The A4 comes packed with standard equipment, including a 172-hp V-6, an anti-theft system and power windows with one-touch down feature and one-touch up ability for front passengers. Other automakers have shied away from the one-touch-up technology due to concerns about liability if little fingers or dog heads got in the way of the window. But both windows and the sunroof incorporate a safety override called pinch protection: if the window encounters an object on the way up, it automatically reverses direction.

The car is a definite improvement over the eight-year-old Audi 90 model it replaces. Back-seat passengers have more leg and shoulder room, although front-seat leg room was cut slightly. The A4 is nearly two inches wider than its predecessor and its hoodline is an inch lower, while the wheelbase is up only a fraction. The space savings came from using four-link suspension, which allows more design freedom, and a decision to shorten the engine bay by using a compact range of powerplants. The much-lauded five-valve, 4-cyl. engines will be available in addition to the V-6 in the '97 model.

A few minor gripes: Audi still isn't taking the cup holder issue as seriously as it should. Two fold-out can holders hold only that -- cans. And the two-speed windshield wipers with intermittent mode don't offer a wide enough range of settings. That problem will be fixed with a new variable-speed system for '97.

Features: All-season tires, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power windows with one-touch down feature and one-touch up ability for front passengers, eight-way adjustable power front driver's seat, cruise control, anti-theft alarm system.

Competition: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C-Class, Volvo 850/940, Saab 900, Acura TL, Infiniti 130, Lexus ES300, Mazda 626, Mitsubishi Diamante, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Camry.

BMW releases its first official photos of the Z3 roadster that will begin production at the German automaker's Spartanburg, SC, plant early next year. The two-seater makes its offical debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

Boxster to reach U.S. in '96

Porsche expects its Boxster entry-level roadster to lead it to 10,000 U.S. sales by 2000. The Boxster goes on sale late next year as a 1997 model. It should be available with 4- and 6-cyl. horizontally opposed rear-mounted engines. The Boxster and 911 will be the only cars Porsche builds by the end of the century.

A Caddie from Opel

Latest spy shot of the 1997 Adam Opel-built Cadillac Catera shows some variations from its first life as a 1994 show car. Tallights have been restyled and other Cadillac nuances have been added fore and aft. Catera will bow at the Detroit auto show in January and come with a 3L DOHC V-6. It will hit U.S. dealer floors in September 1996 with stickers in the $40,000 range.

Arrivederci, Tipo! Fiat welcomes stylish Bravo/Brava.

Fiat SpA hopes to sell 400,000 units annually of the Brava (left) and Bravo hatchbacks. The cars replace the popular Tipo and Tempra. Insiders say the dramatic new styling augurs a move from selling Fiats for practicality to creating a stylish image for the marque, as Chrysler has recently done. Fiat says the cars took just 32 months and cost $426 million to develop. Engine choices will include 1.4L to 2L 4-cyls. from Fiat's new moldular family, and two carryover turbodiesels.