(QQ, Winter 2003) — Ahh….feel the breeze through your hair. Hmm…smell the moist salt air. Oh….yeah, listen to the sound of an incredibly good sound system, with you favorite tunes. Luxuriate in the wood and leather interior. Enjoy the solid feel of a rattle and shake free chassis. Get thrilled with a 0-60 in just a tick over 7 seconds with an outstanding power train that rivals the best of any of its competition. You are experiencing the open air environ of the new Audi A4 Cabriolet. Ole!
Isn't this what it is all about, immersing yourself into the all? That's what motorcycling has been for me. The freedom of enjoying the environment around me and feeling like I am a part of it, not just an observer. This is what I really felt while driving the Cabriolet.
In my article on the introduction of the Cabriolet in the Summer 2002 quattro quarterly, I wrote about many of the features and technical highlights. So there is no need to repeat the bulk of it here. However, driving is believing, and this car is better than anything you can see on paper.
Audi was kind enough to invite a large group of journalists to spend several days with the Cabriolet near Laguna Beach in Southern California. This afforded us a terrific opportunity to drive the cars over a wide variety of roads. One of the more interesting twisty bits on the planned route was the famous Ortega Highway, or California State Route 74, as it is referred to on the maps. This scenic and mountainous two lane highway connects the coast with the interior of Southern California, bringing you down from lofty altitudes into scenic Lake Elsinore. We also had a nice stretch of I-5 and I-15 to open up the pipes, so to speak.
Fortunately, the weather cooperated greatly, with early morning coastal marine layer burning off in the afternoon to a perfect blue-sky day.
Jumping into this pretty metallic blue baby, settling into the excellent sport seats with the essential adjustable leg support (like my 94 C4-S4), and viewing the unique (to the Cabrio) dash and interior, I got really excited. Firing up the smooth 3.0 V6, and feeling the padded and insulated hood, I immediately felt cosseted in luxury. What a quiet car! One of my objections to some Cabriolets by other manufacturers (as well as the TT) is the lack of a fully insulated hood. I am sensitive to noise and appreciate how much road and external noise is attenuated by this marvelous high quality top. It also allows you to enjoy the excellent sound system at lower levels, as you do not need to drown out the external noises. If the top is down, there is certainly enough power and audio headroom to enjoy the stereo at freeway speeds, thanks also to the excellent aerodynamics and substantially lessened wind noise.
Noise, vibration, and harshness have been substantially addressed throughout the car. The excellent new all aluminum 3.0 DOHC V6, with 220 Hp has been coupled to the class leader and technologically advanced CVT Multitronic transmission. So many chassis construction details were paid substantial attention to, especially the reinforced chassis.
Audi stylists started off with a clean sheet of paper and almost all of the sheet metal is currently unique to the Cabrio. However, untold by Audi press releases is the upcoming A4 based Coupe that will share much of the chassis and styling of the new Cabriolet. The previous B3 based Cabrio was a good looking car. This new B6 based car is not only beautiful, it is styled to be a head turner for years to come.
Along with the exterior styling being unique, the interior is also unique to the B6-Cabrio, and soon the new Coupe. It has incorporated styling touches of the TT with that of the B6 Sedan. The Ventilation outlets are round with an aluminum trim ring much like the TT. Switches, climate controls, stereo entertainment system, and the center console with the multitronic selector are styled like the B6-Sedan. As mentioned earlier, the standard sport seats are wonderful, and the Cabrio comes standard with leather seating surfaces. Speaking of seats, the rear seats are normally sized and are suitable for adults and children. This is a car that can act as a family-of-four car, as well as personal transport. Without trying to be sexist , some convertible cars exude a character that seems to lend themselves to being called "chick cars". Many of my guy friends would think that some of these cars (other manufacturers convertibles) are too feminine, and could not envision buying one for themselves. I must say though, and it is quite subjective, that this new B6-Cabrio has the right character that a guy could be seen in and not thought of as driving his girlfriend's car. TTs are like this as well as Porsche Boxsters.
Heading out of Mission Viejo and over to Highway 74 , I noticed immediately the solidity of the chassis. It was so enjoyable to drive a solid and good handling car as I maneuvered the twisty ribbon of highway with the top down. Essentially this car behaves like the A4 3.0 Multitronic Sedan, and this is quite a compliment. The Audi chassis engineers did their homework. The only thing that was slightly disconcerting was the softness of the rear suspension. Particularly, it seemed as though the rear half of the car was hinged at the center, and it was suffering from inadequate rebound damping. If you consider that the average buyer will probably enjoy the soft ride, it may be the right setting. I would, however, probably upgrade the car to a stiffer suspension.
The wind noise and buffeting is minimal. The incredibly reinforced A pillars and the windshield height, coupled with the sport seats, allow my 6'2" frame to tuck down and not be blown about by the incoming wind. It was then down to Lake Elsinore and the I-15 followed some more back roads. I was able to open the throttle and enjoy some substantial speeds. Even at the century mark, it was so nice. Only the tugging at my shoulder of the seat belt strap buffeted by the wind was a little distracting. This is because the mounting point is the top of the B pillar and the strap is in the windstream. As I had not imagined how 90° weather and a direct shot of the sun on my head would feel, I was negligent and forgot to bring a cap. Putting the power top up takes literally seconds, and it is one of the easiest jobs I have seen. This gave me a chance to enjoy the quiet of the superbly insulated hood.
After several hours of driving, I came to appreciate the excellent seats. The driving position of this sweet car seems to be able to accommodate any size of driver comfortably.
I commend Audi for meeting the competition of the BMW 3 Series Convertible and the Mercedes CLK head on. This chassis is so good, it literally begs for the 340 Hp "Ketten" V8 that the S4 version will offer.
By early next year we will see the 1.8T Multitronic version, followed by quattro versions next fall (Model Year 2004). It looks like the V8 powered S4 version may be introduced at the next Frankfurt IAA Salon in September of 2003, for USA intro as model year 2005. Worst case we will see its introduction in Geneva, March of 2004.
To me this car may be the best of all worlds. Security, comfort, elegance, economy, and just plain old enjoyment. With the power and handling of a sports car, and the room and comfort of a sedan, coupled with drop dead gorgeous looks, Audi has really hit a home run with the latest addition to the family. I can only imagine what the S4 version will be like several years from now.