Most vehicles are redesigned every five years or so and this latest-generation A6 was launched as a 2005 model. It's larger and roomier than the previous-generation version, and features dramatically changed styling. If you believe the best time to buy a new car is in its second year of production, then the time to buy the A6 is now. The newest generation of vehicles typically have the latest in safety features and engineering, and some studies suggest quality is higher in the second year of production because the bugs have been worked out.
For 2006, the A6 lineup has been filled out to include an Avant, or wagon, as well as a new front-wheel-drive model.
There is much to love about the A6. Its cabin is airy and comfortable, with firm, supportive seats. Its styling is crisp, clean and modern, though the front is dominated by a massive grille that's somewhat controversial. There's nothing controversial about the driving experience, however. Underway, the A6 boasts sharp, precise steering, and a firm ride. In high-speed corners the quattro models feel like they're on rails, one of the benefits of Audi's superb all-wheel-drive system. Braking and handling are excellent, whether on dry pavement or when hurdling through a torrent of rain.
V6 and V8 versions of the A6 are available. The well-equipped V6 model delivers brisk acceleration performance, while the V8 qualifies the A6 as a high-performance sports sedan. Either way, the Audi A6 deserves consideration by anyone shopping for a luxurious sports sedan in its price range.
Audi A6 3.2 FrontTrak; 3.2 quattro ($43,970); 4.2 quattro ($53,770); Avant 3.2 quattro ($46,870)
The new 2006 Avant is an especially sleek looking wagon, distinguished by a coupe-like roofline. The arching shoulder line and relatively narrow glass create a dynamic profile that terminates in a gently sloped tail marked by distinctive two-piece LED taillights. Overall the design language says European elegance.
Much of the beauty of the A6 is in the details: Body panels fit closely together around the doors, hood and trunk lid, as well as along places such as the bottom edge of the tail lamp. It's a result of close tolerances. You won't even find a rubber strip at the top of windshield, nor strips on the sides of the roof. Door jams, the trunk flange and other areas normally hidden are Class A surfaces, smooth and painted as on the exterior body panels. Not everyone will notice this level of detail, but most will sense a general look of quality.
Aluminum was used for key body panels to save weight, though not to the extent of the expensive all-aluminum A8. The lever-style outside door handles are stylish, but aren't as easy to operate as the grab handles that don't require flipping your hand over. Overall, the A6 sets a benchmark in quality of materials and build quality.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive. We never gave them much thought during a drizzly day of driving from Milan to Lake Como, a good sign.
The rear seats are comfortable, too. Audi designed room in the rear-seat footwell for bulky shoes, like sneakers on teenage boys, to be able to easily swing by the B-pillar when getting in and out. This latest-generation A6 is much roomier than pre-2005 models.
Up front, everything is oriented around the driver. A center console with a control panel separates driver and passenger, and their legs go into separate tunnels. The driver benefits from a nice four-spoke steering wheel or a nicer, sportier three-spoke wheel and a straightforward instrument panel. The center stack is angled toward the driver. Climate controls are located at the bottom of the center stack that are sophisticated but straightforward and easy to operate. At the top of the stack, above the vents, is a crisp seven-inch screen that displays navigation and other functions.
Audi's Multi Media Interface, which features a large knob and some buttons on the center console, controls many of the interior functions. This eliminates a lot of switches, making for a clean-looking dash. To further reduce clutter, the switch for the glovebox is located on the center of dash. Mastering the MMI takes time and requires reading the owner's manual. Too many times, we've found it a distraction, though less so than BMW's iDrive system.
High technology can also be found in what have been traditionally mundane controls. The parking brake is electronic; pull the switch up to set it, press to release it. The hood release operates only when the door is open. The wipers are speed sensitive. A Bluetooth-enabled interface integrates compatible cell phones.
Typical of German sedans, the A6 does not offer many places to put stuff. The glovebox is very small, especially with the available CD changer. The cup holders are nice, though they are positioned awkwardly toward the rear.
The trunk is deep. Luggage capacity is nearly 16 cubic feet, more than the BMW and comparable to the Mercedes, but trunk opening is relatively small. Attention to detail can be seen inside the trunk. Raise the floor panel to get at the spare tire and you'll note that it can be hooked up in place, making it easier to remove or replace the spare.
If greater utility is needed, the Avant is an elegant answer. This A6 sport wagon provides the versatility of a sport utility without compromising the superb road manners of a European-bred sports sedan. The luggage compartment offers a variety of configurations and features two securing rails recessed into the floor of the load area, while four lashing eyes and a luggage net are provided to secure objects. The load floor can be folded up and locked in several ways, which provides access to a lower load area lined by a plastic tray, an ideal cubby for stowing wet or muddy gear.
The quiet cabin allows for easy conversation even when driving quickly. The ride feels firm but is nicely damped for sharp bumps. It's among the best in class in comfort and near or at the top of class in handling.
New for 2006 is an adaptive air suspension that optimizes road holding and comfort. It's a marvelous invention that really helps keep the car securely fastened to the ground.
Audi's servotronic steering allows precise control; the driver simply thinks where he or she wants to go and the car goes there. Grip is excellent. Drive the car to its limit, impossible to do on public roads without being socially irresponsible, and you'll eventually encounter a small amount of understeer. The highly rigid chassis gives the car the feeling of being carved from one block of material. This rigidity allowed the Audi engineers to precisely tune the suspension. The A6 uses Audi's proven four-link front suspension and the self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension adapted from the A8.
The flat torque curve of both the V6 and V8 engines gives the A6 a feeling of smooth, sophisticated power and responsiveness at all speeds.
The 3.2 V6 delivers strong response from 2000 to 6000 rpm. It offers lots of torque, giving it quick acceleration off the line and responsive performance at all speeds. Audi says the 255-horsepower V6 is capable of propelling the A6 from 0 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is reasonably quick. We were able to easily work through traffic between Milan and Lake Como and felt no need for the more powerful V8. This impression was reaffirmed in a subsequent drive of the A6 Avant 3.2 in Italy's Dolomite Mountains. Not only was the V6 in full compliance with our lead-footed driving habits, if we hadn't occasionally looked in the mirror, we couldn't have told whether we were driving the sedan or the wagon as we raced up and down the twisting alpine roads. We also like the V6's better 19 city/26 highway EPA fuel mileage compared to the V8's 17/23.
The V8 produces 335-horsepower, enough to propel the A6 4.2 from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds, which is quite quick indeed. Unlike most cars based on front-wheel-drive platforms, the A6 mounts its engines longitudinally, rather than sideways, improving the flow of power between front and rear wheels and improving driving dynamics.
The six-speed automatic transmission that comes on all models is super smooth and adds considerably to the joy of driving the A6 and its responsive performance. If the mood strikes you, shift into the Tiptronic mode and shift manually, but we found it worked exceptionally well in Drive. It always seems to be in the right gear, whether quick acceleration is wanted or smooth, quiet cruising is preferred.
The Audi A6 excels at driving dynamics. It's a wonderful car for quick commuting, smooth high-speed travel, and spirited driving. It's smooth and quiet, good for easy conversation and listening pleasure. It's more enjoyable to drive than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and is a compelling alternative to the BMW 5 Series, particularly when weather enters the picture. For weather, you can't beat quattro.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Milan, with Greg Brown in Italy's Dolomites.