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New Car Review

1998 Audi A6

by Carey Russ


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.


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)

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


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