The B6 A4, launched in 2002, is a mere 3 years old. So, imagine our surprise when Audi AG announced the all-new B7 for 2005. All new? Already? Why?
It all started with the new Audi look, especially the single-frame grille that was first introduced on the new A6 and now resides on the A8 6.0 quattro and the A3 Sportback. As other changes occurred, including such things as a new rear design, new engines, new transmissions, new electronics, Audi realized that what began as a mid-cycle facelift had ended as an all-new car. The B7 platform had arrived.
The new A4 has a more wedge-like profile that is emphasized by the sideline, which angles gradually up from headlights to taillights. The aforementioned single-frame grille (a love it or hate it design) is situated between sculpted headlights whose shape echoes those found on the concept Nuvolari quattro. Actually, the entire front end of the new A4 mimics the styling of the Nuvolari, as does the rear, from the sloping C-pillar and rear window down to the trunk and the two-piece taillights. The only thing that was carried over from the previous generation A4 is the roof.
Inside, the B7 A4 is more--well--Audi like. There's the new-generation multi-function three-spoke steering wheel (Europe also gets a four-spoke one), a Symphony audio system with a six-CD in-dash changer, aluminum interior beltline trim, new cloth or leather surfaces and seats--all the things that go into making an Audi's interior a wonderful place to be, especially from the driver's seat.
Depending upon your power requirements, you can choose from either a 2.0T FSI- or 3.2 FSI-equipped A4. The 2.0 is a turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 200 bhp and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1800 to 5000 rpm. It offers 30 more bhp and 41 more lb-ft of torque than the 1.8T it replaces. Drive one and you'll feel compelled to check under the hood to see if the engine really is turbocharged: There's no turbo lag or torque steer at all. Boost comes on smoothly and early--at 1800 rpm vs. 1950 for the 1.8T--and stays on throughout the powerband. It also sounds better than the 1.8T, with a deeper, more distinct rumble emitting from under the hood and a sweet-toned burble escaping out the back. The 2.0T FSI is mated to either a six-speed manual or a new multitronic/CVT with seven predefined gear ratios for FrontTrak two-wheel drive A4s. Quattros come with either the manual or a new six-speed Tiptronic.
The more powerful 3.2 FSI is the same engine that first appeared on the new A6. Developing 255 bhp and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3250, the fuel straight injection (FSI) V6 outperforms the outgoing 3.0 V6 by 35 hp and 22 lb-ft. The 3.2 FSI provided more than enough pull for heavier A6, so its placement in the lighter B7 bodes well. (Time and vehicle constraints prevented us from testing the 3.2 version.) The V6, which comes standard with quattro, can be controlled with either the six-speed manual or six-speed Tiptronic gearbox.
The suspension setup is the same for both engine variants. The four-link front suspension and self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension has been completely modified, using components from both the A6 and S4; most notably, the S4's rear trapezoidal links and wheel carriers and several mountings and shock absorber dimensions from the A6. The result is a tighter, more agile ride that sacrifices very little in ride comfort. We drove the new A4 2.0 FSI on not-recently paved roads and autostradi on Sicily. The chassis soaked up most of the rough spots and those that it didn't (such as bumps in mid corner) were easily adjusted for with the new A4's Servotronic steering, standard on both models. Any and all complaints of overboosted steering in Audis ends here. The new system is literally spot on.
All new A4s come with the latest electronic stabilization program, ESP 8. Comprised of ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and hydraulic brake assist, the system automatically increases brake power when the brakes are applied in an emergency. In addition, ASR, the traction control system, interacts with EDL (electronic differential lock), giving efficient yaw control. Also integrated into ESP 8 is a brake-disc wiping function that helps brakes dry on wet roads. The system can also be deactivated in two stages. Press the ESP button briefly and ASR is cancelled for a short time; press it a bit longer and ASR stays deactivated, an essential feature for those playing on a racetrack.
As with all Audis, the B7 platform incorporates new safety technologies, which include but are not limited to reinforced B-pillars and rear structure, advanced dual-stage airbags, active head restraints and Isofix child-seat attachments.
The standard equipment list varies slightly for each model. Both come with a center console that sports two cupholders (an option in Europe) and an extra power outlet. The 2.0T FSI has all of the previously mentioned interior items (cloth seats are standard, leather optional) and rolls around on 16-in. alloy wheels. The 3.2 FSI offers power driver and passenger front seats in leather, and sits on 17-in. alloy wheels.
Options of note are a sport package with sport suspension and five-spoke 17-in. wheels; and a lighting package with bi-xenon headlamps and advance front lighting, interior auto dimming, compass, exterior folding/dimming mirrors and a rain/light sensor. Standalones include a full-screen DVD nav system with the CD changer relocated to the glovebox, wood interior (why bother when the aluminum looks so cool), tire-pressure monitoring and Bluetooth phone prep with voice control.
An S-line package will be offered in Fall 2005. The optional package, which is meant to bridge the gap between the 3.2 A4 and the 4.2 S4, will feature 18-in. alloy wheels, S-line front grille, Audi AG sport suspension, interior doorsill trim with S-line logo, brushed aluminum interior trim, perforated leather steering wheel with requisite S-line badge and an exterior design package.
The all-new A4s will appear on the market this coming February. Pricing has yet to be announced, but MSRP is expected to be 4- to 5% more than the current model. With the 1.8T starting at $25,800, the 2.0T FSI should be priced around $27,000 and the 3.2 FSI, $33,000. That's not much of an increase for an all-new model, especially one as good as the B7 A4.