If there's doubt the Ward's staff adores Audi AG's light-pressure turbocharged 1.8L DOHC I-4 (and the A4 1.8T Avant that wraps it), any uncertainty is quickly dispelled by the A4's odometer: nearly 30,000 miles (48,000 km) in just nine months.

Voted one of Ward's 10 Best Engines of 2001, Audi's 1.8L 5-valve I-4 is proving the worth of its design, offering startling performance — particularly in light of its meager displacement — combined with exceptional fuel economy. Moreover, nine months of practically nonstop driving hasn't elicited as much as a single hiccup from this sturdy powerplant.

Non-editorial Ward's staffers returning from extended trips with the A4 inevitably insist that this engine delivers power more fitting to something twice its size, yet similarly praise its fuel-stingy ways, particularly in long-stretches of steady-state driving when the turbo lies dormant.

One staffer notes the 1.8L engine's calling card: thrust on demand in almost any driving situation, aided and abetted by the precise 5-speed manual transmission. The gearbox itself still demands deliberate shifts, hampered with the signature Audi rubberiness that isn't exactly annoying but surely doesn't measure up to the right-now snap of say, some of Honda's best manuals.

One cuts Audi some slack regarding that driveline slack because the quattro all-wheel drive soaks up just the right amount of torque to totally erase any potential front-wheel fight when the perfectly dialed-in light-pressure turbo delivers its utmost. One tester who drove the A4 at altitude returned delighted with the 1.8L engine's hill-gulping attributes, saying “that car loses V-8s in the mountains.”

Finally, dealer service folks have been princes of customer satisfaction. We've yet to require anything but routine scheduled maintenance (4 years/50,000 miles coverage at no cost to the owner by Audi's delightful “Advantage” program), and service departments have been paragons of promptness, usually completing service on the same day.

Most appreciated is the simple fact that Audi's dealers respond as if we're valued customers (not the freeloading journalists we actually are) — a nicety of social interaction we can't always assume from other premium-brand dealers.

2001 Audi A4 1.8T Avant quattro

Engine: 1.8L (1,781 cc) turbo-charged DOHC I-4; iron block/aluminum head
Horsepower (SAE net): 170 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 166 lb.-ft. (225 Nm)
@ 1,950 rpm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Specific output: 94 hp/L
Date delivered: 4-11-01
Total miles/miles covered in this report: 29,260/8,733
Overall MPG: 28.4
Total maintenance cost: $0
Non-scheduled maintenance total: $0