Jude P. Morte / Jude P. Morte | September 18, 2006 00:00
Smooth operatorTeutonic cars with displacements of 1999cc and below rarely make headlines, unless they are branded as compact sports tourers, sportbacks or premium compact hatchbacks. But if they are sedans, a big question mark is whether their displacement can offer the same smooth power and torque delivery as their smaller cousins.
One sedan that hopes to break the aforementioned perception is the Audi A4 1.8L Turbo Quattro. Whether it can do it without much effort is the basis for this test drive.
Smooth inside and out
This version of the A4 is the highest end model available in the country, and on looks and creature comforts alone it is worth every peso of its P 3.23 million tag. The smallish three-spoke steering wheel sports audio controls on its left (station preset movement) and right (volume) flanks for easier audio use. The original equipment Bose audio entertainment is great, but needs a little help with midrange and high tones.
The cabin is all gray or grayish black (with an aluminum trim beltline), and can handle five to six average sized Filipinos in relative comfort due to the plush cloth/leather seating. Fit and finish are excellent, with the thick doors closing with a subtle "thud" distinct of German luxury cars. The dashboard is expansive that one could put his/her feet on it and not feel cramped. Even at the lowest blower setting the airconditioning constantly blows Arctic cold air, and there are four memory presets for the driver's seat adjustment. All windows have one-touch power assist, interior lighting is bright enough to see hidden bric-a-brac, and the side mirrors can be folded with one 180-degree twist of the side mirror adjustment knob.
Storage places abound in this A4 incarnation, including the cavernous glove box. The rear seats fold flat, and the trunk swallows seven to eight pieces of medium-sized travel luggage. Speaking of the trunk, the boot lid comes with an easy-to-see early warning device attached. Unfortunately the trunk release button is hard to find, the door storage/center console storage areas are small, and there's just one cupholder for front occupants.
Outside this A4 version has the same look as its other B7 (chassis code for the new A4) siblings, but with sportier 7.5 x 17-inch Ronal five-parallel spoke aluminum alloy rims and 235/45-series rubber.
This A4 version should be driven by its owner, not chauffeur-spun. The 1.8L smoothly out-accelerates even sedans of 3.0L displacement from standstill starts (due to a linear power output), the turbo kicks in at roughly 2700-4250rpm, and you can hear the wastegate vent out the built up boost at 3250-plus rpm. The six-speed manual's gearing is fairly even, clutch pedal feel is soft to moderate and the short shifter's throws are crisp. In terms of power delivery to the wheels, the 1.8L Turbo Quattro is worlds away from its six-speed Steptronic automatic transmission-equipped siblings. Unfortunately fourth gear is tall, and shifting from forward to reverse is a concern because you have to press down hard on the shift knob and throw the stick to the upward leftmost position, which feels like you could wreck the tranny support bushings with every move to reverse.
Coupled with Quattro all wheel drive, handling is excellent. The sedan is composed amidst road imperfections, and roadholding with the traction control off is up to 120 kph. The traction control only wakes up during extreme yaw, and there's little oversteer when it's pushed on winding roads. Grip speed would have been better if the unit's tires (Dunlop Sport 235/45s came with the test unit) were upgraded, but cornering and ride comfort rival that of the E90 (current model) BMW 320i Limited Edition without the harshness.
Steering is light and rarely numbing in feel yet sharp and sensitive, and the brakes grip very well. Unfortunately the ABS in this A4 variant tends to deliver in increments instead of popping up in one big push of stopping power. The backup sensors are sensitive (turning on at 1.5 feet and below) and detect object out to around 20 degrees laterally from the middle of the rear bumper. The informative driver menu screen (located between the tachometer and speedometer) is large enough to be seen from the rear seats. Exterior lighting is great, and its dim setting rivals that of the "bright" setting on mass market passenger cars.
Despite an 1800cc displacement and some storage quirks, this A4's linear power delivery, all wheel drive, little turbo lag, excellent handling/steering/ride characteristics, manual transmission and sporty look make it arguably a smooth but distinct operator in the luxury sedan arena.