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By Tom Hagin

Audi Full Line factory footage (5:48) 28.8, 56k, or 200k

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 36.600
Price As Tested                                    $ 42,325
Engine Type       VIVT* DOHC 30-valve 2.8 Liter V6 w/MSFI**
Engine Size                                 169 cid/2771 cc
Horsepower                                   200 @ 6000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               207 @ 3200 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  108.6"/71.3"/192.0"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3787 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                              205/55R16 H-rated
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                    Front-engine/all-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/five-door
Domestic Content                                One percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.29


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/26/21
0-60 MPH                                         10 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     17.5 seconds @ 82.5 mph
Top speed (est.)                   (Elect. limited) 130 mph
     * Variable intake valve timing
     ** Multi-point sequential fuel injection

An answer to the flood of criticism directed to the booming SUV population on the road is the venerable station wagon but not the fake wood- paneled domestic behemoths of the '60s. The "sports" wagons of the '90s offer sport, utility and fortunately for Audi, great looks in the case of its all-wheel-drive Avant station wagon.

OUTSIDE - The styling of the A6 is on the cutting edge of technology with smooth and sculpted lines that are both good-looking and aerodynamic. The Avant's exterior dimensions are virtually the same as those of the A6 sedan, but the roof line is taller which equates to more headroom inside and, of course, more cargo room. Fit and finish of the body is gathering kudos worldwide from the automotive press, with small, uniform gaps between body panels and no squeaks or rattles anywhere. And unlike an SUV with its huge, heavy swing-up tailgate that can sometimes rattle over bumps, the Avant's gate swings up easily and is high enough to clear the heads of tall people. The brightly polished roof rails can be outfitted with attachments to hold bikes, skis, snowboards and/or luggage. Fifteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, though our tester came fitted with optional 16-inch versions with grippier all-season tires.

INSIDE - Up front, the Avant's interior is the same as the sedan, but that extra inch of headroom comes in handy for tall drivers and passengers. The Avant offers 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seats in place, and 73.2 cubic feet of usable space with the seats folded down. Those same seats don't fold completely flat, however, but they do offer a 60/40 split with a handy center pass-through and a fabric boot to protect the upholstery from long items like skis. Over 41 inches of space between the wheel wells is handy for wider cargo, and a partition keeps cargo and passengers separate. Standard items are too numerous to list but they include dual mode air conditioning and speed control, front and rear fog lights as well as tilt and telescoping steering column. An AM/FM cassette and power windows, door locks, front seats and outside mirrors (also heated) are all standard, too.

ON THE ROAD - We'd love to see U.S.-bound Avants equipped with Audi's twin-turbo 2.7 liter V6 - a 227-horse unit that is enjoyed by Avant buyers in Europe and can propel the nearly 4000-pound wagon to 60 mph in just under seven seconds. Over here, we have to be satisfied with a 2.8 liter version that produces 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. It is all-aluminum, with five valves per cylinder and four camshafts. Power is adequate, but acceleration (10 seconds to 60 mph) is not sparkling. More power would be appreciated, given the car's weight. Mated to this engine is Audi's weather-defeating quattro all-wheel-drive system. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard and it features Tiptronic shifting, a "notch" in the shift gate that allows it to be shifted up and down like a manual gearbox.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Avant rides on unibody construction with true independent suspension front and rear. Its multi-link front suspension has been refined by using numerous cast aluminum parts, along with a tubular subframe made of lightweight steel. This upgrading shaved twenty-two pounds from the prior model's front suspension. Avant's double wishbone rear suspension reacts well to changing road conditions using coil springs and gas-pressure shocks. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear, but if there was one suggestion we'd make to Audi it would be to stiffen the sway bars a bit for less body roll in the corners. Speed-sensing rack-and-pinion steering is also standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual next-generation dashboard airbags, side-impact seat airbags, ABS and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - 16-inch wheels: $225; Audio package: (Bose-brand premium sound with a six-disc CD changer): $1,300; Cold weather package: heated front and rear seats and steering wheel): $650; Convenience package: (glass sunroof, auto-dim inside and outside mirrors, HomeLink remote transmitters): $1,500; Leather upholstery: $1,550; Destination charge: $500.