A new all-time favorite gets crowned.
by Jim Kenzie
When I first drove an Audi A6 4.2 at Shannonville Motorsport Park last fall, I got to about Turn Two before I started to think, "Wow, I may have a new all-time favorite car."
I mean, what do you want a sedan to be? Roomy? Gorgeous, inside and out? Beautifully built? Big trunk? Fully-featured? Toss in heroically fast and four-wheel drive, and what's not to like? A couple of weeks over the Christmas holidays with the car did little to change my mind. There's not a lot of obvious faults here.
This model starts as Audi's A6 mid-size luxury sedan. A good place to start, with its Audi-traditional front grille, curvaceous coupe-like profile, and interesting rear styling. Audi's been building the best-looking and best-finished interiors in the business for several years now, and this one is no exception. Oh, the yellow/cream-colored leather upholstery was a bit, um, bright for my tastes, but Audi's three different "atmospheres" give you a choice of color and trim material textures. The ride and handling of any A6 are beyond reproach, and the full-time four-wheel drive gives the car an all-weather capability no other luxury sedan can match.
But the base A6 is not the quickest car you can buy. The 2.8-liter V-6 engine does have 200 horsepower, and since they dialled in five valves per cylinder (three intakes, two exhaust) off-the-line grunt has improved.
A V-8 wedgie
Still, for a big-buck car, you'd want performance that excites rather than suffices. Audi checked their own parts bin, where they found the four-cam 40-valve all-aluminum 4.2 liter V-8 from their flagship A8 sedan. It produces 300 horsepower at 6200 rpm, and 295 lb-ft of torque between 2000 and 3000 rpm.
The biggest shoehorn in the world wouldn't jam this motor under the A6's comely aluminum hood, so the nose was stretched by nearly two inches, and new front fenders, also aluminum, fitted. All four wheel arches were re-contoured to accommodate bigger rubber - 235/50HR16s are standard; my tester had the optional 245/40YR17s. The track is wider at both axles, and new aluminum suspension components lower the car by about a third of an inch at the front, less than a quarter-inch at the rear.
All this conspires to give the A6 4.2 a meaner, sportier, more purposeful look, one it wears surprisingly well, given that the basic shape is so voluptuous. This isn't just "optics" either, as they say in political circles. This car moves.
The engine is reasonably quick off the line. Audi gives a zero to 60 mph time of less than 6.7 seconds. Once rolling, the car really begins to hum. The drive-by-wire throttle gives instantaneous response, and a three-stage intake manifold, with flaps changing the length of the passage which the intake air must take, helps boost torque in the middle ranges. Altogether, a sweet motor.
The five-speed automatic transmission sometimes takes a second to downshift into first when you've come to a stop, and doesn't always shift as smoothly as you'd expect. The Tiptronic in Audis doesn't have all the same goodies as the version used by Porsche (who owns the patents covering this gearbox, incidentally). You don't get the automatic downshift when you tap the accelerator when braking, for example. But if you feel like exercising some control over the shifting, you can shove the lever from Drive over to the right into a separate slot, then toggle forward to upshift, backwards to downshift.
I've never found these manual/automatics all that useful; if you really need to drop a gear, say to slow down on the highway without using the brakes, you can always pull a conventional automatic lever backwards too. But there are those who do like them; if you don't, you don't have to use it.
Steering, as with most VW-Audi products, is excellent - smooth, linear, precise. The car handled brilliantly on the test track - calm, confident, stable, no matter what I threw at it, or threw it at. The brakes are big four-wheel discs with the latest iteration of Bosch's anti-lock control. The rear brakes also get electronic brake pressure regulation to ensure the ABS doesn't kick in any sooner than is necessary.
Both front and rear differentials are of the electronic locking variety, should differences in side-to-side wheel rotational speeds be detected. The quattro four-wheel drive incorporates a Torsen (torque-sensing) center diff to direct torque to the axle which can best utilize it.
Partway through the model year, Audi will join its major competitors in offering an electronic stability program, which applies individual wheel brakes automatically to pull the car out of an incipient skid. If all this technology still doesn't save you from a crash, you can rely on frontal and front-side airbags, plus Audi's Sideguard curtain airbags to help protect the occupants' heads in a Tee-bone or roll-over.
My extended time in the car did point out a few deficiencies in that lovely interior. The middle rear seat has only a lap belt, rather than the three-point system used in many modern cars. True, the A6 4.2's back seat is contoured primarily for two riders, and there's hardly ever anyone in the middle position, but if there is, why should they be shortchanged? Other A6 models get three three-pointers back there. My kids all had trouble finding the seat belt buckles in the other seats too, as they are located well down on or buried in the seat.
The minor controls are all pushbuttons; with the complex radio and dual-zone air conditioning which allows different temperature settings for right and left sides of the car, this means a LOT of pushbuttons. This is a fight I seem to have lost. Fortunately, some of the radio functions are repeated in steering wheel spoke-mounted buttons.
All three mirrors - the inside rear-view mirror and the two outside "side-view" mirrors - dim "electrochromatically" when a sensor determines that there is a car with bright lights following at night. Sadly, this darkens the reflected view so much you can barely see anything. It's like driving at night with your sunglasses on - not a wise move. Audi effectively admits they have a problem by turning the system off when you select reverse gear. But you don't only need to see behind you when you're backing up. Unlike most cars with this dubious feature, Audi's system cannot be switched off. Maybe you could find a clever mechanic to break into the wiring harness and figure out how they do it when the car is in reverse. Maybe you could order one with the standard A6 mirrors. Failing that, do what I did: stick a piece of duct tape over the sensor, located in the inside rear-view mirror. Not very elegant, but it did the trick. The car's moderately dark glass tint was all the reflection suppression I needed.
There was a surprising amount of wind noise at highway speeds coming from around the driver's door. And the A6 4.2, like most Audi/VW products, has those horrible hard, scrabbly windshield wiper blades.
None of these minor drawbacks detract from the essential loveliness of this car. The 4.2 gets just about every luxury fitment known to personkind, including full leather on seats and door trim panels, a Homelink transmitter for remote control of garage doors and gates, power tilt-and-telescope wheel, and a 200 watt Bose sound system with CD player. Comparable models from the likes of BMW (540i), Jaguar (S-Type), Lexus (GS400) and Mercedes-Benz (E430) are comparably priced, and none offers four-wheel drive or an interior with this degree of class.
So is the A6 4.2 my all-time favorite car? If it isn't, it joins a very, very short list.
2000 Audi A6 4.2
Base Price: $49,425
Engine: 4.2-liter V-8, 300 hp
Transmission: five-speed automatic with Tiptronic control
Wheelbase: 108.6 in
Length: 193.4 in
Width: 76.1 in
Height: 57.0 in
Fuel economy: 17 city/ 24 hwy
Major standard equipment:
quattro all-wheel-drive system
Dual front and side airbags
Bose 200-watt, eight-speaker sound system
Power front passenger seats
© 2000 The Car Connection