by Kevin Ransom
A luxury sedan with sport coupe flair.
Base Price $34,250
As Tested $41,275
Does a sedan have to look like a sedan? That was the question that guided Audi engineers when they took on the task of redesigning the A6 sedan. If the final product is an indicator, the answer is a bold no. Because the fruit of their efforts is a luxury sedan that boasts the stylish flair and sweeping lines of a luxury coupe.
The A6 competes with such luxury sedans as the Cadillac Catera, Mercedes Benz C280, Lexus GS 300 and Infiniti I30-all of which start in the $32,000 to $36,000 range.
Audi's A6 also aims to tempt buyers who would like to luxuriate in the plush comforts of high-end luxury cars like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but can't quite justify their price tags.
Chock full of luxury amenities, the A6 sparkles from bumper-to-bumper. It exudes the confident air of a jewel whose every detail was given a thorough going-over. And it provides a reassuring sense of its status as a truly class act.
Flowing and aerodynamic lines make the Audi A6 look like a sport coupe. Its rear wind window sweeps back dramatically until the line flattens out briefly to form a slight notch in the A6's futuristic-looking rear end. Yet, due to some clever engineering, the trunk is one of the most spacious we've seen. Fit and finish on the A6 is snug and precise with body gaps of less than 3 millimeters.
The A6, carries a base price of $34,250 (including a $500 destination charge). The base price for the Lexus GS300, meanwhile, is $31,400; the Infiniti I30 is $32,695; the Cadillac Catera is $34,820; and the Mercedes Benz C280 is $36,195.
In the A6, $34,250 buys a long list of luxury features, including electronic traction control, power everything, side-impact protection with crumple zones, fog lights and telescopic steering column.
Our test model was equipped with a $1,300 audio package with 6-disc CD changer and subwoofer; an $800 cold-weather package (heated front/rear seats and heated steering wheel); a $1,500 convenience package (power glass sunroof, auto-dimming inside/outside mirrors, driver's-seat and outside-mirror memory setting); a $1,650 Quattro all-wheel-drive system and a $1,550 leather-seat package-for a total of $41,275.
The Inside Story
Audi's attention to details-both functional and aesthetic-abound in its luxurious cabin. The 12-way power driver's seat offers enough positioning options to satisfy even the fussiest frames. Power lumbar support can be fine-tuned to lend upper-middle or lower-lumbar support-a dream-come-true for those with lower-back problems.
Audi clearly understands that luxury-car buyers like to indulge themselves a bit. Therefore, there's a choice of three different interior "atmospheres." These design motifs are dubbed "Ambition," "Ambiente" and "Advance," distinguished by the upholstery and the type of the wood/aluminum trim. Our test model came in Ambiente, featuring sycamore wood trim.
The leather seats were handsome and crinkly, and among the most comfortable we'd ever settled into. The dash flows elegantly across the front. Attention to detail makes the A6 a joy to live with: Map pockets snap outward, on hinges, then close with a smart click. Grab handles retract into little cubbies when not in use. Front and rear seats are heated, and heating/cooling vents offer separate driver/passenger temperature controls. The rear seat is equipped with heat vents, cupholders and cigarette lighter/power receptacle. A heated steering wheel comes as part of the cold-weather package.
Front-seat legroom was plentiful, and rear-seat knee- and legroom was prodigious. At 38.5 inches, front headroom was ample-about the same as the Catera's, and more than an inch better than the Mercedes C280.
The stereo offers excellent audio quality and the controls are well designed. The trip computer is a bit harder to figure out and may require a trip to the owner's manual.
At night, the red-on-black instruments are startlingly different. Once you become accustomed to them, however, they offer reduced glare for improved night vision. Fighter pilots have used red gauges for years for this reason. Legibility of red on black suffers slightly, but this improves greatly by adjusting the instrument lighting to about the halfway point.
Ride & Drive
The A6 is powered by a 2.8-liter engine that harnesses 200 horses. That's more horsepower than that of the Infiniti I30 or Mercedes C280 and equal to the Cadillac Catera.
Audi's 2.8-liter dohc V6 engine-with five valves per cylinder-is hitched to a smooth-as-silk five-speed automatic Tiptronic transmission, which allows you to slide the shift lever sideways into a gate that provides quick manual upshift and downshift capability. The Tiptronic shifter provides improved shifting response. It's useful for holding the transmission in third on winding, mountainous roads. It also provides some entertainment value when commuting.
The A6 packs more than enough power for everyday city driving with plenty of reserve for passing on the highway. Capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in about 9.3 seconds and covering the standing quarter-mile in about 17.2 seconds, the A6 is not the quickest luxury sedan in the pack, nor is it the slowest. Like many German sedans, the gearing is oriented more toward high-speed cruising than acceleration performance.
A6 comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes and ABS, and the brakes were excellent. The brake pedal feels firm and braking power is precise.
Torsional rigidity is 50 percent stiffer than in the pre-1998 version. That means a less rocky ride on bumpy roads. It also allows for a more finely tuned suspension, which translates into a quieter ride and more assured handling.
Audi makes one of the best all-wheel-drive systems in the world. Its Quattro system will transfer as much as two-thirds of the power to the wheel that is providing the best traction. That comes in handy on snow and ice, but it also enhances handling on dry pavement. Handling on wet or icy roads is stable and predictable. This system counters driving errors, making the A6 a great car in emergency maneuvers.
During nicer weather, the A6 offers excellent traction in corners and coming out of them. The tires make themselves heard when pushed to the limit. The steering provides excellent on-center feel, meaning there's little play. The suspension is extremely responsive and well-controlled. This car is a joy on back roads.
Ride is smooth and refined in city traffic and silky smooth and stable on the highway. High speeds seem to bring out the best in this car. It drives like it's on rails. With a low drag coefficient of 0.28, wind noise is low, a small amount of it coming from the windshield wipers. There's quite a bit of power assist in the steering, which makes maneuvering through crowded parking lots easy.
To get this level of comfort and quietude, the A6 had to give up a little something in the road-dancing department. But the tuned suspension and deftly responsive steering make the A6 lot of fun to drive, whether you're city-bound or out in the sticks.
Everything about the Audi A6 is smooth. The engine purrs, the transmission shifts like silk, the ride is smooth, and the interior is quiet. Handling is sure-footed and inspires confidence. When the weather turns foul, its all-wheel-drive system puts it in another league. Though they make a strong styling statement, its lines are elegant.
The A6 faces strong competition from other cars in its class. But drivers will appreciate its precise handling and the feel of fine engineering this machine imparts.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.