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Auto Test Drives

Audi A6 Offers Perfect Blend of Performance, Luxury, Safety and Style
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
May 23, 2006, 22:47 PST
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"Ah yes, and hereís the head salesman of the jungle. His business is shrinking, so heís offering a special today: two of his heads for one of yours. Any way you slice it, you come out a-head."

I apologize if you have never been to Disneyland, or more specifically in the Jungle Cruise ride. That introduction must seem 100% random. This riverboat adventure is an adult treat amidst the more child-oriented cartoon characters, rides and decorations which make up Disneyland. The moderately inspires sly jokes which color this slow cruise through the jungle are aimed at savvy older kids and adults with a taste for the corny. I love corn just about any way you serve it up, so this ride suits me just fine. Others tolerate it.

Is this a test drive review? Yes. Then why is the introduction still random and now a paragraph and two lines longer than when the initial paragraph was deemed random? Weíre getting there.



Having categorized the A8 as an executive vehicle, I felt it appropriate to spread this theme across the big, tasty, well-proportioned pan of cornbread that is the Audi product group (this is not to imply that Audi product is too soft or crumbly; just tying this into the corny jokes theme). The A6 is perhaps a sub-executive vehicle, something rewarding of hard work and success that has not yet seen one to the top of their field or company, just the top of the department. Itís the kind of car for a senior manager, or, perhaps, a head salesman. Now you can see the path that led to the head salesman joke reference. Now we can move on.

The 2006 A6 is a fantastic vehicle and is certainly a reflection of the excellence instilled in the A4 and A8, which weíve already reviewed. The classy but somewhat bold exterior provides a look that is to odd, experimental designs what the Jungle Cruise is to the "Itís a Small World" ride: a car for the mature, but not too mature to have a very good time, crowd. To prove it has a fun side, the A6 is equipped with enough power to out drag your son in his sporty import 2+2.



The wide-open front grille that reminds is of pre-WWII designs defines the front view of the car in a bold way. Strips of chrome add some flash, and seem a unique array of jewels in a deep-colored setting; the intricate, modern headlights expand on this jeweled theme.

The side profile has more than a hint of athleticism through its sweeping, rising, cresting and falling shoulder line and moderate depth, both of which add strength to the gentle curves and surfaces.

Sturdy metal door handles greet you and with their cupping shape invite you to open the door and step inside. There you find fine leather and glossy wood in elegant proportions to the textured vinyl-covered dashboard and doors. Pleasing shapes abound. Ribbed metal rings rotate around cylindrical anchors to initiate changes in cabin climate or frequencies of incoming acoustic signals translated through a Bose 12-speaker stereo.



The seat, when you first try it, proves comfortable, though initially a bit stiff. The stiffness is intentional support for a sedan expected to undertake at least a few performance maneuvers, as well as significant high-speed travel, in its lifetime. The seats proved surprisingly a bit more comfortable than the stiffness level would have us assume. Really, they were very comfortable even for several hours straight with only a 91-octane fillup and a quick bathroom stop to break up the trip.

The driverís position provides prime perspective on the gauges. Metal-rimmed analog readouts display information clearly and attractively, but significantly do so in a unique design. What Audi calls "teardrop" shaped gauge outlines remind us more of camshaft lobes. And it is appropriate that there are two of these lobe-shaped rims on the instrument panel, as the A6ís V8 engine features dual overhead cams. This lobular design theme finds continuity throughout the interior, as the wood strips on the passengerís side of the dashboard and the doors are finished on one end with a lobe-like tip; this is paralleled on the outside by the chrome cam-lobe shape framing the side windows.



The second best view of the interior is what you see by crouching and kneeling outside the car and looking inside, across the interior to the center console. There you find a piece of sculpture fit for your mahogany office desk: an automatic transmission shift knob, its base covered by a leather shifter boot, with an aluminum rim around its base and anchored into a smoothly polished mass of wood, set in the center console. It catches the late afternoon sun, or the showroom floor light, and dazzles your vision. Itís a lovely focal point.

In one place above, and in one place behind the shifter, you find controls for Audiís Multi Media Interface. A screen on the center console amid the dash displays information on all the electronically controllable functions of the A6, and a control pad with eight function buttons and a navigation knob with four supporting selection buttons allow you to sail through the various menus. Most items are east to access between rotations of the knob and the selection of various menus through the buttons surrounding. Some functions are a bit more difficult to locate and operate. Setting up route guidance was not quite easy enough to be intuitive, and we struggled to find the volume adjustment for the voice guidance. We had to seek refuge on the ownerís manual at least twice. Only going to the manual twice is not a big deal; in fact, it was a welcome experience because it was quite easy to peruse. The main problem with the technology being paired with an older customer base less used to computer technology. This is not the same issue with the older still customer base of the A8, or with the far less user friendly technology found in other luxury sedans, but some will struggle. This youngun was pleased with MMI.

Playing weatherman inside the A6 is extremely easy - and the funny thing is, the weather inside is always as you predict it. Temperature increase and decrease is just a twist of a silver knob, and fan speed adjustment is the same but preceded by the pushing of a button on the upper, outboard corner of the driverís of passengerís knob to select the fan speed screen.



