SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide
The 1998 A6 is the new centerpiece of the Audi franchise, positioned in the heart of the luxury car market segment. The name may be familiar, but the car under the badge is completely different from any previous A6. Although based on the same chassis platform as the A4, it is longer, wider, and roomier. Power comes from an upgraded 200-horsepower, 5-valve-per-cylinder 2.8-liter V6, with a 5- speed automatic transmission features Tiptronic(tm) manual shifting. Unique to Audi is the concept of "atmospheres", differing, customer- specified interior color and material schemes at no extra cost. As with all current Audis, the new A6 is a front-wheel drive machine in standard form, with the Quattro all-wheel drive system available as a very reasonably priced standalone option. Eighty percent of Audis are ordered with Quattro.
A recent week with an A6 Quattro showed why. The A6 was extremely comfortable and had all of the expected luxury car features and more. All-wheel drive offers traction advantages in all conditions, not just rain and snow, and makes for a unique driving experience in the luxury car class.
APPEARANCE: The new A6 has a distinctive, coupelike style due to its long passenger cabin with a near-fastback roofline. From the front, it is most definitely an Audi and similar to the smaller A4, with a chrome-trimmed trapezoidal grille featuring the 4-ring corporate logo integrated into the front part of the hood. The distinctive, rounded rear styling with huge wraparound taillights is derived from the Audi TT show car. The car's gently-rounded contours are offset by crisp characters line on the sides, extending from the corners of the headlights in front over the slightly-flared wheel arches to the upper corners of the taillights. The bumpers are well-integrated into the rest of the body. Chrome trim around the side windows and at the base of the trunk lid gives notice of luxury, while the spoked alloy wheels hint at performance.
COMFORT: Interior space and comfort are definitely not sacrificed for style in the new A6. It is larger than the previous A6 in all important interior dimensions. Not only is the interior design elegant and functional, it can be customized for personal preferences at no extra charge. Audi calls the concept "atmospheres", and offers three choices. They differ by in colors and materials of wood and aluminum trim and upholstery. My test car had the "Ambiente" interior with bird's-eye maple and burnished aluminum trim and optional two-tone leather upholstery. It gave a light and airy feel to the car from the inside. Supportive, power-adjustable front bucket seats, a manually tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel, and very good instrument panel design make for the perfect driving environment. The heated seat option includes heating of the steering wheel. The roomy rear seat folds with a 60/40 split and has a ski passthrough behind the armrest/console/first-aid kit. Audio and climate control systems are very good and easy to use. Storage space abounds, with expanding pockets in all doors, a locking glove box, and front and rear consoles. The trunk is gigantic even without folding the rear seat.
SAFETY: The 1998 Audi A6 has a sturdy safety cell around the passenger compartment. All occupants have 3-point safety belts. The dual frontal airbags are a reduced-force design, and front side airbags are also standard. Rear side airbags are available. Antilock brakes are standard.
ROADABILITY: Quattro all-wheel drive doesn't repeal the laws of physics, but can postpone the consequences. Although the benefits of all-wheel drive are obvious in low-traction winter conditions, all-wheel drive has advantages in dry, high-traction situations as well. A few years ago, Audi ran Quattros in the SCCA Trans-Am road racing series. To say that they did well is understatement. "All-conquering" is more accurate. The Quattro traction advantage was such that the racing rules were changed and the cars outlawed. Fortunately, Quattro is completely legal on the street. The A6 Quattro has a near-perfect balance between luxury comfort and sports handling. There is a bit more body roll in hard cornering than in a hardcore sports sedan, but it's not excessive. Cornering ability and driveability are first-rate, with a very good feel. The speed-sensitive power steering has a light effort when parking, and the right touch at speed.
PERFORMANCE: "Balance" is the operative word describing the A6 Quattro's performance as well as its handling. Design improvements for better breathing add horsepower and flexibility to the 2.8-liter V6 engine. It still makes most of its power at high engine speeds, but low- speed torque has been much improved. More power might be better in a perfect world of speed limitless, traffic-free autobahns and Alpine roads, but the A6's 200 horsepower is just fine for America. The electronically-controlled 5-speed automatic transmission adapts its shift strategy to the driver's driving style, and shifts quickly and smoothly. For those situations when human control is superior to that of a computer, flick the shift lever into Tiptronic mode and shift manually. It's the perfect combination: automatic for traffic, manual for the open road.
CONCLUSIONS: The all-new 1998 Audi A6 has a host of unique features that make it stand out in the mid-luxury class.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 33,750 Price As Tested $ 41,225 Engine Type 90 degreeV6, dual overhead cam, 30 valves Engine Size 2.8 liters / 169 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 6000 Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 3200 Transmission 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic (tm) manual shifting Wheelbase / Length 108.6 in. / 192.0 in. Curb Weight 3704 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.5 (17.3) Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium or regular Tires P205/55 HR16 Goodyear Eagle RS-A m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent 4-link with upper and lower control arms, coil springs / quattro: independent double control arm, coil springs standard: torsion beam axle with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, all-wheel drive (front- wheel drive standard) PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 17 / 26 / 20 0 to 60 mph 9.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.8 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.28 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Quattro IV all-wheel drive system $ 1,650 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55 tires $ 225 Audio Package: Bose(r) premium sound system with subwoofer, 6-disc CD changer $ 1,300 Cold Weather Package: expandable ski/storage sack, heated front seats and steering wheel $ 750 Convenience Package: glass sun/moon roof (power tilt and slide), memory for driver's seat and outside mirrors, auto- dimming inside rear-view mirror $ 1,500 Leather Seat Upholstery $ 1,550 Destination Charge $ 500