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First Oz drive: A4 gets V6 power

On target: The 3.0-litre V6 A4 is aimed squarely at the BMW 3 Series.

Audi's A4 family is growing with V6 engine choices added along with another turbo

16 Apr 2002

AUDI completes its prestige A4 sedan line-up this week when the flagship V6 variants and an additional turbo model go on sale.

The new arrivals are the A4 3.0 V6, the 2.4 V6 and a 1.8 turbo four-cylinder fitted with the continuously variable automatic "multitronic" transmission.

The 3.0 comes as both a multitronic priced at $80,500 and the range-topping quattro all-wheel drive with "Tiptronic", at $84,500. Impressively, Audi Australia announced this pricing midway through 2001 and has stuck with it.

The 2.4 comes as a single model equipped with multitronic and is priced at $63,800. The turbo is priced at $58,500.

The arrival of the 3.0 in particular is long overdue. It was originally expected in October/November, just a few months after the 2.0-litre and 1.8T quattro A4s were launched last June. The 2.4 and the turbo were originally expected before March this year.

Reasons thrown up for the late arrival vary from booming 2.0-litre sales in Europe delaying production, to some technical issues with the 3.0 that Audi had to resolve before sales could start.

The delay means Audi has lowered its expectations for total A4 sales for 2002, from 2400 to 1950. That is still well ahead of its record year in 2001 when 1751 A4s were sold. Overall, Audi is shooting for 4000 sales in 2002, well up on last year's 3507.

The importance of the V6 models cannot be discounted as they are expected to account for 28 per cent of total A4 volume, and the multitronic 1.8T a further 16 per cent. But the 2.0-litre A4 is the biggest seller, accounting for 40 per cent of sales.

The 3.0-litre is a new all-alloy design with five valves per cylinder, which produces an impressive 160kW at 6300rpm and 290Nm of torque at 3200rpm. That compares to the old 2.8-litre flagship, which produced 142kW and 280Nm.

The 2.4 is an uprated version of the existing engine which now produces 125kW at 6000rpm - up 4kW on the old version - while torque stays the same at 230Nm at 3200rpm. Both engines are also seen in the larger A6 sedan.

The turbo four is the 110kW unit already on sale mated to the quattro tiptronic. The old 132kW firebreather has fallen foul of increasingly stringent emission regulations and is no longer sold here.

Multitronic is Audi's take on continuously variable transmission (CVT), a technology designed to keep the engine in its peak efficiency area by constantly altering the gear ratio. The problem had been its inability to cope with higher torque loads, which Audi has overcome. But some challenges remain with multitronic models only mated to front-wheel drives because Audi has not yet adapted the CVT to quattro.

Standard specifications across all these cars includes leather upholstery, dual climate control air-conditioning, CD changer with 10 speakers, cruise control, remote central locking, integrated foglights and alloy wheels.

The 1.8T exclusively adds a leather-bound steering wheel, the 2.4 gets brown walnut inlay for the interior and a multi-function steering wheel, while the 3.0 is alone in having 17-inch alloy wheels, fully powered front seats and Xenon headlights.

Other points about the A4 are already well known. It is a mild styling evolution of its predecessor but also quite a bit bigger, with interior room and luggage space key improvements. It is 69mm longer, 33mm wider and 13mm taller than its predecessor.

Safety equipment levels are high and include an electronic stability program (ESP), electronic brake assist (BAS) for the anti-lock braking system and dual front and side airbags, as well as Audi's "Sideguard" head airbag system.

Audi has also exploited its knowledge of aluminium construction extensively in the four-link front and trapezoidal rear suspension, as well as in other componentry.

The A4 range will be further boosted in November when the cabriolet goes on sale. The Avant (station wagon) is now close to confirmation and could be here at the same time.

Audi Australia has been promoting the arrival of the 3.0 for several weeks and managing director Graham Hardy said response had been "reasonable".

"It's new territory for the A4, it's a big engined car which we think is very welcome," Mr Hardy said.

"It pushes upmarket in terms of the A4 and its positioning, squarely against BMW and their 3.0-litre versions.

"I think it will take us a while to really break into that market and hence that's also the reason for the advertising, so that we can increase customer awareness and communicate that we have these cars, because people might not naturally expect it, they might associate the A4 with smaller engines." PRICING
A4 2.0-litre manual $47,400
A4 2.0-litre multitronic $49,900
A4 1.8-litre Turbo multitronic $58,500
A4 1.8-litre Turbo quattro manual $59,400
A4 2.4-litre multitronic $63,800
A4 3.0-litre multitronic $80,500
A4 3.0 quattro tiptronic $84,500

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

FOR cars that have so much in common, the various iterations of Audi's A4 V6s provide surprisingly different perspectives on the breed.

The 2.4, with its CVT multitronic transmission, standard suspension and less aggressive tyre combination, is a pleasant cruiser - not overly endowed with pace but with plenty of grace.

At the other end of the scale lies the 3.0-litre quattro Tiptronic. Plenty of power, 20mm lower sports suspension, low profile 17-inch tyres, bundles of all-wheel drive grip and more decisive steering ensure this is the family wild thing.

The 3.0 "multi" sits somewhere in between with its front-wheel drive chassis and sports suspension. While it does not have the fine balance of the quattro, it doesn't roll as much as the 2.4 or ride as supply for that matter.

The sports set-up could be a little too harsh for some people with a firm ride, plenty of tyre noise and some suspension noise coming back into the cabin over bumps. Perhaps the 3.0 multi would be better off with the standard suspension and more side profile in the rubber, leaving the aggressive set-up to the quattro.

The new 3.0-litre engine is a fine device with a broad spread of power and smooth behaviour. The only noticeable drawback is an intrusive drone as revs rise, an aural intrusion replicated by the 2.4.

The multitronic transmission is at its best driving calmly in the sort of traffic conditions we strike everyday of our lives. Because of its design, it is completely smooth in its take-up with no gear changes to worry about. It just feels a bit weird to drive along and never feel that familiar thunk as another ratio is selected.

The only drawback is it does take some time to wind up when the throttle is floored. Hills can be a chore - particularly some of the ones found on Audi's challenging drive route in south-east Queensland - and overtaking needs to be considered in the 2.4 in particular.

You can shift manually, with six pre-set points computed into the CVT as quasi gear ratios. They do work - dropping back to third and second will give you some extra revs quickly, be it for overtaking or engine braking on steep downhills.

The quattro's five-speed auto is a more responsive transmission when power is needed quickly, yet even despite its acknowledged excellence it is still not as fuss free as the multi. But it does work beautifully with the engine and chassis.

The other aspects of these cars are familiar courtesy of the A4s that have already been with us for nine months. Clean and elegant exterior, wonderful quality and presentation inside, a high level of standard comfort and safety equipment and excellent engineering execution.

Add it all together and Audi is presenting a formidable package to its rivals that is sure to help the company's continued Australian growth.

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