2005 Audi A6 3.2 Quattro Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2005 Audi A6 3.2 Quattro AT6

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

If Audi is not the best-known of the premium German automakers - yet - it is the most influential throughout the industry in styling, interior design, and drive technology. And most of that influence was has been way of the second-generation A6 sedan, introduced in 1998. A deceptively clean design in the neo-Bauhaus vein that would soon give birth to the TT coupe and roadster, echos of its sleek shape and coupe-like roofline can now be seen in the offerings of more than a few Japanese and American manufacturers.

Audi's original concept of integrated interior design, called ``atmospheres'' was later blatantly copied by a certain Japanese manufacturer. High-performance, pavement-oriented all-wheel drive is the latest ``new feature'' from many automakers worldwide, but is established technology for Audi.

Its quattro(tm) system has been developed continuously since the days of the first Sport Quattros in the early 1980s. Other manufacturers are just now discovering the benefits of lightweight aluminum alloys for chassis and suspension parts; again, old hat for Audi. The 1998-2004 A6 holds it own in style and performance even today, but there is no sense letting the competition get close. So Audi has introduced the next step, the third-generation A6, for 2005.

If at first glance it looks like the previous model with freshened styling, look closer. There are subtle but significant differences, and the car itself is longer, especially in wheelbase, for increased passenger comfort and improved stability and handling. The chassis structure has been modified for increased strength and rigidity, again improving handling, comfort, and safety.

Two models are offered, the 3.2 V6 and 4.2 V8. Sounds like last year? Not quite - the 335-horsepower V8 is the one previously used in the high-performance S4 and S6, while the 255-horsepower V6 is a completely-new unit derived from that V8. Transmissions in both are a new six-speed automatic with ``Tiptronic''(r) manual-shift mode. Drive is, naturally, to all four wheels by way of the latest quattro system.

I was introduced to both versions of the new A6 when it made its press debut in San Francisco last Fall, and spent a wet, windy day (perfect quattro weather!) driving the V8 on the narrow, twisting backroads of Marin and Sonoma counties north of the city. I've just finished a week at home with the V6 version. Both are very, very impressive automobiles, with class-leading styling, comfort, and ergonomic features.

The new Audi A6 is the archetypal European luxury-sports sedan, refined, exquisitely balanced, subtly elegant, and supremely overqualified for and underemployed on speed-limited American roads.

APPEARANCE: You're forgiven for thinking, after a quick glance, that the new A6 looks just like the old one, but with a new grille and crisp, sharply-delineated shoulder line and rear panel added. Although all body panels have changed, considerably, the body differences are that subtle, and put the A6's styling in line with that of Audi's flagship A8. The roofline, which defined the previous-generation A6, has changed very little. The massive grille, domed hood, and well-defined front fender lines build on Audi styling themes of the past few years, and give the look of a 1930s speed-record car. The wedge-shaped lower sill character line adds to the look of performance. The old A6's rounded tail, with its huge signature wraparound taillights, has given way to more angular styling.

COMFORT: Interiors are an Audi specialty. ``Elegance without opulence'' has been a motto for a while, and the 2005 A6's interior is a prime example. It's simple, yet elegant, and is an invitingly comfortable place in which to spend time. Wood trim is standard on the V8, and optional on the V6. That's not unusual, but the way that it's done is - rather than ``plain old'' burled wood, it's bound with thin strips of aluminum. Only in an Audi.... The cockpit-style instrument panel and center stack are centered on the driver, with instruments and controls placed for easy visibility and use. All windows feature one-touch operation down and up. Audio, and phone and navigation systems if specified, are controlled by the ``Multi Media Interface'' (MMI) on the console. This looks alarmingly like the overly-complex and obscure system used by another German manufacturer, but is almost diametrically opposite in its ease of use. Even better is the auxiliary volume control on the steering wheel - instead of the common pushbutton, it's a rotary control that responds easily to the driver's thumb. The steering wheel of both models is adjustable for both tilt and reach, with the V8 power-assisted and the V6 manual. Seats, front and rear, in both are excellent, fit for long-distance comfort. With the increase in wheelbase and width, there is more room inside and Audi has made the best of it. Six-footers should fit just fine in the rear unless a couple of seven-footers are in front. The trunk is commendably large.

SAFETY: Passengers in the A6 are protected by a strong central structure designed for controlled deformation in a crash, and front, front and rear side, and head curtain airbags. Active safety features include strong four-wheel disc brakes with ESP stability assistance, brake assist, and electronic brake distribution.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The previous-generation A6 chassis was well-designed, very rigid, and provided an excellent platform upon which to base a high-performance luxury car. The new chassis is even better, with a 34% increase in torsional rigidity for even more precise handling and a quieter driving experience. The front suspension is the latest development of Audi's four-link design, while the rear trapezoidal-link system is taken from the A8. Spring and shock rates are moderate, firm enough for spirited cornering but soft enough for long-distance comfort. The speed-sensitive steering is light at low speeds for easy parking, but effort increases perfectly at speed for control. Quattro is a race-developed, full-time high-performance all-wheel drive system, with power distributed to all four wheels all of the time, not to the front and only sometimes to the rear like some other all-wheel drive systems. Traction, even in slippery conditions, is excellent, and handling is predictable. Whether on a convoluted back road in the rain or on the long straight sections of the Interstate, the new A6 is an enjoyable and pleasant car to drive.

PERFORMANCE: The new 3.2-liter V6 is literally a chip off the old block of the 4.2-liter V8, as it is a modular development of that engine. Think of it as three-quarters of the V8, with a balance shaft to take care of vibrations caused by its 90-degree bank angle. It features Audi's new FSI system. FSI stands for ``Fuel Straight Injection,'' and, as it sounds, that means diesel-like direct fuel injection for the most precise control possible. Benefits include more power, a greater spread of power (helped by continuous inlet cam control), and reduced emissions and fuel consumption. FSI allows a higher compression ratio, contributing to efficiency. And it's high, at 12.5:1 compared to the more common 10:1 or so - but it can run just fine on 87-octane unleaded regular gasoline, although 91-octane premium is recommended for best performance. With 255 horses at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm, power delivery is strong and very linear, and is aided by the very good six-speed automatic transmission. ``Tiptronic'' manual-shift mode is rarely absolutely necessary, but can add to the driver's enjoyment on the right kind of road.

CONCLUSIONS: With its new A6 sedan, Audi had raised the benchmarks for design and performance in the mid-luxury class.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Audi A6 3.2 quattro

Base Price			$ 40,900
Price As Tested		        $ 45,370
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve 
				 aluminum alloy V6 with variable
				 valve timing
Engine Size			3.2 liters / 191 cu. in.
Horsepower			255 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			243 @ 3250 rpm
Transmission			6-speed electronically-controlled
				 automatic
Wheelbase / Length		111.9 in. / 193.5 in.
Curb Weight			3957 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.5
Fuel Capacity			21.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline;
				 91 octane unleaded premium for best
				 performance
Tires				P245/45 HR17 Continental Conti Pro
				 Contact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, antilock,
				 ESP, and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent four-link /
				  independent trapezoidal link
Drivetrain			front engine, all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		19 / 26 / 21
0 to 60 mph				7.1  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package - includes:
  Power glass sunroof, bi-xenon adaptive headlights,
  Bose (r) premium sound system, 
  wood interior trim				$ 3,000
17" alloy wheels with all-season tires		$   750
Destination charge				$   720

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