Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A polished gem of a luxury sedan.
Audi's A6 proves that with a touch of stylish flair, a sedan doesn't have to look like a sedan. Now in it's third model year after a smart redesign in 1998, the clean, sweeping lines of Audi's midsize luxury offering are still fresh and forward-thinking, while new features and modifications improve the package for 2000.
The A6 is brimming with amenities and competes with such luxury sedans as the Cadillac Catera, Mercedes Benz C280, Lexus GS 300 and Infiniti I30t -- all of which start in the $32,000 to $36,000 range. The A6 gleams from one end to the other, exuding the assured air of a gem whose every detail has received a thorough polishing. And it provides a comforting sense of its well-earned status as a truly high-class automobile. Audi hopes that the A6 can lure buyers who would like to pamper themselves with the plush appointments of higher-end luxury cars like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but can't quite afford the price range of those cars.
For the 2000 model year, Audi added two new versions of the A6.
In addition to the 200-horsepower A6 2.8 sedan and Avant wagon, which are priced at $33,950 and $36,900, respectively, Audi has introduced an A6 2.7T sedan with a 250-horsepower twin-turbo V6 that's priced at $38,550. Audi has also added an A6 4.2 sedan with a 300-horsepower, 4.2-liter, five-valve V8 engine at a base price of $48,900.
All except the base A6 2.8 sedan come standard with Audi's renowned Quattro all-wheel-drive system; it's a $1,750 option on the 2.8 sedan.
The A6's flowing, aerodynamic lines lend it the jaunty visage of a sport coupe. 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.
The $33,950 base price on our A6 2.8 sedan test car buys a long list of luxury features, including electronic traction control, a full complement of power accessories and fog lights. Our test model was equipped with the optional $1,750 Quattro all-wheel drive system; a $625 cold-weather package (heated seats, ski rack); and a $1,650 convenience package that included a power glass sunroof, a HomeLink remote transmitter, auto-dimming inside and outside rearview mirrors, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, and memory settings for the driver's seat and mirrors. The $525 destination charge brought the total to $38,500.
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 Ambiente, 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. Unfortunately, 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. That's 27 fewer ponies than Infiniti I30t, 15 more than the Mercedes C280 and equal to the Cadillac Catera. 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.
A6 2.8 sedan ($33,950); A6 2.8 Avant wagon ($36,900); A6 2.7T sedan ($38,550); A6 4.2 sedan ($48,900).
Options As Tested
Quattro all-wheel-drive system ($1,750) replaces traction control; Cold weather package ($625) includes heated seats, ski rack; convenience package ($1,650) includes glass sunroof, HomeLink remote transmitter, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, driver's seat/mirror position memory, steering wheel audio controls.
A6 2.8 ($33,950).
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