Once rolling, the annoyance of chirping wheels subsided, and the highway prowess of the A4 emerged. The A4 turned out to have a vagabond spirit. Several staffers took cross-country trips in the A4 and filled the logbook with rave reviews regarding the extraordinary efficiency of the sedan and its CVT. The CVT's large spread of ratios allows for a tall top gear that converts to a relaxed 2500 rpm at 80 mph. Turning so few revolutions helped the A4 achieve excellent fuel economy on the highway. New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman called the fuel economy "perhaps its most thrilling feature." At highway speeds, 28 to 30 mpg was not uncommon, and a range of 500-plus miles on a tank of gasoline made the Audi an enemy of the urethral sphincter. Overall, the A4 achieved a commendable 27 mpg during its yearlong stay.
Entries about handling were notably absent from the logbook, but the ride did get its share of comments. Editor emeritus David E. Davis, Jr., praised the A4's highway demeanor but complained that around town the ride was let down by impact harshness and underdamped body motions. However, most drivers of our A4 had only accolades for the ride, including one editor who, after a 750-mile trip, declared the ride quality to be "just about perfect."
Interior design and quality have long been Audi strengths, and the latest A4 is no exception. The A4's interior sanctuary is the envy of the automotive industry. "The detailing is exquisite," remarked executive editor Mark Gillies, "and the interior makes the Lexus ES300 and the Saab 9-3 look pretty homely." Compared with the previous-generation car, the plastics are richer, and the design is skewed more toward luxury than sport. Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings gushed over "the integrity of our optional platinum leather interior after 25,000 miles."
Taking the A4 for a scheduled maintenance appointment was a rare inconvenience. While in our custody, the A4 required a total of five dealer visits, three scheduled and two unscheduled. Six-cylinder A4s have 10,000-mile service intervals, which are free for four years or 50,000 miles. The first unscheduled stop came at the two-month mark, when a whine from the climate-control vents finally annoyed us enough to require a visit to the dealer. The culprit turned out to be a noisy blower motor, which was replaced under warranty, and the new blower motor restored serenity to the A4's cabin. The second unscheduled visit occurred just after the A4's year had concluded. The standard Audi Symphony radio with integral six-disc CD changer suddenly stopped working, and the display began to glow red. A new radio was installed. Several other owners reported the same problem and had either the fuse or the entire radio replaced.
We expect small luxury sedans such as the A4 to provide a luxurious, trouble-free experience, and our A4 did indeed treat us like royalty. One expects to pay dearly for such a privilege, but the A4 doesn't ask for much beyond its sticker price. What's more, for 2003, a comparably equipped A4 costs $210 less than our 2002 model. Fuel economy in a luxury sedan is a rare treat and one that sets the Multitronic A4 apart from its competition. Luxury and economy used to be opposing entities, but in the A4, they are linked by the chain of the ingenious CVT.