The Un-Sport Sedan
Seven-Up isn't a cola like Coke or Pepsi but it's a carbonated soda, right? Same goes for the Audi A6 4.2 Quattro. It isn't a sport sedan in the exact same vein as a BMW 540i or Mercedes-Benz E430, but it clearly has serious sporting intentions like these two class standards.
Don't think so?
Then consider this: The BMW can't even be had with full-time all-wheel drive. The E-Class Benz is available in an all-wheel-drive 4MATIC version, but who really remembers that? That brings us to the Audi. It's the only one of these three semi-heavy hitters (the M5, E55 and the not-available-stateside S6 are the true knuckle draggers here) that has full-time all-wheel drive as standard fare across the board. And, to illustrate the point further that the A6 4.2 is a fine alternative to these two stalwarts, is the price. The V8 Bimmer (remember, no all-wheel drive is available in this car) is well over 50K and the 4MATIC E-Class is nearly 55 grand when you're done playing around. Again we're back to the Audi, which checks in at under 50 large in the wallet-lightening department. Decked out like our Ming Pearl Blue Effect tester, the tab comes to around 53 bills; not cheap, mind you, but considerably less than the two other cars we're discussing when outfitted with similar equipment.
Besides being a true alternative to a 5 Series or an E-Class due to its all-wheel-drive system, there are lots of other goodies on the car we happen to really like. First up is its techno-tour-de-force 4.2-liter powerhouse. An ever-so-slightly detuned version of the 310-horsepower V8 found in Audi's flagship A8 sedan, this whirring gem makes 300 horses in A6 trim. Audi's top-dog motor in its mid-level (or midsize) car makes for an enticing combination with its five-valve cylinder head design (three intake and two exhaust), three-stage variable-length intake system, and variable camshaft control.
The intake system works thusly: At low engine speeds longer runners are used to achieve more torque. Medium-length runners are used at midrange engine speeds to provide a fat torque curve (the full 295 foot-pounds is available from 3,000 to 4,000 rpm), while at full wail, short runners are employed to feed the engine's 300 ponies at 6,200 rpm.
Behind the 4.2 is a standard five-speed auto slushbox with a Tiptronic mode. Sadly, a manual trans isn't available with the A6 4.2, but a six-speed can be fitted to an A6 2.7 T. Oh well, that's a shame because we really had a beef with the way the gearbox worked (or should we say didn't work) in our test car. Unlike the manual gate in our long-term Lincoln LS that provides almost full manual control except for the selection of first gear, the A6 allowed no such thing. For example, in the Tiptronic mode, it shifts for you whether you want it to or not. It won't let you engage first gear while in the Tiptronic mode if you're moving at all. You must first come to a standstill. If you select second gear while in Tiptronic and floor it, the transmission will downshift for you whether you want it to or not. Another problem is that in the Tiptronic mode the transmission shifts out of second whether you like it or not. However, when you put the shift lever in the "2" in the normal gate position, it will let you hold the gear all the way to the limiter. We thought the Tiptronic mode was the one that gives you control, but as it turns out, you have more control over shifting in the normal gate than the Tiptronic one.
Transmission gripes while track testing aside, the A6 comported itself quite nicely in heavy traffic, on the open road and on twisty backroads. Although weighing a portly 24 ticks more than two tons, the A6 is still a fun back-road dance partner. Leaving the transmission in the regular drive mode was also the way we liked to drive despite our hopes that we'd have full manual control of the auto gearbox.
With all four tires doing a fair share of gripping the pavement, the A6 naturally sticks tenaciously going into and coming out of tight turns and fast sweepers. Handling the weight with impressive aplomb, the A6 would flat wax the Bimmer and Benz rear-wheel-drive competitors in foul weather, just from a confidence standpoint. And that's the true appeal of the A6 4.2; its all-weather capability means it's a sport sedan for all seasons.
Our favorable impressions of handling dynamics were further solidified at the track where the 4.2 sprinted through our 600-foot slalom at 65.7 mph. Our test driver succinctly noted that the car was, "extremely fast for a sedan." Ultimate grip was a commendable 0.84 g, while the heavy car halted from 60 mph in 121 feet. When asked for all the oats the engine has, the car ran to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds and completed the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph.
The A6 4.2 fuel tank holds 21.7 gallons compared to 18.7 in other A6s. That's good because our test car was no miser during our admittedly lead-footed week of running around. Although rated to get 17 mpg in town and 24 mpg on the highway, we recorded a thirsty 13.9 mpg from each gallon of high-test.
