
2002Model and Options:
1.8T Quattro w/ 5-speed manual