Friday, 15 December 2006

Audi A4 TFSI - To Quattro or Not to Quattro?

Normally two-wheel drive cars, either FWD or RWD, have accelerative forces handled by just two wheels. Apart from this forward driving force, these pair of wheels also has to tackle cornering and braking forces. As such, it’s easy to see that all these forces can easily overwhelm its grip limit, especially at high speed around corners while accelerating away. All-wheel-drive system like Audi’s Quattro system distributes the engine’s torque to all FOUR wheels, thereby apportioning the accelerative forces by 50% lesser on each tyre. As a result, each wheel gets a higher reserve for handling ‘extra’ cornering forces before losing grip and start screeching.

Well, the above law of physics applies to the Audi 2.0TFSI Quattro as well.
This is my take on the car after having spent a weekend with it…

The first thing that strikes you when driving off in this Quattro is that this A4 is noticeably less hurried on the go. My feeling is that it may be a second or so slower to the century dash. Overtaking times felt laggardly slower too. But all is not lost since the drive seemed more ‘civilized’ with none of the CVT start-lag of its multitronic sibling. Apart from this, the ride and damping of this Audi came across as definitely more pliant and comfortable – somewhat baffling since we would have expected this higher performance Quattro version to have harder suspension settings. There was hardly any lateral sway on cornering – a trait so evident in most two wheels driven cars. No hint of understeer even upon hard driving on winding coastal roads. Alright, alright…maybe just some front tyres’ squeal! With the Quattro driveline putting some more weight and drive towards the rear, this sedan somehow feedback as being more balanced. Grip levels were phenomenal with its permanent 4WD mode. Road hugging abilities on hilly B-roads is so excellent that I found it ‘strange’ taking some cornering lines that I normally take in my usual rides, at higher speed without breaking a sweat . Handling would be naturally superlative too if not for the strangely light and vague steering feel – quite unnerving initially. However, as I got used to this undesirable rack ‘settings’, I began to accommodate reasonably well. Yet, I wished that the Audi engineers dialed in more feel and weight to the scheme of things here.

Manual gear changes weren’t as swiftly engaging as the multitronic’s 7-speeder. This is after all a 6-speed torque converter with ‘tiptronic’ functions but I supposed I could live with marginally slower up-shifts of cogs, if I were to own this junior exec.
Braking performance is similar to the regular FWD sibling. Rotors bite seem just as reassuring but there were less of the disc-grabbing tendencies felt earlier in the other B7 TFSI multitronic. The brake pedal is placed a tad too high though, for smooth migration of your foot from the gas pedal. Some awkward ‘higher-lift-and-cross’ pedals’ action warranted here.

On the highways, I have got to admit that speed would build up quicker in the ‘plain’ TFSI variant, with lower engine revs at any given expressway speed. Yup! I reckon that the multitronic CVT would be more efficient here. The Quattro is no slow coach but like I said before, just more mild mannered – due to the extra weight and the same 2.0 TFSI output of 200bhp and 280Nm driving the rear axle as well. In fact, the engine sounded quite hoarse (due to the ‘busier’ driveline?) when stretched but then again maybe it’s just psychological. Breaching the speed limit also exposes some wind noise in this test car. Close examination of the door-window frames revealed a gaping rubber lining at the right B-pillar – corresponding to the rear window frame.

Having put in a few hundred kilometres over a couple of days, I had found the Quattro to be relatively frugal on fuel. In all fairness, I hardly drove the car in ‘S’ mode this time around. Some of the noticeable bugbears of this A4 – upon closer scrutiny – are the somewhat soft and springy switches for power windows and also of the front reading lights. They felt flimsy and loose to operate, a letdown to the overall superb built quality of this Audi. I also wish for rear side storage pockets on the door trim, which are mysteriously absent for an automobile of this price.

Other than that, I guess it’s worth paying the RM15k premium over the ‘standard’ TFSI multitronic. Not so much for the ‘quattro’ badges’ bragging right but for the extra refinements in ride, comfort, composure and power delivery. Heck! I was pleasantly surprised when my family attested to some of those attributes too over the test drive period. If only Audi AG reworked this award-winning 2.0 TFSI engine to churn out 261bhp and 350Nm, just like for its upcoming Audi S3, because this A4 Quattro’s drivetrain and chassis could definitely handle more!

Written by: Dr. SP Long
28th September 2006.

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