Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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Mid-cycle facelifts for cars are usually just cosmetic: a little nip here, a little tuck there, new lights and maybe a couple of different trim pieces to maintain interest in an aging vehicle for an extra couple of years before a full redesign. There’s a reason for that, as making more major changes to a car’s drive-train, suspension, or even its sheetmetal (not just the plastic) is expensive, and can suck up money better invested in the next-generation model.
So I must admit that it came as a bit of a surprise to me just how comprehensively the 2006 Audi A4 has been updated. It is, fundamentally, the A4 that we’ve known and (mostly) loved, and like most face-lifts, looks a little bit different thanks to its new, signature-Audi horseshoe grille, redesigned rear lamps, and some other cosmetic uplifts. Look closer and you’ll discover even bigger changes: there’s now a crease in the side running from the top of the headlights to the rear, indicating that much of the new A4’s sheetmetal has been changed, and the car’s stance is different, too, its hungrier look coming from the way it hunches forward now on its suspension.
With a new-generation A4 still at least a couple of years off, but with its major competitors – think BMW 3-series, Lexus IS300, and others – hitting the market this year with complete redesigns, Audi thought it important to come to market with something more than just another facelift.
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So in addition to the cosmetic changes, which run inside too, the car’s suspension has been retuned, and the engine range has been revised as well. A 200-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine replaces the 1.8-litre turbo in the entry-level model (in front-drive, it starts at $36,550), and there’s a new 255-hp 3.2-litre naturally aspirated V6 in the $49,480 uplevel model, which comes standard with quattro all-wheel-drive. Both engines now feature Audi’s FSI (Fuel Stratified Injection) technology, which is claimed to improve power while reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The 340-hp 4.2-litre V8 in the S4 is unchanged, while an even crazier 400-plus-hp version is on its way in the ultra-high-performance RS4.
My test car, fitted with the 3.2-litre engine, certainly felt a lot more energetic than a 3.0-litre A4 I’d driven a couple of years ago. Even when fitted with the six-speed tiptronic automatic, it stepped off smartly from stoplights and pulled hard right up to and past illegal speeds. In a week of mixed urban and highway driving, it proved surprisingly economical for such a powerful engine, returning a cool 10.4 L/100 km, even with the air conditioning cranked up all week.
On the flip side, the 3.2 is appreciably louder than the old V6, and nor is it as smooth – a characteristic of other direct-injection engines I’ve driven in the past. A six-speed automatic is standard for 2006; the one in my tester slurred seamlessly between all of its gears except in urban driving, where the upshift from first into second could sometimes be a bit jerky.
Gruff engine aside, the 2006 A4 is a clear leap forward from its predecessor as a driver’s car. Not only does it have unsurpassed traction in pretty much all conditions thanks to quattro, but revisions to its suspension have made it a nimbler, more balanced handling car as well. The steering, while still way too light for my tastes, is more accurate, and transmits more road feel; the car rolls less in corners; and there’s an overall feel of greater accuracy. Beyond that, the new A4 rides significantly better than the old one (though sharp ridges can still cause the suspension to shudder), and the brake pedal is now more linear and progressive in its response.
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Inside, Audi has taken what was already one of the best interiors in the class in terms of material selection and build quality and improved it. Though nothing major has been changed, detail touches, such as sturdy cupholders built into the console (rather than flimsy ones that spring from above the radio) and an extra power point in the console, make the front an even better place to be. The rear seats are sort of another story: unless you’re sitting behind someone really short, legroom is very tight, with most average-sized people jamming their knees into the seats ahead of them. Out back, the trunk is huge, accessible through a wide opening, and is nicely shaped, with no intrusion from the car’s multi-link rear suspension.
Such compromises are understandable given that most of the face-lifted A4’s competition hit the market after its original iteration did, and had the benefit of using it, among other cars, as a benchmark for their own designs. And it’s a credit to Audi that they’ve put as much effort as they have into this mid-cycle freshening, creating a car that’s visually distinctive, and significantly better to drive. However, the competition in the entry-level luxury car class gets tougher with every passing month, and while the A4 does possess a unique blend of design, perceived quality, and all-wheel-drive dynamics, there are parts of it that do just feel a bit dated compared to some of its larger, newer, competition.
While the A4 manages to hold its own for now, it’ll take the next-generation car to leap to the head of the class.
Technical Data: Specifications 2006 Audi A4 3.2
|Options||$6,520 (rear side airbags $500; Bose premium stereo $920; Cold weather pkg $700; lighting pkg $1,200; premium leather $1,500; Sport pkg 17 inch tires and wheels and sport suspension $800; tire pressure monitor $350; wood trim $550)|
|Price as tested||$56,795 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.2 litre V6, DOHC, variable intake valve timing|
|Horsepower||255 @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque||243 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission|
|Curb weight||1690 kg (3726 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2648 mm (104.3 in.)|
|Length||4586 mm (180.6 in.)|
|Width||1772 mm (76.3 in.)|
|Height||1427 mm (56.2 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||379 litres ( 13.4 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.6 L/100 km (22 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 8.2 L/100 km (34 mpg Imperial)|
|Warranty||4 years/80,000 km|