2002-2005 Audi A4 Avant

Matthew Phenix
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Drivers Side View

Smart, beautiful, and it cooks, too.

Ann Arbor—
We've always enjoyed the company of the Audi A4—particularly the stylish wagon. Competent and well equipped, the original A4 offered European breeding without the conspicuous-consumer vibe of a BMW or the tweediness of a Volvo. For 2002, thanks to a comprehensive redesign that has yielded improvements from bumper to bumper, the A4 Avant—following in the tracks of the smart new sedan—retains its stealth-wealth appeal.

Quattro all-wheel drive is now standard on all A4 Avants, and although the base engine is Audi's excellent 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbo four, it's the 3.0-liter V-6 that is the real powertrain news. The all-aluminum, 30-valve six produces 220 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. It's smoother and punchier than the old 2.8-liter engine if still not quite as honey-toned as the straight sixes from BMW. The optional Tiptronic manu-matic transmission operates via the familiar plus-and-minus shifter gate or a pair of Porsche 911style rocker switches on the steering wheel hub. Although generally fuss-free, the five-speed Tiptronic can be annoyingly indecisive during passing maneuvers, and dropping the throttle occasionally provokes embarrassing driveline thunk. For the Avant, the slick six-speed manual is the enthusiast's choice (1.8T buyers get a five-speed manual or the Tiptronic). Audi's clever Multitronic continuously variable transmission is—for now, at least—a no-show in the wagon.

The Avant has grown in every direction, and the cabin has swelled accordingly; it's airy and elbow-roomy now, something the old car definitely wasn't. Material quality and fit and finish are—no surprise—above reproach, bettering cars costing twice the A4 Avant's $28,295 base price. The cargo area is bigger as well (trumping the BMW 3-series and Mercedes C-class wagons). The A4's dainty derriere still doesn't invite really serious wagoneering, however.

All told, Ingolstadt's littlest Avant is again the prom queen of its class: lovely and talented if not exactly tack-sharp. It's the ideal lifestyle vehicle for image-conscious young strivers who think the term off-road refers to the Martha's Vineyard ferry.

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