It's no secret among car lovers that German automakers are known for their athletic yet luxurious sport sedans. A mere whisper of the name "BMW 5 Series" can cause a spine-tingling shiver or wistful sigh among enthusiasts. Sick and tired of hearing accolade after tribute made to its core competition, Audi has revamped its decade-old midsize A6 sedan, this time proving it has come to play.
Dropping the twin-turbo 2.7-liter V6 engine option, the new A6 now offers a standard 3.2-liter V6 and an optional 4.2-liter V8. The V6 is rated at 255 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, while the V8 bumps up to 335 hp and a torque rating of 310 lb-ft. Those of you familiar with the previous A6 will notice that the new V6 puts out just five more horsepower than the 2.7-liter, but 35 hp more than the previous standard 3.0-liter V6. The new V8, however, first used in the Audi S4, has been retuned for the A6 and provides nearly as much power as the larger A8's V8 power plant. We spent enough miles behind the wheel of each A6 model to know that both models gave us a competent, quick rush of power with smooth acceleration.
Both of the previous generation's five-speed transmissions have been replaced by a standard six-speed automanual with seven shift stages, certainly a desirable equipment upgrade for drivers intent on optimizing their driving experience. Nevertheless, true enthusiasts may miss having the option of a true manual transmission, something the company has not yet decided whether to offer. Audi's standard quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard on all 2005 A6s; although, a front-wheel model may be available for the 2006 model year.
To further enhance the A6's remarkable road feel, the suspension is comprised of an upgraded four-link front suspension and a self-tracking, trapezoidal-link rear setup borrowed from the A8. Audi reports that torsional stiffness is up by more than 34 percent over the previous A6. All of these upgrades were designed to help smooth out unwelcome body roll while turning tight corners and keep the wheels firmly planted on the road. During our test-drive, we found the suspension to be spirited, yet comfortable, while offering quality feedback from the road. However, we're not as hip on the steering, which still seemed a little light at times.
The A6's wheelbase is now three inches longer, while the overall length is stretched nearly five inches and the width nearly two. These increased dimensions provide more space in the cabin for front and rear passengers (both legroom and shoulder room are up), while maximum luggage capacity logs in at 19.2 cubic feet (when the rear seats are folded).
The cabin clearly benefits from more sophisticated design aesthetics, as well as increased attention to ergonomics. Twelve-way power front seats can be covered in one of three kinds of leather, and sport seats are an option for drivers who appreciate extra lateral bolstering during enthusiastic driving. Aluminum interior trim provides a sportier look, while wood trim is optional in Brown Walnut or Beige Birch. The power-adjustable steering column and three-position memory for driver seat and mirrors, combined with the multifunction steering wheel, make it easy for drivers to settle in, while the dual-zone automatic climate control system allows passengers to get comfy as well. A power-sliding sunroof and power-folding/dimming heated exterior mirrors round out the extensive list of standard equipment.
There are a variety of new high-tech features, including xenon daytime running lights, active cornering lights (the A6 is the first Audi to receive them) and an electromechanical parking brake. Audi has also added the Multi Media Interface (MMI) control system first seen in the A8. The system has a 7.0-inch color display that's integrated with the 10-speaker Bose stereo system. We used the MMI controls to program the navigation system during our test-drive, and were pleased to find the system was simple to operate and never failed to point us in the right direction. There is also a new Advanced Key feature that allows drivers to keep the key on their person and simply hit the start button when entering the car, instead of fumbling for the ignition.
Alongside all the latest gadgetry, you'll find a long list of safety equipment. Programmable daytime running lights and rain sensors help keep a clear view of the road ahead, and the latest generation of ESP (with BrakeAssist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) aids drivers in bringing the A6 to a quick, safe stop as we found when a wayward farm animal wandered into our path. Lastly, front, side and head airbags are on board to help keep occupants safe in the event of an unavoidable accident.
When it comes to dressing up an already nicely standard-equipped A6, four packages are available: The Premium Package includes a power glass sunroof, multifunction steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, an upgraded Bose stereo system and wood interior trim. The Cold Weather Package provides heated front and rear seats, a ski sack and headlight washers. The Sports Package will give you a stiffer sport suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires. Lastly, the Convenience Package provides auto-dimming/folding exterior mirrors, an auto-dimming interior mirror with compass, memory for the driver seat and mirrors, HomeLink and a trip computer.
Separate options consist of rear parking sensors, rear side airbags, 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, 18-inch alloy wheels with performance tires, a DVD-based navigation system, power rear/manual side sunshades and voice control for the Bluetooth hands-free cell phone system. Premium leather and sport seats are also available as à la carte extras.
Audi calls the new A6 an "important bridge from the A4 to the A8," and we couldn't agree more. We enjoy the sporty appeal of the A4, but appreciate the space of the larger A6, all the while contemplating the day we might have enough dollars to spring for the A8. Audi tells us it anticipates selling 90 percent V6-equipped A6s, and just 10 percent of the V8 models. Pricing is expected to be near $45,000 for the V6 quattro, with the V8 entering the market in the low $50,000s. Look for the A6 to go on sale late in the 2004 calendar year.