2006 Audi A4 1.8T Multitronic
– Attractive exterior
– Tasteful interior styling
– Quiet highway ride
– Pricey for what it is
– At-the-limit handling
– Not really that fast
The competition between the German marquees is heating up, and this is most apparent in their bread-and-butter compact sedan ranges. Mercedes-Benz is keeping their C-Class fresh with new equipment, BMW has introduced a strong new 3-Series range, and Audi has just given their A4 a makeover with a new corporate nose. It would seem Audi is doing its best to upstage the other two, given that their previous model, introduced in 2002, was only 3 years old–an infant given the long lifespans of most German upscale models. While the flavour of the month may still be the overrated BMW 3-Series, we decided to give the A4 a proper spin when Audi handed us an A4 1.8T sedan.
Audi automobiles always manage to make a good first impression. The styling is clean and elegant, and the exterior build quality is impeccable. Inside, the dashboard and centre console design is very simple, but still gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. Most of the surface materials are soft to the touch, and all the gauges and digital displays are readable, even though they are blood-red in colour. Most basic luxury amenities are standard, including a decent stereo with glovebox-mounted CD changer, power windows, electric mirrors and good automatic air-conditioning. Our test car was missing some key luxury features though, like sunroof, leather and electric seats. There was the usual bunch of cup holders, including one that stylishly pops out of the dashboard. Everything worked as they were supposed to.
All interior dimensions are generous except for rear seat legroom, which may be tight for very tall people. The manually-operated beige cloth seats were stitched perfectly and felt durable enough. There is good bolstering for the front seat bottoms to hold you in, but the upper seat backs are left flatter, possibly to hold big-boned people. Luggage trunk space is very good for a car this size. The interior is extremely quiet, except for the roar of the engine at high revs.
The Audi A4 1.8T is not exactly the fastest in the extensive crop of luxury sport sedans. In 1.8T trim, we are not even sure that it qualifies as a full-blown luxury sport sedan. It comes with a front-wheel-drive chassis and a small engine that pumps out less than 200 hp. Of course, its twin brother, the S4, can be had with a massive 344 hp V8 and Quattro all-wheel-drive, so maybe the simple 1.8T is not aiming to please speed enthusiasts. Our car came with a fancy Multitronic CVT transmission that seemed to simulate gear changes even though this system has no gears, so that buyers can feel the traditional “push” of a gear change and make the car feel faster. The “shifting” is, naturally, smooth and the characteristic low-rpm power lag of a turbo engine is not apparent in this application. In reality, the CVT could not hide the fact that the turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder pumps out only 163 hp and 225 Nm of torque to move more than 1400 kilos. Power delivery feels progressive, but flooring the throttle pedal did not produce amazing acceleration, as we could barely keep up with low-budget cars like the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sunny. This is a fairly easy-going car in a straight line, even with the gearbox in sport mode or with manual tiptronic shifting.
Fuel economy is excellent. We drove for about 100 kilometres in mostly city traffic and with numerous petrol-burning full-throttle runs, but the fuel gauge needle hardly budged. The CVT transmission also robs less power and fuel than a comparable automatic gearbox.
Around corners, the A4 1.8T is fairly capable but its limitations become apparent when the front-wheel-drive chassis is pushed to the limit. The suspension aims for a balance between comfort and sporty, and does a rather fine job at it. So the handling is good but not overly so, and the ride is firm yet comfortable enough. There is some controlled body roll, and the car tends to safely understeer at the limit. At this point, we were already wishing for the grippy Quattro all-wheel-drive version of the A4, but most buyers will probably not go this far in daily driving. The low-profile tyres dressing the large alloy rims definitely help though, but the rubber is not thin enough to transmit all road imperfections into the cabin, as is usually the case with such tyres.
The steering is slightly weighted, but the feel is artificial and does not provide much feedback during spirited runs on twisty roads. However, this is irrelevant as we have already established by now that the A4 1.8T is lacking as a sports sedan. Turning the wheel at junctions and parallel parking are easily handled.
Braking is very good, as expected from a premium German car. With decently-sized disc brakes on all four corners, stopping power proved to be impressive. There is adequate feedback from the brake pedal, which is important to be able to linearly control the pedal. In comparison, controlling the electronic brake-by-wire affair of the new Mercedes-Benz models is a game of chance. Extreme situations are handled by the usual ABS, with electronic brake force distribution that lets a computer apply individual amounts of braking pressure to each wheel.
On the safety front, the A4 has the usual front airbags as well as side airbags, along with reinforced points all over the body. Another special feature is the active head restraints fitted to the front seats to reduce the chance of whiplash in a rear collision, automatically deploying forwards to cushion backward momentum of the head. Additionally, in any serious collision, the central locking system unlocks all the doors, the interior lights and hazard warning lamps come on, and the engine and fuel pump are automatically shut down. This car really takes care of you if you mess it up.
This flavour of the A4 family is a safe and comfortable daily cruiser with a dash of sportiness to add some excitement during the commute. While betrayed by a front-driven layout and fanciful pricing, the strikingly styled A4 1.8T is a fresh alternative to the blobby BMW 320i and the overpriced Mercedes C200 Kompressor. It is just the vehicle for anyone simply looking for entry-level prestige without caring for the extra handling edge that only a rear-driven car can offer.
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