Car reviews - Audi - A6 - 3.0 TDi quattro sedan
Power and economy of diesel, refinement, massive boot, distinctive styling
Room for improvement
Hmmm. Front seats are a bit flat, less prestige than a Benz or BMW
7 Sep 2005
AUDI's A6, since the first model was launched in 1994, has always been seen as something of a luxury-class wannabe.
No reflection on the basic quality of the mid-size car, but it seems the only real aspirational aspect of the A6 lay with its local distributors and their desire to see it sharing its rightful place on the new-car sales ladder with the likes of Mercedes-Benz E-class and BMW 5 Series.
That role has been denied it so far. It has always been a 300 vehicles a year proposition (except for last year when it topped 400 sales) where the BMW and Benz make 2000 or more sales a year.
The latest A6 is obviously not about to change all that overnight, but at least the badge now has full factory backing in Australia, which helps brighten the long-term prospects.
The latest A6 came at the end of 2004 and, like its predecessor did at its launch, it looks a pretty complete package.
The new A6 is bigger, sassier and a recipient of every known piece of practical technology short of the all-alloy construction of its bigger A8 brother.
It does have some A8 DNA though, including the trapezoidal-link rear suspension, and there is quite extensive use of aluminium - primarily in the suspension - to keep the weight down.
As before, the A6 offers a choice of two-wheel or all-wheel drive, the former only available on the base 2.4 and 3.0-litre models. The 3.0-litre version offers a choice of two or all-wheel drive, while the 4.2-litre V8 and the new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel are quattro only.
While the petrol engine line-up, in terms of engine capacity, is the same as before apart from the dropping of the 2.7-litre biturbo V6, there's some added spice to the range with the introduction of a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that produces an uncharacteristically healthy 165kW along with the usual turbo-diesel monster torque.
It's 450Nm in this case, produced not far off idle at 1400rpm and continuing through to 3250rpm.
Although the 2.4 and 3.0-litre petrol V6s use Audi's Multitronic CVT transmission, the turbo-diesel (and the V8) only comes with a six-speed tiptronic sequential gearbox.
Like all Audis, the A6 makes an impact with its styling, in this case amplified by the new front-end treatment with its massive, full-depth "single frame" grille opening leaving one in no mistake about what sort of car this is.
The rest of the A6 is a development of the clean, aerodynamic themes that have characterised Audis right from the original 100 model of the 1980s that was at the time the most aerodynamic sedan in the world.
Good aero figures are pretty much the norm for any prestige sedan these days, and the latest A6's 0.30 drag coefficient hasn't advanced on the identical figure claimed by the 100 two decades ago.
The A6 is aerodynamic, but certainly not class leading.
The A6 was never undernourished when it came to body size, and the new one is even less so with extensions in all directions resulting in a bigger interior as a well as a massive boot - accessed via split-fold rear seats - that is the biggest in its class.
As always, the aesthetics play a major part in defining the new Audi and the interior, as well as the exterior, tend towards pace setting in terms of finish quality, tastefulness, design and function.
The dash is neatly curved around the driver and the seats are big and comfortable, even thought the impression at first may be that the cushions are a little flat and unyielding.
Spend a few hours on the road and you'll discover the reason for that when you realise there's none of the discomfort you'll often find in a plusher-feeling seat.
The instrument display is classic Audi, with the eerie red glow of the gauges and switches dominant at night. The ergonomic layout is generally faultless and there's plenty of adjustability to keep the driver happy - although even at this price point there's no memory function for the power seat adjustment.
But the amount of room inside is impressive. The previous A6 managed well against its peers in this respect and the new one does even better, particularly in the boot, which is cavernously deep, wide, high and free of any jutting bits and pieces that might tangle with fragile luggage.
Inside, the car offers a clean, tasteful environment that looks quite appropriate for a German luxury-class sedan, along with the array of safety equipment you'd expect.
All A6s gets eight airbags including full-length curtain bags as well as anti-whiplash front head restraints. There's also the full array of electronic safety aids including four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with four-channel ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.
But the most interesting thing about the new A6 is the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.
It comes close to setting a new benchmark for smooth, quiet diesel power. It starts instantly - as most civilised diesels do these days - and hides its characteristic cold-start clatter very well.
The V6's design is as advanced as a contemporary petrol engine, with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and a common-rail direct injection system.
The 165kW power output might be high for a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, but the revs at which it is developed aren't particularly.
The V8-like power is delivered at 4000rpm while, as mentioned earlier, the massive 450Nm of torque are on stream by just 1400prm. This means there's a wide range of usability that makes the six-speed tiptronic auto almost redundant (the said, the ZF transmission, that is now used by many a car-maker, is delightfully smooth-shifting).
The result of all this is a largish - and not particularly light, at 1765kg for the TDi - turbo-diesel that accelerates from zero to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds, yet will have no trouble returning better than 10 litres per 100km in even the worst conditions. The official claim of a mixed total of 8.3L/100km is quite achievable.
And the slightly larger 80-litre quattro fuel tank is handy for long-distance cruising where 800 kilometre-plus gaps between refills are entirely feasible.
The TDi steers and rides nicely too. With the extended wheelbase and wider tracks, plus the adoption of the trapezoidal link rear end, the quattro is well mannered as well as being limpet-like in its accelerative grip on the road.
Even those 450 Newton metres fail to unstick the A6, particularly when traction control and electronic stability control are also thrown into the mix.
The car's interactions with the driver are important here too. The A6's nicely communicative, well weighted steering denies its actual size and weight. It steers with precision even though it might lack the tricky varying-ratio systems now starting to come into vogue (BMW 5 series, Lexus GS430).
The A6 feels well-planted, confident, which is the sort of thing you might expect from a high-end German luxury sedan with full-time four-wheel drive incorporating a Torsen centre differential as well as a differential lock to supplement the traction control.
Couple this with a well-controlled, absorbent ride and the A6 quattro, in all conditions, is about as unfazed as it's possible to be in a passenger sedan.
Yes, the A6 is an advance over its already refined predecessor. It's big, comfortable, practical and, in turbo-diesel form, powerful and economical at the same time. And it has full-time all-wheel drive to separate itself from the opposition.
Will it make the transition to a serious luxury contender that will sell in BMW/Mercedes numbers? Maybe not in the foreseeable future, but that will be nothing to do with the intrinsic quality of the new Audi A6.
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