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2006 ICOTY Vehicle Nominees
by Martha Hindes

2006 AUDI A3
Entry Level - Most Spirited - Audi A3
It might seem a contradiction to think of an Audi as entry level. But premiere autos have their levels of luxury as well. And entry level is one of them. If it seems a stretch, then imagine vieing for an entry level spot on the U.S. Olympic team that would likely blow away even the best of the rest of us. That said, RTM judges couldn't help but love Audi's smallest U.S. four-door in awarding it ICOTY's Entry Level – Most Spirited honors. This is one feisty freedom machine, compact, spirited, smartly-styled and a heck of a fun ride.

Audi equates the A3 with the likes of its sporty TT coupe/roadster that can fly around haripin turns with abandon. It's easy to tell the A3 is a blood relative, even though its dimensions and rear hatch design make it ideal for a variety of functions besides road runner. Despite its entry level credentials, on a scale of affordability this one plays with the bigger boys moving into the mid-20 range as a four cylinder base.

The front-drive A3 is powered by a turbo-charged, 200-horsepower four-cylinder, direct injection FSI engine (with technology derived from the LeMans winning R8 for authoritative performance and fuel efficiency). A quattro (all-wheel-drive) 250-hp V-6 joins the lineup in early 2006. The A3's Euro-lux credentials, including its identifiable face with four intertwining rings (unlike the Olympics' five) make this a most worthwhile set of wheels for somone who wants the panache of Audi, the esteem of entry level lux and the sheer joy of freewheeling down the highway - going for the gold.

Honorable Mentions:

Honda Civic
Honda introduces it eighth generation Civic compact redesign with a smoother, more futuristic "one motion" styling (including a tad more roof slope) to make boxy looks a fading memory. Advanced safety features abound, as does a significant driver's kick in its new Civic Si mode. Its entry level engine upgrade comes from an advanced 1.8-liter, four-cylinder "VTEC" that raises both power and fuel economy, while an expanded sound system including IPOD adapter sweetens a sporty, sophisticated interior. We like.

Kia Rio
Not long ago, the "Kia Rio" name could elicit a "What's that?" response. No more. The upsart Korean compact has carved out a significant presence among entry level auto offerings, with expanded interior space including cargo, spiffy exterior looks and one of the best price points in 2006 showrooms. Inside changes reflect attention to more sophisticated detail, with upscale models getting some fine touches such as tilt steering wheel. For 2006, Kia adds a wagon version to its expanding lineup.

Most Sex Appeal/Sports Car
Pontiac Solstice

Most Spirited/Entry-Level
Audi A3

Most Compatible/Minivan
Honda Odyssey

Most Versatile/Crossover
Dodge Magnum SRT 8
Most Respected/Luxury Car
Mercedes-Benz CLS500

Most Resourceful/SUV
Ford Explorer / Range Rover Sport

2006 ICOTY Awards Links