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OPULENCE IN STEALTH MODE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Dec 31, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

OPULENCE IN STEALTH MODE By Brian Kennedy

"American cars" my dad would tell us when we were kids, "are more glicked up than ours." "Ours" in this context, meant "Canadian cars." His point was that at a comparable trim level, the US model would have more goodies on it, things like power antennas and automatic climate control. He would then look at us with a flat stare. "And all that stuff does is break." His story always ended the same way.

I am thinking of that as I step into the Audi A4 3.2 AWD which I have for a week. Looking around the cabin, I am delighted, and alternately horrified, at the sheer volume of electronic goodies, and the motors and computers that make them work, which I find. Some I discover quite by accident, like when I was try to adjust the sideview mirrors, and they suddenly folded themselves in to hug the doors. Two tiny motors. Cool. "What happens when one of them lets go, outside of warranty?" I ask myself. That was day one. Now it's day three. I take the car north through the desert to Lake Isabella, and I'm living the electronic life in the Audi, unfazed by thoughts of future (and, perhaps unlikely) maintenance issues. Sunroof open, auto-dimming rearview mirror on, satellite radio blaring, and traction control switched off (it's just toooo good), I am the king. My driving experience quickly convinces me that this car is put together with the sole purpose of enthusiastic driving in mind. No matter how hard it's pushed, it grips the surface of the road, tracking through the corners with just the slightest body lean. Around town, it offers super jump off the line, and a completely seamless transfer of power through to the wheels - whichever ones are driving it. And that fact that you never know is, to my mind, the perfection of the Audi all-wheel drive (AWD) system. My preconception going in is that all-wheel drive is another expensive gimmick. I like rear-wheel drive, and the only front-driver I'd buy is a Mini Cooper. AWD, then, seemed to me a kind of odd thing, like the car is supposed to be a front-driver, but they just stuck all this extra stuff on it. Boy, was I wrong.

In practice, the system on the Audi makes for amazing grip, even when you're in the turns or mashing the gas off the line. And try as you might, you can't tell which wheels are doing the work. The car just feels like it's grabbing for all it's worth and hurtling you forward. What's good about the A4? Almost everything. The car is stable and solid right up to the 65 mph speed limit. And perhaps a little bit beyond (I mean, I think). The exhaust sound is just the right mixture of performance car growl and luxury sedan whisper. The leather is beautiful. The gearshift knob is a treasure, and the throws are just exactly the right length. The doors shut with a solid thunk. And on the optional S-Line package (see LA Car's article, Line Drive), the exterior trim and fittings are also lovely. The wheels are smoky gray, the dual exhaust resplendent with sport tips. And the stance is hunkered-down due to the sports suspension. The car has menace, in other words, but it's a refined sort of nasty, the sort that grown-ups can take pleasure in. What's not so good: The climate control is not at all intuitive, and for my money, doesn't serve the driver nearly as well as a simple manual one would do.

The stereo is great, and Sirius Satellite Radio is addictive. The only complaint there is that when you're in preset mode, you don't get the display of the song title. For that, you have to go back to regular mode, which means that you have to push another button before you can toggle between your presets. Of course, either of these complaints can probably be remedied by a read of the manual. Maybe these gizmos do work like I think they ought to, if you give them a chance. So please, Audi, read this disclaimer: my testing was done seat-of-the-pants, and all these are impressions of a tech-challenged guy who spent his time driving the car (and enjoying it), rather than reading about how it works. One impression that has nothing to do with making things function right is that the interior layout in general looks a little flat and angular, more '90s style than new-century looking. The power window switches, for instance, lie on a flat plane on the door's armrest. Of course, you can read this two ways - either Audi is doing their own thing, or they're not keeping up with the times. For me to be convinced to buy this car, I'd have to believe the former. I just couldn't think of spending mid-40s money for something that I thought is dated.

S-Line interior And there, to sum up, is the key point. I can't see myself - that's not to say, you - spending mid-40 grand for something without being convinced that it will enhance my life not just while I was on the road, but in my head. Something that will excite me when I walk up to it, and that will get other people asking questions about what I have. Something that will announce my presence from a block away. A brand-new Shelby GT500 comes to mind. I'm not a flashy guy, but hey, that's a ton of money. However, if I do decide to grow up and get a sports sedan, the Audi will be an obvious choice, though I'd at least look at the BMW alternatives, and maybe that Lexus they just changed into a square-sided Cadillac-design clone, for opposite reasons. The BMW will appeal to my sense of pride, the Lexus to my sense of "I want to buy a Japanese car because they never break." There's something a little bit invisible about the Audi against either of these competitors and the other cars in the $40-thousand-plus price range. And for a guy for whom this much money will be a real stretch, that anonymity might not be quite what I want.

On the other hand, having had the Audi for a week, I'm now seeing them on the road everywhere, and each time, I get an excited little jump in my gut as I remember how perfectly everything works and imagine how satisfied that driver is in there. So if you have the money to spend, and you aren't necessarily looking for a car to serve as a billboard that announces to the world how you spent it, then by all means, put the this A4 on your list. Drive it. You might just find yourself taking it home. SUMMARY JUDGMENT A great luxury sports sedan for those who don't need to display their wealth in neon lights.

Titanium Package S-Line wheel For more information on Audi products, go to www.audiusa.com. SPECIFICATIONS

Name of vehicle: Audi A4 Sedan 3.2 AWD Price: Base, $36,440 CVT automatic transmission-equipped, $37,640 S-Line model, add $3,000 Titanium Package, add $500 Engine type: 3.2-liter DOHC FSI (direct-injection) V6 Horsepower: 255 @ 6500 rpm Torque: 243 lb.-ft @ 3250 rpm Drive configuration: All-wheel drive Transmission type: Six-speed manual (standard) Optional continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission, with seven-speed Sport auto-mode and Tiptronic manu-matic mode driving features. Suspension: Front: Four-link light alloy design Rear: Self-tracking trapezoidal-link light alloy design ESP electronic stability control (standard)

Wheels and tires (as tested): 18-inch titanium color 15-spoke GmbH wheels with 235/40-18 high performance tires Brakes: Front: 12.6-inch vented discs with ABS Rear: 11.3-inch solid discs with ABS Overall length: 180.6 inches Overall width: 69.8 inches Overall height: 56.2 inches Curb weight (pounds): 3549 manual/3660 CVT automatic EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 22/31 manual 22/30 CVT automatic 25 combined (both manual & automatic) Top Speed, mph: 130 (electronically limited) 0-60 mph: 7.3 seconds (manual) 7.5 seconds (automatic)

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