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The luxury challenge

Itís official! Audi has been in India for a while now offering as it does the A8 and the A6, but now that the A4 has just been launched at the 8th Auto Expo 2006 in Delhi, the Ingolstadt-based company has thrown down the gauntlet to arch rivals, Mercedes-Benz. Itís almost like a revival of the Auto Union versus Mercedes racing days ' Auto Union having merged with three other companies and Wanderer later, to form Audi. Hence the four rings. So, just like the A8 goes up against the S-Class and the A6 against the E-Class, the A4 is a worthy opponent to the C-Class.

Just what is so special about the A4' Well, to start with, look at the front end. The grille harks bark to the Nuvolari Ďquattroí coupe concept, which also announced the arrival of a new generation of Audis. What or who is Nuvolari, you ask' Known as the Flying Mantuan, this Italian made his mark in the world of motor racing many years ago. He started out as a motorcycle racer, but later turned to cars. Amongst his famous victories on four wheels was the Targa Fiorio, a famous race in Italy. However the 1935 German GP is supposed to be his best victory where he beat both Mercedes and Auto Union in an Alfa Romeo -' in front of Adolf Hitler too! Needless to say, the Germans were shaken, as theyíd been expecting a home victory. Hitler in fact, refused to shake Nuvolariís hand.

Coming back to the A4, the car is available outside India with a variety of engines including a V8 but for India, Audi has introduced the car with two engines ' a 2-litre turbodiesel and a turbo-charged 1.8-litre petrol unit. The diesel is a PD unit, like the one in the recently-introduced Skoda Laura. This engine develops a maximum of 140bhp while maximum torque is 320Nm. Vibration and harshness is controlled by using balancer shafts in the engine. Just for reference sake, the Merc C220 CDIís 2.2 litre engine develops 141 bhp and 340Nm of torque.

The second engine on offer, the 1.8T is a tried and tested unit and develops 163bhp. Moreover, itís a torquey engine, developing 225Nm at a low 1950rpm. This, Audi claims, is good enough for a 0-100kph acceleration figure of 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 228kph. It will be interesting to put it up against the C-Class Kompressor model and see how it compares on the road because the Kompressorís 18-litre engine develops 158bhp and a peak torque of 221 Nm between an rpm range of 3500 - 4500 rpm.

The A4ís suspension has been tuned by Audiís chassis engineers and the spring and shock absorber settings are different. In fact, several mountings and the dimensions of the front and rear shock absorbers have been taken from the new A6.

Cars in this segment are also about unadulterated luxury. And to this end, the A4 comes with a number of features, some of which are options while the others are standard. The interiors have a choice in inlays ' walnut, grey and beige birch wood while the doorsills have aluminium inserts.

Other features of the A4 include Xenon Plus headlights with adaptive lighting, continuously variable automatic transmission and Audiís famous quattro all-wheel drive system. Then thereís the automatic air-conditioning with individual controls for the driver and the front-seat passenger.

Inside the car, two-stage airbags and active head restraints keep occupants safe. Moreover, the seats are equipped with three-point inertia reel seat belts with belt-force limiters and tensioners. The active head restraints reduce the risk of whiplash injuries in a rear-end collision. So the safety aspect is more than taken care of. Large families will be happy with the boot capacity of 460 litres, quite enough for a set of golf clubs or even bags of groceries.

As far as infotainment goes, those familiar with the A6 and the A8 will feel at quite at home in the A4. Thatís because this mean machine comes packing a DVD, radio as well as the MMI system. The more refined music lovers though, may like to order a Bose music system, for both better sound quality and snob value.

Now for the good part! The A4 1.8T will be available for Rs 24,74,000 while the diesel version will cost Rs 26,59,000. These are the ex-showroom prices for Delhi. Thatís against Rs 23 lakh (approx) for the Mercedes C-Class Kompressor and Rs 25 lakh (approx) for the diesel version. Of course, if a buyer wants extras like metallic paintwork or leather seats in the A4, he or she will have to fork out Rs 62,000 and Rs 96,000 respectively. Audi has launched a four-pronged attack on other car manufacturers in the D segment and from the looks of it, the stage is set for a battle royale!

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