- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2006

In its A4, Audi has developed arguably the most fun-to-drive sedan in the entry-level luxury segment.

Factor in price and interior appointments, and driving away from the showroom begins to feel something akin to a getaway.

Audi redesigned the A4 midyear 2005. Falling short of a complete makeover, the enhancements did include more than 50 percent of the car.

Consequently there are only a few minor changes for 2006.

Also available as the Cabrio convertible and Avant wagon, the A4 achieves most of its sales from the sedan.

A roomy, well engineered, wonderfully executed car, the A4 sedan is offered in front-wheel

The two sedan trim levels are based on what’s under the hood. Both sedan engines were upgraded for the redesign.

The 2.0T is powered by a 200-horsepower turbo four, while the 3.2 gets a 255-horsepower 3.2-liter V6.

The base price spread begins at $28,360 for the 2WD 2.0T with manual transmission, escalating to $36,760 for the 3.2 Quattro with automatic transmission.

Even in its most affordable form, the A4 is well equipped with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with

Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, heated windshield washer nozzles, power-adjustable outboard mirrors, dual-zone climate control system, 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat, five-function trip computer adds standard features such as leather seating, upgraded Bose audio system, genuine wood interior accents and 17-inch wheels.

Two different automatic transmissions are offered based on the number of drive wheels. Front-wheel-drive A4 sedans use a continuously variable automatic (CVT) that constantly slides through a nearly infinite number of gears, selecting the appropriate one for optimum performance. The Quattro A4s use a driver-shiftable six-speed automatic to distribute power to all the wheels.

The manual for both engines is a slippery, perfectly balanced six-speed.

Audi provided a 2.0T Quattro with manual transmission for this evaluation. Supplanting the 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbo four that had been the sedan’s base engine (it’s still found in the Cabrio), the new turbo accelerates with unbridled ferocity. Sure there is a hint of turbo whine, but the low growl of the dual exhaust masks most of it during sharp increases in forward velocity.

Anyone buying the 2.0T as his entry into the realm of luxury sedans might be satisfied with the driver-shiftable automatic.

However those who view the A4 as a sporty car will derive far more joy from the six-speed manual.

For a sedan that can hit 60 mph from a standstill in just over seven seconds, the 2.0T Quattro is moderate in its fuel consumption.

The Environmental Protection agency rates it at 22 mpg in town and 31 on the highway.

When Audi upgraded the A4 mid-year, the all-wheel independent suspension architecture received a serious going over. It now has elements from the sporty S4.

This translates into sharper handling.While the ride certainly falls on the firmer side of things, it is still pliant enough to qualify as comfortable. It rides on 16-inch alloy wheels.

While freshened sheetmetal was stretched over some updated mechanicals when the revised A4 came to market mid-2005, the interior received little in the way of change - not that it required revising.

Top-notch materials and careful craftsmanship are hallmarks of Audi cabins and the A4 upholds that tradition. Generally the controls of German sedans can be somewhat intimidating. Learning the operation of the myriad of systems without a trip or two to the owner’s manual is nearly unheard of. Transparency is not a trait of Teutonic automotive technology. As German luxury sedan interiors go, though, the A4’s isn’t as scary as most.

All of the controls and gauges are logically arranged and well within the driver’s purview.

Reflecting the A4’s sporty nature, the se

Driver and front-seat passenger have all the room they’ll need. Legroom is a tad tight in the backseat, but about normal for the class. It has a bit more rear-seat legroom than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and a hair less than the BMW 3-series.

At 13.4 cubic feet, the A4 has more trunk space (nearly 3 cubic feet more than the 3-series) than either of its German rivals. The trunk lid opens wide for easy access.

When you think of German luxury, so many traits come to mind: engineering, performance, handling and an attention to detail.

The A4 lives up to expectations.

There is nothing entry level about this entry-level sedan.

Its entry-level designation is based on size not spirit. Its relationship to the top-of-the-line A8 is not only apparent in its outward appearance, but in its heart and soul as well. At $30,460, the A4 2.0T Quattro is a steal.

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