There are several features on all A6s that add more value to the overall package. These include 12-way power seats with electric lumbar adjustment for both front seat occupants, 60/40 split folding rear seats with locking backs, a 140-watt stereo with an in-dash CD player, a dual-zone climate-control system, one-touch up and down for all four windows, and a full-sized spare on all A6 sedans (the Avant wagon uses a mini-spare to maximize cargo space).
There aren't many options available on the 4.2 simply because the car comes quite fully equipped as is. Our car had the sport package that includes 17-inch wheels and tires as well as the "warm weather" package which is intriguing, but to some extent we question its true usefulness. When a car is parked in, say, super hot sun with triple-digit temperatures, all the shades and fans in the world don't do much to keep things cool inside, especially when a car like our tester is finished in a dark color and has a black interior. Still, the package is quite innovative and includes a sunroof that doubles as a solar panel. This panel powers the fans in the ventilation system at low speed whenever the car is parked in the hot sun. Replacing the glass roof panel, the solar cells actually look pretty cool on the roof of the car. Also part of the package are side window sun shades in the back doors and a power-operated shade in the rear window. Sure it's neat, but at $1,000, it's probably needed only if you live in a hot, dry climate like the desert southwest.
While we liked the A6 4.2 on an overall level, there's a catch. And it's kind of a big one in the form of the quicker A6 2.7 T. That car is about 10 grand less than the 4.2 and it can be had with a manual transmission. We'd advise driving both cars and then deciding if the refinement of the V8 is worth it to you.
Senior features editor Brent Romans summed up our sometimes mixed feelings about this finely crafted sporting machine: "I'm not sure what to think of this car. On one hand, its base price is less than either the 540i or the E430. And with that lower price, you still get a 300-horsepower V8, and all-wheel drive. The latter feature is great for those living in a climate that has lots of snow or rain. On the other hand, I wonder if it's worth 10 bills more than a 2.7 T. Compared to that car, the 4.2 really only has the engine and a few other items. For me, I'd go with the 2.7 T, its standard all-wheel drive and pocket the cash. But if somebody wanted to buy a 4.2 over a 540i or E430, I wouldn't stop them."
So if that logical thinking places the 4.2 nicely in between the 540i or E430, and the 2.7 T, then the rest of our staff wouldn't stop a prospective buyer either, because the A6 4.2 clearly stands on its own as a car worthy of serious consideration in this heady market segment.
System Score: 8.25
Components. This is a fairly straightforward and simple system. Audi/VW, unlike most manufacturers, goes about things a little differently in the cabin of their vehicles. For one thing, they frown upon speakers along the back deck. Instead, the Audi engineers prefer to load the doors with high-quality components, leaving the trunk space free for luggage and storage.
This Bose system has all the hallmarks of a great system. The front doors and rear doors contain identical pairs of speakers. These consist of a simple, but effective, 6-inch mid-bass driver below, coupled to a tweeter above. Electronically, the system boasts an ergonomically friendly faceplate that offers AM/FM, cassette, and a single-play in-dash CD. A six-disc changer in the trunk augments this. Except for the bunched-together radio presets, the faceplate offers a number of user-friendly features. My favorite is the pop-out circular dials that control high, mid and bass frequencies, as well as fade and balance. The mid controls add a nice element of flexibility not seen in most systems. The large, round volume and tuning knobs are also a welcome sight, as is the oversized LED readout, easy to read even from the backseat.
Even though this system was designed by Bose, an American company, the sound and feel are European through and through. In the home hi-fi business, European loudspeaker manufacturers have been known for decades for producing some of the most accurate and exacting speaker designs on the planet. This is largely a different philosophy from such venerable American companies as JBL, Infinity and, believe it or not, Bose. It's a surprise, then a pleasant one, I might add to find such a "European" sounding system in this car.
That design philosophy comes from hundreds of years of listening to classical music, as opposed to pop and rock. To some American ears, then, this system might sound a little thin and lacking in bass. Not to me. In fact, the bass in this system is spot on, tight and accurate and exact, not flabby as we find in most cars. Hey, if you like more bass, kick it up a little. It's a punchy, tight sound with great attack. The mids are warm and detailed, even intricate. Highs are just slightly problematic, with tweeters that are a little "hot" and directional (meaning they have a small sweet spot), but this is easily adjusted with the flexible tone controls.
Best Feature: Lush sound quality.
Worst Feature: Slightly directional tweeters.
Conclusion. I marked off a little for the tweeters, which I found overly aggressive for this type of system. However, the overall sound is remarkably clean and warm. You'll love this one. Scott Memmer