The driver starts the vehicle by either classical or contemporary methods: with key-in-hand, the driver may depress the brake and press a start button located by their right knee. Or, you may insert the key into the switch, which is located on the right side of the steering column. To stop, reverse the key action or press the stop button. At the end of a long day at work, this could be a valued function Ė its just one less thing to do, not having to fish the key out of your pocket. That single annoyance of not being able to find your key in your full pocket, can disturb the relaxing trend of your evening. Besides that, itís a neat little toy that everybody else has and Audi decided they didnít want to be left behind.

With either starting method, the 4.2 liter V8 jumps to life with a light rumble, and then settles into a low idle. The shifter slides easily out of P, through R and N into D. The electronic parking brake is released by your right index finger Ė this cool function borrowed from the A8 was not packaged in the same luxurious manner here as on the bigger sibling. On the A8, the electric motor which released the brake pressure had an interesting semi-futuristic sounding whine; on the A6, whether because of a desire for cost savings in choosing a different motor or because the A6 had 15000 miles on the odometer and the motor was just wornÖthe motor just didnít sound so delightful in its operation.



Of note, the A6 performed like it was brand new after 15000 miles. No creaks, squeaks or rattles. It should be this way after an equivalent of one and a quarter yearís worth of operation under the more intense miles driven by a variety of journalists trying to see what this luxury sedan could do, but itís still worth more than a similar review of a car with 2000 miles on it.

Exiting the parking lot at an angle and at 15 mph shows the suspension is intended for some sport but yet also luxury; the chassis does indeed feel strong, as all energy absorption of the impact of the angled path seems to be handled and dispersed by the suspension rather than through flexion of the chassis.

Driving away is achieved at a properly brisk pace. Pull from just 2000rpm in 1st and 2nd is pretty good, making smoothly furtive driving the norm, and responsive, fun performance readily available. Lift off the brake and stomp on the gas, and the A6 has to work for about 1-2 seconds to hit 3000rpm, then pulls you back into your seat with assertive force, the V8 growling and then roaring as it changes tone with speed and mechanical noises drown out combustion sounds as the tach need points to 6500rpm and shift happens. Hold the brakes and speed the engine up to 2500rpm and you will eliminate low-rev hesitation, instead getting a good launch with the A6 squatting on its hind legs and leaping forward.



This V8 is the same motor we have loved in the S4 and A8 V8, and we were quite happy to experience the same nice, broad powerband. This 4.2L powerplant is just more and less effective, respectively, than in the S4 and A8, due to weight differences. It seems a proper top-end engine choice for this car's weight and for it being a sports sedan, because of the smooth, continuous acceleration through the rpm range, and through the gear range. Passing on two lane highways is as easy as outdragging SUVs. Accelerating uphills is a breeze.

On our trip up to Mammoth, at the Southern end of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, we found the single flaw of the A6's motor: it is not immune to low air density. At 6-8000 ft elevation, the lack of oxygen actually managed to slow the A6 down. Until near that point, this sports sedan blasted up the 395 quite comfortably, seeming eager to breathe deeply the fresh, pine-scented air, and finally cruising comfortably up to 9,200 feet to view sunrise on (and moonset over) the Minarets.



Maneuvers in the A6 display the results of great efforts made to give this car both crisp handling and a smooth ride. Bumps are handled with ease, the shocks minimizing the magnitude of the impact while letting you know what the road surface is like below. The ride is very compliant over undulating surfaces, though when pushed to the extreme the comfort level factored in does show with some uneasiness over sharp elevation changes during lateral acceleration.

Flat or consistently rising or falling corners allow the A6 to setup properly after some understeer, and just grip. The stability of all wheel drive means you can really lean on the gas and not worry about swaping ends while trying to adjust your line - the same goes for sawing at the wheel in this well weighted automobile; although smooth operation of the wheel is the best way to get around a corner, unfamiliar roads may lead to sharp adjustments of the steering angle, and the simultaneous application of power will not disturb the cars attitude about its own axis of rotation.

Outside of power application, panic steering manuevers resulting in instability are countered by ever-present stability control. This prevents almost any tire squeel from beign emmitted as it keeps just about all slip in check. The driver may choose to deactivate ESP, but the computer does not leave you completely - ASR stays on. You get more freedom. You can engage in some entertaining levels of drift (not powerslides) before you feel any electronic interaction. The A6 handles its 4000 pounds quite elegantly, like a normal sized person with much experience on the ice engaging in ballet.

In tighter turns the A6 displays the limits of its weight and supple suspension as it is less responsive than its little brother the A4. But it is much more responsive than the A8, and it matches its competition well. This is designed for high speed grand touring, which certainly includes hard cornering, but this car will not be making a trip to an SCCA solo event any time soon.



Outside the powertrain and handling departments, the A6 provides great value to the customer in terms of safety. The 2006 A6 received a Double Best Pick from ths Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in recent crash testing. A slew of standard airbags, the sturday alimunm space frame with well engineered crumple zones keep driver and company intact in the event the driver does something the ESP can't correct, or somebody else decides to get too close of a look at the A6's lovely lines while traveling at a high relative velocity.

That last note makes this a complete package. Safety, power, responsive and confident handling, and solid luxury. Those are the things that make a competitive sports luxury midsize sedan. The A6 excels in all areas. It leads in some, and is defective in none. Can any of the other cars say that? Maybe not. The A6 doesn't blow the competition away, it is not an easy pick as a winner, but it is definitely at the front of the pack. Passionate, luxurious motoring awaits the lucky driver. Go drive one.
















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