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2006 Audi A4 Compact Near-Luxury Sports Sedan

New Car Review of the 2006 Audi A4 Compact Near-Luxury Sports Sedan

Base MSRP Range: $28,240 - $45,490

Base Invoice Range: $26,043 - $42,010

MSRP As Tested: $45,090

Versions: Cabriolet, Sedan, Wagon

Vehicle Category: Luxury Mid-Size Sedan and Coupe

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive, All-Wheel Drive.

Standard Engine: 2.0-liter, Turbocharged, Dual Overhead Cam, 16-valves, I-4, 200 -horsepower at 5100 rpm and 207 lb-ft torque at 1800 rpm.

Transmission: CVT automatic,Six-speed manual, Six-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 23/24, 22/30, 24/32

Standard Engine Cabriolet: 1.8-liter, Turbocharged, Dual Overhead Cam, 16-valves, I-4, 170 -horsepower at 5900 rpm and 166 lb-ft torque at 1950 rpm.

Transmission: CVT automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 23/30

Optional Engine: 3.0-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-6, 220 -horsepower at 6300 rpm and 221 lb-ft torque at 3200 rpm.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 18/25

Optional Engine: 3.2-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-6, 255 -horsepower at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft torque at 3250 rpm.

Transmission: CVT automatic ,Six-speed automatic, Six-speed manual.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 21/29, 17/27, 19/27

Standard Safety Features: Dual front airbags, Front and rear side airbags, Front side airbags, Curtain side airbags, ">Antilock 4-wheel disc brakes, Brake assist, Antiskid system, Front-seat active head restraints, Automatic roll bars (convertible)

Competition: Acura TSX, BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G35, Lexus ES 330, Saab 9-3

Driving down Interstate 30 the other day, I had the kind of insightful thought that occasionally comes after miles and miles of concrete lull me into a state of mind-numbing boredom.

"Most car designers have got to be potheads."

Sure, you can discount this as the creation of a brain turned to mush, as all brains seem to become on the Interstate. But when you think about it, it's hard to believe many of today's cars were influenced by anything other than a whiff of marijuana and a blaring Pink Floyd album. They make absolutely no sense.

Take a look at the new, boxy things like the Scion xB, and I dare you to find any design inspiration that runs deeper than a Cheech and Chong script. The concept simply can't come from a normal, healthy brain.

"Dude, wouldn't it be cool to make a car that looks like a Kleenex box?" one designer must have asked.

"Yeah man, that'd be ... like ... so awesome," the other answered, right before taking another hit in his mom's basement.

You see more examples all over the automotive world, from minivans with rear spoilers to pickup trucks with convertible tops and sports cars with front ends that look like a cockroach mated with the Brave Little Toaster.

Even on more normal cars, like an average family sedan, at some point in the creative process a designer must have said, "You know what would look great on this thing? Plastic strips tacked all over the sides. And maybe some wavy stuff around the taillights. Yeah, that'd be cool."

Thankfully, there are a few car companies whose designers apparently refrain from the wacky weed. One of them is Audi.

Cars like the Audi A4 look fairly boring at first glance, with the same profile and basic shape as virtually all four-door cars since the early '90s. There's nothing outlandish about the execution, nothing ostentatious about the design and certainly nothing to make you think an illegal substance was involved in its creation.

Yet when you start to walk away from this car, you're so entranced by its beauty that you turn your head to look at it a second time. And a third. And a fourth.

It's just that gorgeous.

Despite having a huge front grille that's shaped like Satan's goatee, this German car has a certain air of sophistication that few others can match, especially at its price. It starts under $28,000 but looks like a million.

And underneath the skin, you'll find a car that drives as nice as it looks, with a very solid, precise feel. The whole car feels like it was cut from a piece of solid marble that was shaped by Michelangelo, then polished and decorated by Bernini.

Handling is absolutely breathtaking, especially with Audi's all-wheel-drive Quattro system and upgraded sport suspension. Even on wet roads, the A4 Quattro feels like it has limitless traction and extremely predictable, neutral handling in corners. It has more performance potential than most drivers will ever need or even want.

The base A4 comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 200 horsepower which, despite such a big number, feels slightly sluggish in this obese car. It doesn't quite match the rest of the car's excellence.

Better performance comes from a 3.2-liter V6 engine that makes a velvety 255 horsepower and starts a hair under $34,000. It's an incredible engine that does its job quietly and efficiently until you stomp your foot on the gas, when it delivers a hearty howl and pushes your body into the back of the seat with a sudden rush of torque.

That's the kind of high I like to see in a car.

Pros: In 200 years, when car museums want good examples of early 21st century automotive design, they'll clamor for this car. It's beautiful without being ostentatious and showy, and it drives brilliantly.

Cons: Options can get very pricey, and it's a tad on the portly side. It would benefit tremendously by losing some weight, especially on four-cylinder models.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 10
  • Performance: 8
  • Price: 7
  • Handling: 10
  • Ride: 6
  • Comfort: 8
  • Quality: 9
  • Overall: 9

More Data

Where Built: Germany

Major Options: Premium Package, Sunroof Package, S-line Package, Custom Titanium Package, Technology Package 1 & 2, Audio Package, Cold Weather Package. Rear side airbags, Rear-obstacle-detection system, Tire-pressure monitor, Navigation system, Upgraded leather upholstery, Heated rear seats, Wood interior trim, Aluminum interior trim, Carbon-fiber interior trim, Wood/leather-wrapped steering wheel, Steering-wheel radio controls, Power rear and manual side sunshades, Headlight washers, Sport suspension, Unique alloy wheels.

Seating: 4-5

Number of Rows: 2

Length in Inches: 180.6

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 miles Bumper to bumper, 12 years/unlimited miles Corrosion protection, 4 years/50,000 miles Free scheduled maintenance, 4 years/50,000 miles Free roadside assistance.

Weight in Pounds: 3428 - 3682 lbs.

Cargo Capacity in Pounds: Not available.

Gross Maximum Vehicle Weight in Pounds: Not available.

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Not available.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 16.6 - 18.5

Destination Charge: $720