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Car Review: 2005 Audi A6

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By Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Audi

There are probably reasons that I'm not a product planner. Consider the Audi A6, for instance. The most recent iteration set a stunning new direction in style when it was introduced for the 1998 model year, and not only do its elegantly-rounded neo-Bauhaus lines still look fresh, they have spawned a host of imitators. Introduced with a 200-horsepower, 2.8-liter V6, the line expanded over the years to include V8 power as well, and even serious performance in the guise of the S6 and RS6 models. I would happily continue the 1998 to 2004 A6's style and substance nearly forever.

But, then, that might allow the competition to catch up, eventually. Audi thinks differently. To that end, it has just introduced the next generation of A6. The new A6 is more evolutionary than revolutionary in looks and specification, but it has changed more than a quick glance might indicate. Audi has used the motto ``lead, never follow'' for a while now, and it continues to lead in design and specification with the new 2005 A6. Audi recently introduced the 2005 A6 in San Francisco, CA. To find out more about this important and interesting car, I attended the press launch.

At first look, it seems that little has changed in the A6's styling but the grille. The massive new grille is certainly unmistakable, but it's more evolutionary than it might seem. Think of last year's grille - a double trapezoid bisected horizontally by the front bumper. Now remove the bumper crossbar, or, rather, integrate it into the grille. The result can be seen on the front of the `05 A6, and soon on all Audis. With the subtly-restyled and more crisply-defined exterior styling, it gives significant presence. And, while the shape is nominally the same - the much-copied long, coupe-like roofline continues, albeit a little slicker and more refined - there are some very noticeable differences. The previous A6 was notable for its rounded masses and lack of distinctive character lines. The new one has a discrete line at the shoulders, much like the newest A4 sedan, and a prominent rocker panel line at the bottom of the sides, swept upwards toward the rear to suggest a performance-oriented wedge-shaped appearance. The old A6's rounded rear, with its massive wrap-around and -over taillights, is gone, replaced by a more angular look, again, reminiscent of the A4 and latest A8. There is a definite and definitive Audi design language, and the new A6 is the most advanced expression of it. The design is cohesive and identifiable, even without badging.

Under the skin lies a much-changed structure. The previous-generation A6 was a solid car with good chassis rigidity; the new one improves on that with 34% better torsional rigidity. That translates to even lower levels of noise, vibration, and harshness and improved ride comfort and handling. The wheelbase has grown by three inches, adding to both front and rear-seat leg room. Width is up slightly, and there is an inch or so of extra shoulder room. A development of Audi's trademark four-link front suspension and the self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension first used on the A8 at the rear are tuned for comfort and handling.

The interior is all-new and impressive, with the first wraparound cockpit design seen in an Audi. While centered on the driver, front and rear passengers have plenty of comfort and amenities as well. Leave it to Audi to one-up the competition in subtle but telling ways - the wood trim on the instrument panel is bound with (what else, this is an Audi, after all) aluminum. Very slick, and very tasteful, not at all flashy.

While the engine choices are seemingly-familiar, a 3.2-liter V6 and a 4.2-liter V8, those engines are not the ones used last year. The V8 is the one also used in the high-performance S4. It loses five horsepower due to changes to the intake and exhaust manifolds to make it fit, but with 335 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, that's not going to be particularly noticeable. The V6 is, literally, a chip off the old block as it is a modular development of the V8. 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 on both engines), 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. The V8, with an 11:1 compression ratio and no FSI, requires at least 91 octane. Look for more use of FSI in future Audis.

The rest of the drivetrain is similar for both cars - a ZF six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic(r) manual-shift mode and the latest version of Audi's quattro(r) full-time all-wheel drive system. When it came time to drive, quattro got a workout.

The drive route took us north through the lovely, little-traveled winding back roads of Marin and Sonoma counties to the Russian River country and then back a similar route. Perfect roads for scenery and testing the comfort and ability of a high-performance luxury car. And in perfect quattro weather. Anyone who thinks of California as endless summer and warm beaches has been watching way too much television. The Northern California hills are usually still brown at this time of year, with maybe a little new, green grass poking through the summer's dead remains. Not this year. Early heavy rains left the countryside a lovely emerald green, and more rain was on the way. It met us. Big time. But, except for a few times when I slowed to a near crawl when the windshield wipers were overpowered (I do like to actually see the road that I'm driving on!), both the V8 car I drove north in and the V6 I drove back were unaffected by the weather. They were solid, sure-footed, comfortable, and never bland, boring transportation appliances.

Which is better? That's an irrelevant question here in the land of speed limits as both are vastly overqualified for American conditions. The V8 is nearly the measure of the old S6, but the V6 is not far behind in prowess. Audi's spokespeople have a saying: ``The product is the hero.'' The new A6 is definitely a hero.