2002 Audi A4 3.0 CVT

2002 Audi A4 3.0 CVT 2002 Audi A4 3.0 CVT
Long-Term Road Test

Audi redesigned its bestselling A4 sports sedan in 2002 and as an option added an automatic transmission that wowed even the staunchest dyed-in-the-wool stick-shifting staffers here at Hogback Road. It's the Multitronic continuously variable transmission, a long way of saying that the driver will not sense any clear shifting of gears, up or down, as you would with a traditional automatic transmission, just one long OoooooooWAAAAAoooooo as the car cruises along. The CVT-equipped, front-wheel-drive 3.0-liter V-6 A4 impressed us so much that it helped the A4 line garner a 10Best trophy.

Audi isn't the first automaker to offer a vehicle in the U.S. equipped with the gearless CVT. Subaru sold a CVT back in 1989, but it was coupled to a 66-hp three-banger in a Justy and wasn't much fun to drive and droned a lot at full throttle. Our initial impression was that the Multitronic CVT seemed to combine the comfort and convenience of an automatic transmission with the performance and fuel economy of a manual. A long-term test seemed the best way to find out how we liked the changes Audi had made to one of our favorite sports sedans and to decide whether our affection for this CVT would endure.

We ordered a lightly optioned model with a Dolphin Gray Pearl Effect exterior ($450); a light-gray—Audi calls it Platinum—interior; a Preferred Luxury package with a power glass sunroof and leather upholstery ($1800); and xenon headlights ($500). With destination ($645), the total came to a reasonable $34,785.

Our test car arrived in our snowy parking lot in early March 2002, and we quickly realized we had forgotten to order an important option that makes life just a little more bearable here in the frozen north: heated seats (front and rear, for $525). Nonetheless, the A4 was an instant hit as a long-distance highway hauler, it was quiet and smooth-riding, the seats were comfortable and supportive, and the CVT seemed to pick just the right gear ratio for effortless cruising and passing.

The CVT didn't work as well around town on damp roads, though. Even trying one's best to accelerate modestly from a standstill easily produced unwanted wheelspin. As one staffer noted, "From a stop on wet pavement, I skip and hop, and women with strollers shoot me angry glances." This amounted to unseemly and annoying behavior for this class of car. This surging from a standstill was even more pronounced after a cold start and during freezing weather, although the lurching diminished to some degree when the car warmed up after, oh, 10 or 15 miles. Warmer climates seemed to alleviate the problem somewhat, as two staffers noted when they drove the A4 from Ann Arbor to New Orleans and back last winter.

Other complaints started showing up in the logbook. The windshield wipers and their linkages could become noisy in light rain, even screechy. The headlights seemed too dim even with the high beams on. Although the interior has a classy look and the materials feel rich to the touch, the climate-control and stereo buttons were hard to see and use. Some of us, used to programming radio stations and adjusting temperature settings while rolling, found ourselves heading off-road or weaving because we had to squint down at the hard-to-read indicators. The cruise-control stalk was also completely hidden from view by the left arm of the steering wheel, thus making it hard to find and use.