A luxury sedan with sporty appeal.
by Kevin Ransom
Base Price (MSRP) $34,400
As Tested (MSRP) $40,750
Audi A6 has four doors, but it doesn't look like a sedan. Its stylish flair and sweeping lines evoke the sportiness of a coupe. Now in its fourth model year after a smart redesign in 1998, this luxury entry possesses clean lines that are still fresh and forward-looking, with new, fussed-over features and modifications for 2001.
The A6 is chock full of amenities to help it compete with such luxury sedans as the Cadillac Catera, Mercedes Benz C280, Lexus GS 300 and Infiniti I30t, all of which start in the $33,000 to $37,000 range. Audi believes the A6 will be popular with buyers who have difficulty justifying the prices of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
In spite of its fine competition, the A6 is a standout from one end to the other, exuding the confident air of a jewel whose every detail has received a thorough polishing.
Four models are available: 2.8 sedan ($34,400), 2.7T sedan ($39,500), 4.2 sedan ($49,400), and 2.8 Avant wagon ($37,350). All come with a high level of standard equipment.
A6 2.8 sedan comes with a 2.8-liter V6 rated at 200 horsepower. It's the only A6 that uses front-wheel drive with electronic traction control; Quattro is a $1,750 option.
All A6 models except the 2.8 sedan come standard with Quattro four-wheel drive, including the Avant wagon, which is otherwise similarly equipped to the 2.8 sedan.
A6 2.7T sedan comes with a 250-horsepower twin-turbo V6, a Torsen center differential, P215/55R16 tires, traction control, and an electronic stability program.
A6 4.2 sedan is powered by a 300-horsepower, 4.2-liter, five-valve V8 engine. In addition to the above, it comes with leather upholstery, leather door trim panels, a HomeLink garage door opener, memory system for seats, automatic dimming mirrors, ski sack, power sunroof, premium 200-wat sound system, and an adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and telephone controls. It's equipped with P235/50R16 tires on unique six-spoke cast aluminum wheels.
Audi has extended its warranty package to four years/50,000 miles.
Our 2.8 sedan was equipped with the optional $1,750 Quattro all-wheel drive system; a $625 cold-weather package (heated seats, ski rack); a $1,975 luxury package that included a power glass sunroof, a HomeLink remote transmitter and leather upholstery; a $750 premium Bose sound system; a $550 CD changer; $350 rear side airbags; and a $550 destination charge. All of those options increased the sticker price to $40,750.
Flowing, aerodynamic lines lend the jaunty visage of a sport coupe to the A6. The effect is particularly strong in back. The line formed by the rear window sweeps back dramatically until it flattens out at the start of the trunk lid, to form a slight but aggressive notch in the A6's futuristic-looking rear end. Precise body gaps of less than 3 millimeters are just one example of the A6's excellent fit and finish.
Audi obviously understands that luxury-car buyers like to indulge themselves. So, they offer three different interior "atmospheres." These design motifs -- dubbed "Ambition," "Ambiente" and "Advance" -- each offer distinct upholstery and wood or aluminum trim. Our test model came in Ambition, featuring sycamore wood.
Everywhere you look in Audi's well-appointed cabin, you'll appreciate the attention to detail. The A6's leather-upholstered seats have a luxurious crinkled look and are among the most comfortable available. The 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat adapts to a wide range of body shapes and sizes. One neat touch for those with lower-back problems is the power lumbar support that can be fine-tuned to lend upper-, mid- or lower-lumbar support.
Other classy touches include map pockets that snap outward on hinges, then close with a smart click. Grab handles retract into little cubbies when not in use. The front and rear seats are heated, and the heating/cooling vents offer separate temperature controls for driver and passenger. The rear seat also is equipped with heating/cooling vents, cupholders and a cigarette lighter/power receptacle. The cold-weather package includes a heated steering wheel.
The stereo serves up top-drawer sound and the controls are well designed. The trip computer is somewhat bewildering at first, requiring a trip to the owner's manual for guidance. Our favorite feature on the elegant dashboard is the unique red-on-black instrument lighting. At night they give the cabin a warm, high-tech glow. Though startling at first, once you've adjusted to them they offer reduced glare for improved night vision. Fighter pilots have used red gauges for years for this reason. Legibility suffers slightly, but you can fix this by adjusting the brightness down to about the halfway point.
Front-seat legroom is prodigious. The rear seat also offers plenty of knee- and legroom. At 38.5 inches, front headroom is ample. Furthermore, clever engineering has resulted in generous trunk space.
When it comes to luxury sedans, the A6 is not the quickest bunny in the forest -- nor is it the slowest. It can do the 0-to-60-mph sprint in about 9.3 seconds, and covers the standing quarter-mile in about 17.2 seconds. Like many German sedans, the gearing is tweaked more for high-speed cruising than for off-the-line acceleration. But the A6 packs more than enough juice for everyday city driving, with ample reserve power for freeway passing.
The 200 horsepower for the base A6 comes from a 2.8-liter, double-overhead-cam V6 engine with five valves per cylinder. The V6 is hitched to a silky-smooth five-speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic feature. Tiptronic enables the driver to slap the shifter sideways out of the normal P-R-N-D-3-2-1 gate into a parallel gate that allows sequential upshifts and downshifts simply by tilting the spring-loaded lever forward or backward, much like you would shift a motorcycle. The Tiptronic also improves shifting response. It comes in handy in situations when you want to hold the transmission in one gear, such as on winding roads. It also provides zippy entertainment during those otherwise boring suburban commutes.
On dry terrain, the A6 offers sure-footed cornering. The suspension is extremely responsive and well-controlled, making the A6 a joy to drive on back roads. Torsional (twisting) rigidity of the chassis is 50 percent stiffer than in the pre-1998 version. This allows for a more finely tuned suspension, which translates into a quieter ride and more assured handling, especially on bumpy roads. Excellent on-center feel of the steering is another boon.
Audi's world-class Quattro all-wheel-drive system enhances handling ability on dry pavement by offering more grip, but it is especially appreciated on snow and ice. It can transfer as much as two-thirds of the engine's power to whatever wheel is providing the best traction, thereby ensuring stable and predictable handling in all conditions. Helping out in the safety department are standard four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. The firm brake pedal delivers precise braking feel.
In city traffic, the A6's ride is quite civilized, even refined. It is very stable on the freeway, where high speeds seem to bring out the best in this car. With a low drag coefficient of 0.28, wind noise is low, except for a slight whisper from the windshield wipers. At low speeds, drivers will appreciate quite a bit of power assist in the steering, which makes it a breeze to maneuver through crowded parking lots.
In order to deliver this kind of ride comfort and refinement, the A6 had to give up a little something in the road-dancing department. But the nicely tuned suspension and deft steering make the A6 a lot of fun to drive, whether you're city-bound or out in the sticks.
In a class that includes potent entries from Mercedes and Cadillac, the A6 obviously faces stiff competition. But Audi has hit upon a nice balance with the A6. Everything about the car contributes to a driving experience of confidence and quietude, from the smooth-purring engine, to the crisp but silky transmission, to a supple but composed ride. When the weather turns foul, its all-wheel-drive system puts it a cut above the pack. And its elegant lines communicate a subtle but sporty sophistication.
The A6 possesses refinement that pleases in quiet ways, like beauty in a cherished jewel. The feel of fine engineering in this car should create enjoyment for years to come.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.