2003 Audi A6 3.0 CVT : Review

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SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

    What are important characteristics for a luxury car? Comfort, 
certainly, and that is enhanced by mechanical and ride smoothness. 
Quietness, too, is critical, and that is ensured by solid design and 
construction, and excellence in soundproofing engineering and 
manufacturing. Power doesn't hurt, and efficient power, which 
combines high output with good fuel economy and low emissions, 
is the best. After all, waste does not contribute to wealth.
    
That said, one of the smoothest, quietest cars I've driven in 
recent memory, and one that exemplifies the characteristics above, 
isn't even in the ultra-expensive premium luxury class. It's the 2002 
Audi A6 3.0 CVT, a comfortably mid-sized sedan priced at the low 
end of the mid-luxury class. The 2002 A6 line of subtly restyled 
sedans and wagons is comprehensive, with quattro(tm) all-wheel 
drive or FrontTrak front-wheel drive, and 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6, 
4.2-liter V8, or new 3.0-liter V6 engines. In various models, manual 
or automatic transmissions - with Tiptronic (r) manual shift mode - 
are offered. But innovative engineering is an Audi hallmark, and the 
most innovative feature of the A6 line is the ``Multitronic''(tm) 
continuously-variable transmission (CVT) available in the A6 3.0 
FrontTrak sedan.
   
CVTs have been around for over 40 years, but have previously 
only been offered in small, low-powered economy cars. Early CVTs 
used hydraulically-controlled variable-sized pulleys and rubber 
belts. The Multitronic replaces rubber with steel, using a vanadium-
plated steel link-pin chain that can easily handle the 3.0-liter 
engine's 221 lb-ft of torque. Electronics and hydraulics together 
control its function. The sides of the variable-sized pulleys, called 
``variators'' by Audi, move in and out, changing the chain's 
position and the diameter of the pulley. In this way, an infinite gear 
ratio range between the lowest and highest point is obtained, with 
no discrete shifting. There are torque converter automatics, 
including Audi's, that shift very smoothly and almost imperceptibly, 
but the Multitronic illustrates the difference between ``almost'' and 
truly imperceptible. Unless it is placed in manual-shift mode, the 
Multitronic never shifts, in a conventional sense. It is uncannily 
smooth.
    
I've been spoiled by my week with an A6. With its combination 
of style, space, grace, and power, it brings the refinement expected 
from a premium luxury car into the heart of the luxury marketplace.

APPEARANCE: In general shape, the 2002 A6 seems no different 
than last year's car, and Audi obviously has gotten the shape right 
as elements of it, particularly the long, arched passenger cabin, have 
appeared in designs by other manufacturers. But notice the details. 
The front has been revised, with Audi's new horizontally-split, 
chrome-trimmed grille and restyled headlights. At the rear, the 
taillights have been redone, and all models now have dual exhausts. 
The changes, though minor, add up to a more defined, athletic look.

COMFORT: Inside, too, the `02 A6 has only minor changes to its 
already-excellent design. Highlights include aluminum bezels 
around the instruments, aluminum trim on the shift knob and gate, 
and revised switchgear. A new steering wheel incorporates audio 
and cruise controls. The atmosphere is one of conservative 
European luxury, with a two-tone color scheme and burled walnut 
trim. There is no shortage of room. Imagine a car in which people 
argue over who gets to sit in the back seat because they want to sit 
in the spacious back seat. That car exists. It's called the Audi A6. 
Design of both the power front buckets and rear bench is 
supportive and very comfortable. The optional seat heaters are the 
best in the business, with six levels, but I didn't have a chance to 
use them this time around. With the outside thermometer showing 
108F, the air conditioning got a workout, and passed with flying 
colors. Space, design, and comfort make the A6 a winner.

SAFETY: The Audi A6 3.0 has standard front, front side, and 
``sideguard'' curtain air bags, antilock disc brakes, and a sturdy 
central structure with front and rear crumple zones.

ROADABILITY: The A6 is primarily a luxury car, but it's a 
German luxury car made for German driving, so it is capable on any 
sort of road, and at speeds far in excess of what are legal in the 
U.S. A rigid chassis allows relatively soft shock and spring tuning, 
for first-rate ride comfort and near sports-sedan cornering ability. 
The A6 3.0 CVT is a front-wheel drive car with 221 lb-ft of torque, 
but the four-link front suspension eliminates torque steer, for more 
precise, safer handling, and increased comfort. In town, through the 
twisties, or on the open road, the A6 3.0 CVT is quiet, 
comfortable, and composed. When pushed hard, it seems to get 
smaller and even more responsive.

PERFORMANCE: Although Audi's new 3.0-liter V6 is only 200 
cubic centimeters larger than the old 2.8, those 200ccs make a very 
noticeable difference, particularly when matched to the Multitronic 
CVT. The engine block is now aluminum, for lighter weight. Five 
valve per cylinder heads ensure good breathing, as do a two-stage 
intake manifold and variable intake cam timing, for maximum 
power with minimum emissions.  Horsepower and torque are up, to 
220 bhp at 6300 rpm and 221 lb-ft at 3200. The Multitronic keeps 
the engine at the most efficient part of its rev range, maximizing 
both performance and economy, and can simulate a lower gear 
when descending a grade. Because it continuously varies ratios, it 
never shifts in the conventional sense. This feels strange at first, but 
you'll soon get used to it, and the smoothest torque converter 
automatic will feel crude and jerky. A manual mode, with six 
``ratios'' programmed in software, is included. It is never really 
necessary, but certainly adds enjoyment for performance driving, 
keeping the engine in the higher, more powerful part of its power 
band. In several hundred miles of mixed city, backroad, and short-
hop highway driving, I averaged 23 mpg - not bad at all for a 
quick, powerful, and roomy luxury car driven with no particular eye 
toward economy.

CONCLUSIONS: The Audi A6 CVT combines smooth comfort 
and power in a luxurious manner.

SPECIFICATIONS
2002 Audi A6 3.0 CVT

Base Price			$ 35,400
Price As Tested		        $ 40,325
Engine Type			aluminum alloy 30-valve V6 with 
                                 variable intake valve timing and 
                                 manifold path
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower			220 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			221 @ 3200 rpm
Transmission			electronically and hydraulically-
                                 controlled continuously-variable
Wheelbase / Length		108.7 in. / 192.0 in.
Curb Weight			3516 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        16.0
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P205/55 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
                                 antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		4-link independent / torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 25 / 23
0 to 60 mph				7.1  sec (mfg)

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Preferred Luxury Package - includes: glass power tilt
 and slide sunroof and leather upholstery                    $ 1,800
Audi Navigation System                                       $ 1,350
Premium Package - includes: multi-function steering
 wheel, xenon high-intensify headlights,  rear
 Parktronic®                                                 $ 1,200
Destination Charge                                           $   575
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