Does Longer, Wider, More Powerful Mean Better?
New Engines, Chassis, Technology Challenges BMW, Mercedes
Another great new high performance diesel
Rating - **** out of 5
LE CASTELLET, France - With the British government, in full nanny-state mode, lecturing us poor dimwits about the evils of corpulence, Audi has fearlessly declared that bigger is better.
For humans, new Labour has decided that enough is enough. We must shape up or ship out. Happily, the government doesnt yet extend its writ to telling car companies how big their creations are allowed to be, and thats just as well for German luxury car manufacturer Audi.
The new A6 is not only longer and wider than the car it replaces, Audi, a subsidiary of VW, tells us with all the pride it can muster (and thats saying something) it is the largest-in-class. In other words it has more bulk than the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-class and Jaguar S-Type. It has more power too, not to mention speed. But the latter metaphor soon runs out of gas as the competition also electronically limits the top speed of its cars to 155 mph (250 km/h). Not surprisingly, with all this talk of bulk, economy doesnt get much of a mention.
New From The Ground Up
The new A6 is new from the ground up, and is, with all the restraint I can muster, some car. I drove the 3.2 litre V6 FSI, 4.2 litre V8, and the 3.0 litre V6 diesel versions on the highways and byways near the Le Castellet hotel, Bernie Ecclestones creation in the South of France, which sits alongside the Paul Ricard racing circuit just north of Toulon and close to Marseilles.
The 3.2 FSI is a direct injection petrol motor which uses similar technology to common rail diesels to improve fuel economy without loss of power. This engine is said by Audi to return an average of 28.2 mpg (10.0 l/100 km) in 6-speed manual mode and 25.6 mpg (11.0 l/100 km) for the automatic. Thats not particularly impressive the 3.0 litre diesel returns 33.2 mpg (8.5)- but the 3.2 performs very well and sounds great while its doing it.
The 4.2 litre V8 is a magnificent performer with all the musical accompaniment you would expect. But with prices starting at £43,000 (65,000 euros) and fuel consumption running at a claimed combined 23.9 mpg (11.8) this version is always going to be a minority pursuit. Eventually, the A6 will be available with a 2.4 litre V6 petrol, a 2.0 litre four-cylinder diesel, and a 2.7 litre V6 diesel.
Diesel Stands Out
But it is the 3.0 litre direct injection turbo diesel which is the stand out of the range.
The brand new engine develops 225 bhp and although it doesnt mathematically have all the get up and go of the V8, youd never know it. The pickup is instant and linear, the roar from engine sweet and sophisticated. Using the tiptronic manual override on the 6-speed auto box the car always felt in the right gear on the mountain bends and at cruising speed on the highways. Handling felt faultless, but perhaps without the panache youd expect from a BMW. Needless to say, if you dont drive the car like an idiot, it will handle perfectly. Ill leave the boy-racer car magazines and failed racing driver TV bores to tell you what happens if you disengage your brain, or childishly find a way to switch off the computerised aids to road-holding and stability.
The A6 cabins are impressive, but without the classy luxury of a Jaguar S-type, or the ergonomic simplicity of a BMW 5-series. The Mercedes E class wins in this race. The A6 dash board seems a bit cluttered and not particularly stylish. There is bags of room as you would expect from the biggest car in its class, so much in fact that I felt there was too much space between my arm and the door armrest when sitting in the front passenger seat.
Im not convinced by the cars looks. When I first set eyes on the beast at the Geneva Car Show in March, I was appalled by the overweight, almost grotesque way the car looked on the stand. It looked unmistakeably like an A6, but one which had consumed a few too many bacon cheeseburgers.
Now Im not so sure. Outside in the real world, the car certainly looked big, almost indistinguishable from its bigger sibling the A8. But overweight? I dont think so. It is clearly an Audi, and that may play well in the executive car market where conservatism is all. The latest BMW 5-series, with its radical new looks, shocked some potential buyers with its angular, busy shape which contrasted with its predecessors classic, smooth body. Again the Mercedes looks the most elegant, in my opinion, in this class.
When you see the new Audi A6 in your rear view mirror you will get a shock. The car has what Audi calls a bold, new face, but it also describes it as a trapezoidal .. single-frame radiator grille. The grille is meant to remind us of Auto Union racing cars in the 1930s. The design is much deeper, and decidedly more aggressive, than the old one, but retains the familiar badge with four interlocking circles. It is also incorporated into the steering wheel design. This new face of Audi will progressively appear on new cars across the range. Time will tell whether this will attract or repel buyers.
Standard safety features abound, including the latest computerised braking and traction control, and air bags which protect against accidents intruding from the front, side and rear. Some air bags deploy in stages depending on the severity of the collision. An electronic handbrake frees up space between the driver and front seat passenger. A 6-speed manual gearbox is also standard. Options include a 7-speed, or continuously variable Multitronic automatic. Four-wheel drive is also available across the range.
See Round Corners
You can have radar cruise control which controls the speed of the car depending on surrounding traffic. The A6 can be fitted with high tech headlights which see around corners. Audi says this means the driver can detect possible danger earlier than conventional lighting. Air suspension will be available in 2005.
The new A6 is now on sale across most of Europe. Prices start at about £24,000/¤36,000.
What a delicious range of choices if you are lucky enough to have the readies to buy a car in this class. All the cars drive beautifully, all go like stink, even the diesels. So its probably down to the ultra subjective view of how they look and how you feel the brand will look on you. My first thought would be to go for the BMW, but I still have doubts about its looks. The Jaguar is superb, as is the Merc and the Audi. By the time I make my mind up maybe the new Lexus GS300 will be on the market. If that has a diesel, maybe Ill go for that.
Neil Winton June 2004
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