From the February 1997 issue of Car and Driver.
When Audi introduced the A4 in 1995, we were impressed—so much so that we voted it a 10Best winner in January 1996 and considered it a strong contender for the ’97 event a year later. Then, just as we were assembling the ’97 hopefuls last fall, a hot-off-the-boat, “Cool Shades” Brilliant Yellow 1.8-liter turbo-powered version of the A4 arrived for our consideration. As you saw in our January 10Best issue, the 1.8T did not handicap the original 2.8-liter V-6-powered model’s chances. On the contrary, it improved them, and the A4 was reelected to a 10Best seat for ’97.
It was not clear at the start that this would be the case, however. The concept of lopping off two cylinders and a liter of displacement from a car that is not exactly overpowered did not sound that inspiring—even with a turbocharger thrown in. We weren’t quite sure what to expect: a car with glacial lag down at low engine speeds, most likely, even if turbo boost lent enough power at high revs. And besides, the 1.8T has none of its sibling’s interior wood trim.
HIGHS: Good looks, solid construction, torquey turbo performance, all-wheel traction, reasonable price, irresistible warranty.
Turns out that the combination of a long-stroke, five-valve combustion chamber and a small, low-pressure turbo that spools up right off idle works just fine. Add that to a manual five-speed with a low first gear, and the car steps off just as willingly as its bigger brother. The A4 1.8T Quattro we tested kept pace with its 2.8-liter stablemate to 60 mph (taking 8.3 seconds versus 8.1), as well as through the quarter-mile, where it ran 16.3 seconds at 84 mph versus the 2.8’s 16.2 seconds at 85 mph.
Of course, that’s no measure of a car’s all-around flexibility. For that we turn to the top-gear passing figures, where the A4 Turbo’s 10.1-second sprint from 30 to 50 mph bests the 2.8 model’s by 1.2 seconds. It comes close at 10.0 seconds to big brother’s 9.9-second surge from 50 to 70 mph. Not bad for a turbocharged 1.8-liter car, you must admit. And the reason behind this car’s elastic engine response is a torque curve whose peak of 155 pound-feet occurs at just 1750 rpm and remains flat all the way to 4600 rpm. It’s not so much a curve as a plateau, and it makes the car relaxing and easy to drive, and not at all as peaky as you might expect a small, forced-induction engine to be.
Adding to the enjoyment are a muted but pleasant engine note and well-integrated transmission components. The clutch is smooth and easy to read, and there’s little of that springy driveline bounce we’ve seen in earlier Audis as you start off. Showing no obvious sign of lag, the engine accelerates evenly through the range, but it sometimes hangs on to revs a little during shifts when spun to the redline. Shifts are quick and clean, if a tiny bit more rubbery than those in a Honda or BMW. However, we never missed a shift or even mistimed a double-clutch downshift.
LOWS: Too softly sprung for real high-performance work, most desirable options add considerable expense.
As we’d expect from an Audi, the handling is stable and the steering is linear and accurate. For most roadwork, the supple suspension calibrations are adequate, but our Steven Cole Smith reports that the car is too soft and sloppy for racetrack exertions. Fine. Keep it on public roads, where the 1.8T is a pleasure to drive. It is also a great place to sit. Some of the interior design features are so pleasing to the eye and touch that you don’t have to go anywhere to appreciate the skill of the designers. You see it in the sweep of the dash molding, the way the tweeter enclosures are integrated into the door-handle molding, the band of gray mesh material that sweeps around the car (replacing the wood trim of the 2.8)—these are elements that feel both rich and chic.
The 1.8T isn’t short of standard equipment either. Although the seats are manually adjusted units, the car is festooned with the usual luxury-segment items, such as climate control, central locking, and power mirrors. Among them are some very thoughtful touches, like locking retractors on the rear-seat safety belts to facilitate child-seat installation, prewiring for cell phones and CD changers, express-down window controls all around (plus express up on the front windows), and a feature that allows all four windows to be opened or closed while the key is in the door lock.
With a long list of standard-equipment items, the 1.8T is a complete package in base form. For $23,490, you can have a front-drive car replete with the kind of features you expect in the luxury segment. An equally impressive list of options—including heated seats, a sunroof, a trip computer, and a five-speed automatic transmission—can swell the price of the 1.8T to more than $30,000. The four-wheel-drive Quattro system adds $1600, which strikes us as a bargain. The new Cool Shades paint colors, variations on fluorescent Kool-Aid colors—which may not tickle everybody’s retinas—add $460.
Three attractive items make the argument for checking the Sport-package box on the order form: the charming three-spoke steering wheel with its tiny airbag (the standard wheel is a four-spoke unit); the more-supportive sport seats covered in jacquard satin cloth; and the handsome 16-inch wheels with their grippy lower-profile 55-series tires (standard fitment is 15-inch wheels and 65-series rubber). The Sport package is $1000.
More Reviews From the Archive
Our fully loaded and brightly colored A4 is priced $30 above the base price for a rear-drive, normally aspirated BMW 318i sedan. More serious opposition might come from cars like Nissan’s Maxima, which offers more interior space and a V-6, as well as from the four-door Acura Integra GS-R, which doesn’t, and from the Subaru Legacy, which brings with it allwheel drive as standard equipment. There are reasons for choosing these or other competing models, but the Audi A4 1.8T has a rather unique combination of virtues to tempt the buyer. Good looks, nimble handling, respectable performance, a lot of equipment, thoughtful engineering, and genuine character—all in a high-end German sedan that costs less than its counterparts from Munich and Stuttgart.
VERDICT: A prestige bargain with real character.Arrow pointing downArrow pointing down
1997 Audi A4 1.8 Turbo Quattro
Vehicle Type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
Base/As Tested: $25,090/$26,550
Options: Cool Shades paint, $460; Sport package (16-inch wheels and tires, sport steering wheel and front seats), $1000
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, port fuel injection
Displacement: 107 in3, 1781 cm3
Power: 150 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 155 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
Suspension, F/R: struts/control arms
Brakes, F/R: 10.9-in vented disc/9.6-in disc
Tires: Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Wheelbase: 102.6 in
Length: 178.0 in
Width: 68.2 in
Height: 55.8 in
Passenger Volume, F/R: 48/37 ft3
Trunk Volume: 14 ft3
Curb Weight: 3230 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 8.3 sec
100 mph: 24.1 sec
1/4-Mile: 16.3 sec @ 84 mph
120 mph: 45.3 sec
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 9.5 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 10.1 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 10.0 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 127 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 190 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.78 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 20 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 22/29 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED