At the mention of German luxury cars, it’s second nature to think of Mercedes-Benz and BMW. But there’s another German car maker that, having survived hard times in the 80’s, has been turning out top-notch cars for the past several years with very little fanfare. That company is Audi. And, with the distinctive new styling and clever technical innovations found in this all-new A6, that fanfare is getting much louder! So loud, in fact, we had to take a closer look to see what all the fuss was about. And when the 1998 Audi A6 Quattro left our care a short two weeks later, we were so struck with the sheer pleasure of its presence, we promptly requested one for a long-term test.
Because the folks at Ingolstadt have achieved a near perfect balance of sedan practicality and coupe-like symmetry. A feat accomplished by carefully blending styling cues and leading-edge gadgetry borrowed from across the Audi line.
Like a newly chiseled Audi-styled nose, that flows effortlessly into an arching roofline, and ends in a bold, TT-show-car treatment tail, all balanced neatly on an A4 derived chassis and a handsome set of optional 16-inch alloy wheels.
The new A6 platform is longer, wider, and 50 percent more rigid than last year’s. And rides smoothly on a suspension lightened by the judicious use of lightweight steel and cast aluminum components. A four-link set-up with upper and lower control arms and coil-over shocks is standard up front. While in the back, two suspensions have been developed. A double wishbone system for all-wheel drive Quattro equipped models, and a torsion-beam axle for front drive cars.
Our Quattro delivered crisp, responsive handling, with precise turn-ins, that no matter how quickly made, could not shake the poise or grip of our A6. And our friends at Automobile Magazine expressed similar sentiments, saying… “So good are the linear and accurate steering, strong grip, and composure that the car feels almost invincible.”
Of course it’s easy to feel invincible when you’re surrounded by one of the three interior “atmospheres” offered in the A6. This is a new level of personalized luxury. Owners not only select colors and fabrics, but a varied mix of wood and bright trim, style of stitching, and even amounts of veneer gloss.
But there’s more to luxury than good looks, and our A6 delivers on all levels. Starting with the 12-way power driver’s and passenger’s seats, heated should you choose the optional cold weather package, with standard seat-mounted side impact air bags and sensible, hinged storage compartments in the doors. A thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, that telescopes and tilts, fronts a comprehensive set of analog gauges that flank a digital message center.
But some of our staff found the red backlighting a little hard on the eyes at night. Not so with the rest of the cabin, however, like the polished wood faceplate that conceals the available Bose premium sound system. Its switchgear is easy to read and reach. The trunk-mounted CD changer, however, is not.
The dual zone climate controls are also close at hand and functional. Just set the temperature and hit the auto switch, and the system takes care of the rest. Including making sure the rear seat occupants are completely comfortable. Which shouldn’t be too hard, considering that the new A6’s larger body dimensions now render more head and leg room than the Mercedes E320.
Add a couple of well-placed cupholders and a first aid kit cleverly hidden in the armrest, and the only complaint coming from rear passengers might be a polite request to turn down the stereo.
There should be no complaints about cargo space, however. As the front-drive A6 now sports the largest trunk in its class, a spacious 17.2 cubic feet. And although Quattro models are slightly smaller, at 15.4 cubic feet, with its flat floor and depth, there’s still plenty of room for all the essentials.
Pulling you merrily down the road, albeit a little sluggishly off idle, is the A6’s only powerplant, an upgraded 2.8 liter V-6. With twin overhead cams, variable intake valve timing and Audi’s latest five-valve-per-cylinder technology, this engine smoothly cranks out 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque at only 3200 rpm. And feeds a standard, adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission, that when in the manual shift Tiptronic mode, delivered runs to 60 in just 8.5 seconds, and the quarter mile passes in 16.4 seconds at 87 miles per hour.
Equally impressive were the ABS-equipped disc brakes, that after six tightly spaced runs, still brought us down from 60 in a very stable 113 feet.
So, what would you expect to pay for a head-turner like the A6? Well, not as much as you might think. A base price of $33,750 for starters, with an extensive list of standard features to boot. Our well-optioned Quattro tipped the scales at $41,320. Still, not bad at all, when you consider a comparable Mercedes-Benz E320 sedan with all-wheel drive is nearly $50,000.
And it’s the A6’s superbly balanced performance, aided by the time tested Quattro system, that’s the biggest hit with us, followed closely by the high level of standard equipment, a sumptuous interior, and crisp exterior styling.
The misses are so minor, we hate to look overly picky. But, hey, that’s our job, so on the downside, we’d like an engine with a little more grunt off idle, and a CD player that’s located inside the cabin.
So, now you see why the fanfare is so loud. An extremely competitive car in any class, the Audi A6 offers an elegant, sporting ride, and a higher degree of luxury than its price belies. All neatly presented in a handsome package that garners rave reviews no matter where it’s parked. What more can we say, but strike up the band!
Engine: 2.8 Liter V-6
Torque: 207 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @ 87 MPH
60-0 MPH: 113 Feet