- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2003

Driving a convertible on a warm sunny day is about as good as it gets.
  
  It got a little bit better recently when I combined the warm, sunny weather with Audi’s new A4 Cabriolet.
  
  The new ragtop from Audi provides open-air motoring for four while providing dynamic performance and design highlights from its A4 siblings.
  
  Audi is currently offering its Cabriolet in just one version, a 3.0-liter, V-6-powered front-drive unit combined with the automaker’s sensational continuously variable transmission (CVT). Later in the model year, Audi is scheduled to release the Cabriolet equipped with the 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the same CVT.
  
  Styling is always important in a ragtop and the A4 Cabriolet more than holds its own against the competition. Its lines are clean and taut, and it features a sporty double grille, aggressive wheels and a high beltline. The wide arc of the roof accentuates the car’s subtle wedge shape and excellent proportions.
  
  It is an impressive car from every point of view. It offers an excellent drivetrain package with a traditional longitudinal mount. The 3.0-liter, V-6 aluminum provides 220 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 221 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. The V-6 includes five valves per cylinder to aid engine “breathing” through a wide rpm range.
  
  Variable-timing intake and exhaust camshafts boost horsepower and provide 90 percent of peak torque from 2200 to 5200 rpm.
  
  Thanks to the new CVT unit, the Cabriolet is a pleasure to drive in all conditions. CVTs are not new, they’ve been around for years on subcompact vehicles. The big knock against them was that they robbed the engine of power.
  
  Not so in Audi’s version. It provides the same acceleration as a manual transmission and provides better fuel economy.
  
  It is also much smoother than any standard automatic currently offered.
  
  The driver does have the opportunity to shift manually if he so desires. This proved handy on steep downhill highways as the system does have a slight tendency to “run away.”
  
  Its quickness is attested to by the fact it is capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
  
  Driving the A4 is a pleasure in almost all conditions. I drove it many highway miles and then provided it with a test run over some of my favorite back roads. It handles like a dream. It was unfazed by tight corners and its rack-and-pinion steering gives excellent road feedback. To provide its excellent road manners, Audi uses its aluminum-intensive, four-link front suspension and new trapezoid-link rear suspension.
  
  For those who demand a sportier drive, Audi offers a package that includes 30 percent stiffer shocks and springs, stronger front and rear stabilizer bars, 17-inch, five-spoke wheels and 235/45 high performance tires.
  
  It takes just the touch of a button to make it an open-air coupe. The electrohydraulic, fully automatic top folds up or down in just 24 seconds, and the well cover closes flush with the body. What could be simpler?
  
  The padded convertible top is triple-layered and features a glass rear window with electric defrost. I noticed that with the top up, the A4 became much quieter.
  
  Audi engineers implemented a sonic welding process to seal the top’s three layers for precise fit and finish and to prevent leaks. Audi claims the top prevents “tent ridges” often found on convertibles. The special horizontal cross bars also keep the top stiff when raised, preventing “bubbling” during travel.
  
  The interior is strictly Audi. It features black trim with authentic wood accents. The driver and front passenger seats offer excellent support.
  
  The A4 Cabriolet has among the most rear legroom in its segment. There is also a generous trunk with 11.1 cubic feet with the top up and 8.9 cubic feet with it down.
  
  While the rear seat does offer more leg room than most compact convertibles, I can’t recommend spending a long time there.
  
  Safety is also an important consideration for convertible owners. The A4 has six sensors to detect the severity of an impact and deploy appropriate safety features to protect occupants.
  
  Active safety features include an electronic stabilization program (ESP) and four-wheel anti-lock brake system. ABS encompasses rear electronic brake distribution (EBD) and hydraulic brake assists that apply maximum available power boost to reduce stopping distance.
  
  If you are in the market for a convertible, the A4, with a base price of $41,500, should be on your shopping list.


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