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A4 impressions

When you're bored on a Saturday morning, what better to do than walk to
your local dealer and con him into letting you drive a nice car? I didn't
even suggest it, in fact the guy positively forced me to take a test drive.
Not that I needed much forcing, mind.
The car in question was the '98 version of the A4 Avant, in its
lowest-powered guise, the 1.6 100hp FWD.
The demo car was equipped with a very nice fully automatic climate control,
which kept the temperature down nicely on this warm day. Other impressions:
the interior was very nicely made, although I didn't really like the car's
combo of very light grey upholstery with black carpet. The quality of the
materials used looked a little cheaper than it actually is, but not really
befitting a car of this price. The adjustable steering wheel (reach/rake)
is a nice feature, although I only needed it all the way up and away. I'd
like a better system for height adjustment on the driver's seat though, as
the current system only changes the rake of the seat base. The load area is
very neatly exectued, with a well-made load cover. As said before, you
don't buy this Avant for its load-carrying capacities, but I think it's one
of the few attractive-looking wagons around these days. The power steering
takes a bit of getting used to, being slightly over-light and numb-feeling
initially. Mind you, by the end of the test drive I'd gotten used to it.
The car had optional alloys and 195-section Conti EcoContact tyres, which
must be the most dreadful tyres Conti makes. They squealed instantly, and
provided no grip whatsoever. The 1.6 engine has enough power low-down to
get it off the line quite nicely, but at highway speeds it's not the one to
have for relaxed cruising. 4000 rpm at 130 km/h is slightly tiring in the
long run, and the engine (otherwise quiet) is very distinctly there at
those speeds. The standard seats felt very good indeed, in fact almost as
good as my 80's sports seats. I'd go for the sports suspension if I'd bew
buying one, though- it's only a Dfl 1100 ($ 550) option, and it should make
the car a lot less prone to lifting an inside rear wheel, like the test car
did a few times. The suspension did manage to give a 'flying carpet' ride,
My major criticism concerns the brakes though, to which I couldn't really
get used. They felt firm but grabby and difficult to control- it was very
much an all-or-nothing affair. When I relayed these criticisms to the sales
guy, he offered to let me drive an A4 2.8 30v quattro, which he would
borrow from the importer, but I felt that would be too much taking
advantage of them, as I wouldn't be buying one anyway. Quattro is a $3500
option here in Holland, and with no snow to speak of and mostly perfect
roads, that would have very limited use.

Sum-up? Very much an Audi, nicely equipped, but in standard-suspension form
IMO not a lot better than the new Passat. Yes, I would like one, but make
mine a sports-suspended 1.8(T?) or 110 hp TDI- both engines are much more
suited to long-distance driving. It was much better than I expected the
base engine to be, though.


 Tom Nas                                          Zeist, The Netherlands
1988 Audi 80 1.8S, Tizianrot metallic, 213,000km

    Time is the best teacher.  Unfortunately, it kills all its pupils.
                                        -- Hector-Louis Berlioz