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.
Underway, the A6 boasts sharp, precise steering, and a firm but comfortable ride. In high-speed corners the quattro models feel like they're on rails, a benefit of Audi's superb all-wheel-drive system. Braking and handling are excellent, whether on dry pavement or when hurtling through a torrent of rain.
V6, V8 and V10 versions of the A6 are available. The well-equipped V6 model delivers brisk acceleration, while the V8 qualifies the A6 as a performance sports sedan. The V10-powered S6 is for serious drivers who don't mind trading comfort for high performance.
Most cars are redesigned every five years or so; this latest-generation A6 was launched as a 2005 model so it's about midway through the design cycle. It's larger and roomier than the previous-generation version, and features dramatically changed styling.
For 2008, an Audi Lane Assist feature is offered that warns drivers when they drift out of their lanes without the use of a turn signal. Every A6 also gets headlight washers, Sirius satellite radio. For 2008, the S line exterior equipment is standard; this includes more aggressive front and rear bumpers, S line badging for the front grille, and 18-inch wheels. Quattro models are available with 19-inch wheels; chrome-finish 18-inch wheels with summer performance tires are optional.
Audi A6 3.2 FrontTrak ($42,950); 3.2 quattro ($46,100); 4.2 quattro ($56,300); Avant 3.2 quattro ($49,000); S6 quattro ($72,350)
The A6 Avant is an especially sleek looking wagon, distinguished by a sloping 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 each 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.
All A6 models (except S6) gain S line styling cues for 2008. An air inlet is added beneath the grille, the front and rear bumpers are changed, and 18-inch wheels become standard versus the 16s and 17s on 2007 models.
The S6 is distinguished from its less-powerful stablemates by special exterior and interior elements. Audi's striking trapezoidal grille gets an S6 badge. The front bumper's unique look comes from the strip of separate LED daytime running lights situated a the top of two larger lower cooling ducts. The front foglamps are incorporated into the main headlights, which feature gray-tinted covers. The rear tailights also feature distinctive LED brake lights. An integrated spoiler juts from the trunk lid, bright aluminum trim surrounds the side windows, the door handles are body color, and the rearview mirror housings are brushed aluminum. The S6 also has black brake calipers, dual exhaust oval polished quad tailpipes, and a chrome strip on the trunk lid.
The lever-style outside door handles are stylish, but we found they 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 leather that comes standard in the A6 3.2 is nice, distinguished by a handsome two-tone treatment of light-colored seats and door inserts and charcoal dash and door trim. Wood trim comes standard on all models.
Premium Milano leather is standard on 4.2 models and optional on 3.2 models. We particularly like the gray birch trim in the S line Interior Package. Additional leather covering for the dashboard is also offered. It looks and feels nice, but is an expensive proposition.
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 quiet cabin allows for easy conversation even when driving quickly.
The rear seats are comfortable, too. Head and leg room are expansive enough to tote around two clients in comfort. 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. The current 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 surrounded by flex-metallic trim. 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. The standard trip computer and Driver Information Center features a digital speed indicator.
Audi's Multi Media Interface, or MMI, features a large knob and 15 buttons set horizontally on the center console to control most 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, as it makes simple tasks like programming a radio station a multi-step process. At least the main controller and buttons fall easily to hand.
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.
The A6 does not offer many places to put stuff. The glovebox is small, especially with the available CD changer. The cup holders are positioned well, however.
The trunk is deep. Luggage capacity is nearly 16 cubic feet, more than the BMW and comparable to the Mercedes, but the trunk opening is 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.
The Avant sport wagon offers the road manners of a European-bred sports sedan and the versatility of a sport utility. 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 S6 cockpit features sport seats upholstered in Nappa leather, with integral head restraints and pronounced lateral support. Electrically adjustable in multiple directions and including lumbar support, they offer multi-st
The A6 ride feels firm but is nicely damped for sharp bumps. It's among the best in class in comfort and near the top of class in handling (bested only by BMW). The ride is notably firmer for 2008, thanks to the 18-inch wheels that come standard (instead of 16s or 17s). Those who prefer a more comfortable ride will want to opt for the no-charge 17-inch wheels. Those who prefer a firmer ride with more responsive handling can choose the sports suspension, 19-inch wheels, or both.
The adaptive air suspension optimizes road holding and comfort. It's a marvelous invention that really helps keep the car securely fastened to the ground.
The Servotronic steering allows precise control and the A6 goes exactly where the driver wants it. Grip is excellent. Drive the car to its limit and you'll 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 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-hp 3.2-liter 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 in an A6 3.2 sedan 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. The V6 gets an EPA-rated 18/27 mpg City/Highway with front-wheel drive and 17/25 mpg with quattro.
The 4.2 V8 features direct injection and produces 350 horsepower, enough to propel the A6 4.2 from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds, which is quite quick indeed. Better yet, the increased power comes without much of a penalty in fuel mileage. The 4.2 gets an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway, respectable for a sports sedan. The A6 mounts its engine longitudinally, rather than sideways, improving the flow of power between front and rear wheels and improving driving dynamics.
The six-speed automatic transmission is super smooth and adds considerably to the joy of driving the A6 with its responsive performance. If the mood strikes you, select the Tiptronic mode and shift manually via the gearshift or steering wheel paddles. We found it worked exceptionally well in Drive: It always seems to be in the right gear, whether quick acceleration is wanted or smooth cruising is preferred. The CVT in the front-drive model is surprisingly sporty and is the perfect choice for the owner whose driving terrain is mostly urban streets.
The S6's V10 is refined and forceful. It is perfectly happy cruising in traffic, but is more than willing to launch the car ahead of traffic if you find a gap. The S6 is capable of a 5.1-second 0-60 mph sprint and can cover the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds. While these are certainly impressive numbers, some V8s do as well without the V10's high level of technology. The V10 suffers a fuel mileage penalty, as it is EPA-rated at 14/19 mpg City/Highway. While the V10 performs admirably, we found either the V6 or the V8 to be plenty powerful and not nearly as expensive.
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 right up there with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series in terms of safe and secure motoring, particularly when weather enters the picture. When conditions get really slick, you can't beat quattro.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Milan, with Greg Brown in Italy's Dolomites. Correspondent Kirk Bell tested the S6 in Chicago.