Short Take - 2006 A4 2.0T FrontTrak with Multitronic CVT
By By: Bryan Joslin
Nov 25, 2005, 11:17
Audi is best known today for building all-wheel-drive sedans, but the carmaker got its start with front-wheel-drive cars. Though roughly 4 of every 5 buyers choose their Audis with the quattro option, not everyone is sold on the added weight, complexity and expense of all-wheel-drive. And while the Germans have done a commendable job convincing us that all-wheel-drive is superior, the vast majority of cars that make up the huge mid-size sedan market are fully capable front-drivers.
For these folks, Audi offers the A4 FrontTrak, the latest non-quattro version of their best-selling sedan. The entire A4 range received an extensive update for the 2005 model year, including fresh sheetmetal and an entirely new drivetrain lineup, and the FrontTrak version is available with either the standard 2.0T four-cylinder or the optional 3.2 V6 engine.
The 2006 A4 2.0T that recently showed up at our front door was not only a front-driver, it was also equipped with Audi’s multitronic automatic transmission. Optional with the base engine and standard on the V6, multitronic is a sophisticated CVT, or constantly-variable transmission, and is the only automatic offered on non-quattro A4s.
In most ways, the FrontTrak car is no different than its Quattro siblings. The real difference is in the way multitronic operates. Rather than having a conventional gear set, the CVT uses a pair of stepless cones connected by a heavy-duty chain to continuously change the input-to-output ratio.
There are several theoretical advantages to a CVT. Since there are no gears to change, power delivery is uninterrupted, resulting in a smoother riding experience for both driver and passengers. The transmission also keeps the engine in its peak torque range for optimum acceleration and maximum fuel economy.
The downside of this technology is that feels, well….wierd. Step on the gas and the engine races up to a certain speed, then stops accelerating- the tachometer appears to be frozen. All the while, the transmission is changing the “gear” ratio minutely and continuously, the car accelerating briskly while the engine just holds steady. This sensation just doesn’t feel natural, and it takes a little while to get used to.
For those who can’t quite adapt to this new experience, multitronic features a Dynamic Regulation Program with a sport mode that simulates the shifting action of a 7-speed automatic. There is also a manual mode, once again with seven pre-determined “shift” points to give you the sense you’re driving a conventional car. But while these return a sense on conventionality to the A4, they actually rob the transmission of its primary advantages- namely smoothness and efficiency.
The torquey new 2.0T engine is an ideal match for the CVT. Thanks to FSI (fuel stratified injection) technology, the new engine is more than a mere displacement increase over the previous 1.8T. Cylinder temperatures run lower as a result of fuel being injected directly into the combustion chambers, allowing for a higher compression ratio. The 2.0T FSI runs at an incredible 10.5:1 compared to the 1.8T at 9.0:1. Horsepower jumps from 170 to 200, but more significant is the increase in torque from 170 to 210 lb-ft.
Numbers on paper don’t tell the whole story though. The 2.0T endows the new A4 with a feeling of sharpness not found in the previous generation. It doesn’t matter how many wheels it’s powering, or through which gearbox, the 2.0T reminds us that there is more than one sports sedan maker in Bavaria.
The driving dynamics of the multitronic A4 are similar to other A4s. Spirited launches, however, will remind you that only the front wheels are pulling as the traction control kicks in and the steering wheel tugs slightly to one side. If driven more rationally, toque steer is negligible and the car behaves like you would expect a German sedan to do.
Starting at $28,840, the 2006 A4 2.0T FrontTrak is among the most affordable Audis. Fully loaded, or test car came in at $35,810, which still keeps it competitive among its European peers. But this A4 is more than just a decent entry-level German sedan; it’s a rolling display of some the most advanced automotive technology available today.
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