2006 Audi A4
Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

Tucson, Arizona – The first Audi A4 was introduced nearly a decade ago, and it arguably transformed the fortunes of Audi in North America. Its appealing exterior design, superb interior finish, available quattro all-wheel drive and choice of smooth engines struck a chord with people looking for an alternative to the then-better-known German competition, and the A4 was a step up from most Asian and domestic manufacturers.

But Audi’s competitors didn’t just sit back and watch as the company set new standards. Today, all luxury and near-luxury automakers offer interesting designs, improved interiors, all-wheel-drive and sophisticated engines. It’s a tough marketplace in which to stay a step ahead.

In an attempt to do this, Audi has unified the design of its models, brought new products such as the TT and All-Road to market, and will soon introduce an SUV, the Q7, and a compact, the A3. As far as the A4 is concerned, the 2006 model is the third generation, expected to be available this Spring.

2006 Audi A4
Click image to enlarge

The latest A4, available as a sedan or station wagon (Avant), is based on the existing platform, building on traditional Audi strengths while adding exterior flair. The intention, according to Audi executives, is to bring the brand image into sharper focus in Canada and the U.S., and evolve from occupying the role of understated alternative to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It’s a particularly important car for Audi in Canada, where the A4 accounts for 70 per cent of Audi’s sales.

As newly appointed Executive Vice President of Audi of America Johann de Nysschen said at the recent A4 press launch in Tucson, “We are well known in our home market, and we have to bring that recognition to
North America.”

The result is a 2006 A4 that’s not wild by any stretch, but which definitely has a lot more attitude.

2006 Audi A4
2.0-litre, turbocharged inline four. Click image to enlarge

Under the hood, a new 200 hp, 2.0-litre, turbocharged inline-four generates 207 lb-ft of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. This is an all-new engine, and not just a higher-capacity version of the previous 1.8T.

Alternatively, a 255 hp, 3.2-litre V6 engine makes 243 lb-ft torque, with more than 90 per cent of the engine’s peak torque available between 1,900 and 5,900 rpm. This engine made its production debut in the Audi A6 in November 2004.

A choice of three transmissions is offered, including a new six-speed automatic with Tiptronic, a six-speed manual available for both the
quattro 2.0T I4 and 3.2-litre V6, and a CVT (continuously variable transmission) available with the front-wheel-drive 2.0T.

A naturally-aspirated 4.2-litre V8 will power the high-performance S4 version. It arrives with the six-speed manual transmission.

What’s under the hood is very important, of course, but as with people, looks make a car’s first impression. Previous A4s emphasized restrained, understated design that was distinguished nonetheless by excellent proportions, clean lines and a substantial presence. But as de Nysschen said, “Maybe the car was too perfect. Like the face of supermodel Cindy Crawford, perhaps it needed a mole to really set it off.”

2006 Audi A4

2006 Audi A4
Click image to enlarge

Enter the startling new “single frame” grille, inspired by the Audi Nuvolari quattro concept car. It’s not the only new exterior feature for 2006, but it’s by far the most obvious. In fact, the Audi A4 grille has always had something of this shape, except that the bottom element was never highlighted. Now the front of the car is unmistakable.

Combined with the somewhat menacing look of the new headlamps, the A4 (along with the A6 and A8) acquires what de Nysschen calls “Autobahn presence” – meaning that when you see one of these cars rapidly approaching in your rear-view mirror, you’re likely to get out of the way in a hurry.

Potential owners had better be sure they like the grille, however, because its shape is echoed in the steering wheel hub and they’ll be looking at it every day.

The A4 also acquires prominent fender flares and a more horizontally oriented rear treatment, with new and wider but shorter lights, a flatter trunk lid, and larger dual-exhaust tips.

The car has grown slightly, by 38 mm for the sedan, and 41 mm for the Avant wagon. Interior volume remains almost same, with the rear-seat passengers acquiring a bit more room.

2006 Audi A4
2.0-litre, turbocharged inline four. Click image to enlarge

Speaking of the interior, as unlikely as it may seem, Audi has actually improved the cabin environment. Long a benchmark for automotive interiors, Audi has found even richer surface textures, more pleasing contours, finer tailoring and more precisely rendered fixtures to maintain the company’s grip on interior supremacy.

A centre console, specially designed for the North American market, features two well-located cupholders — so important for the long-distance drive or the daily commute. Above this, a multiplex of subtly illuminated buttons and switches controls most of the interior amenities. It’s a gadget lover’s dashboard.

2006 Audi A4
2.0-litre, turbocharged inline four. Click image to enlarge

And Canadian A4s built after June 2005 will be pre-wired for satellite radio, coming to our market this year.

The full complement of active and passive safety technologies are on board, including standard side-curtain airbags, a sophisticated electronic stability control system and stronger side-impact beams to more adequately protect occupants if the vehicle is hit by one of the increasingly prevalent large SUVs on North American highways.

On the road, the A4 is a sharp handler. The suspension is completely revised, using elements from the A6 and the S4. It results in a firm but not choppy ride, and quick steering with little body roll when cornering sharply. The new larger brakes deserve special mention, as they bring this car down from speed in very short order.

The 3.2-litre V6 engine feels smooth and powerful (and sounds good under hard acceleration) although it still seems to take its time from a standing start. Once on its way, though, 0-100 km/hr takes only 6.6 seconds.

2006 Audi A4
2.0-litre, turbocharged inline four. Click image to enlarge

Ditto for the automatic 2.0T in “Drive,” although with the manual transmission the acceleration is positively snappy, and the car feels lighter and nimbler than the V6.

The Audi A4 has been a superb value since its introduction. The build quality, fit and finish, interior appointments, quattro all-wheel-drive and overall competence of the car have made it one of the best in its class. The 2006 version further refines the car with excellent new engines, class-leading interiors and edgy styling that may be a bit of a gamble for the brand.

Look soon for the new S-Line, which adds a range of interior, exterior and suspension upgrades, along with the high performance 420 hp RS4, and the S6 and S8 coming to the Canadian market later this year.

Pricing for the 2006 Audi A4 will be as follows: A4 2.0 Frontrac – $35,950; A4 2.0T Quattro – $40,750; A4 3.2 Quattro – $48,780.

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