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Car reviews - Audi - A6 - 4.2 V8 sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Rev-happy V8 engine, capable chassis, high level of active and passive safety, quality and spacious interior
Room for improvement
Dead steering, sombre interior

4 Apr 2001

AUDI'S elegant A6 sedan has always lacked a certain something. And we do not just mean sales performance.

It always seemed just a little too clean and civilised for its own good a triumph of technical excellence over human passion and all that the latter implies, both good and bad.

As if in recognition of this comes the latest iteration of the A6, the 4.2-litre V8 quattro. With 220kW of power and 400Nm of torque, it makes its lesser 2.4 and 2.8-litre V6 brethren appear positively weak-kneed by comparison.

The price, though, reflects the rise in performance levels. It is significantly cheaper than either the BMW 540I or Mercedes-Benz E430, but it is no surprise that the importer has set a target of just 100 sales per annum.

Audi, being the precise and meticulous operation it is, has not just transferred the all-alloy, five valves per cylinder, quad cam engine first seen in the larger A8 into the existing A6 chassis and sent it into battle.

In recognition of all that added go, the four-link front and double wishbone rear suspension has been re-tuned for a firmer, more sporting emphasis, lightened by using more aluminium components to reduce unsprung weight and lowered 10mm at the front and 5mm at the rear.

The front track has been widened by 38mm and the rear track by 21mm, with grip levels further aided by 17 x 8 alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli P6000 255/40 rubber.

Enveloping that aggressive wheel and tyre package are punched-out guards, declaring boldly that something more than your average A6 resides underneath.

The redesigned front grille and bonnet and clear-glass xenon headlights also give the game away.

Audi also boosted the size of the ventilated four-wheel disc brakes and wrapped its electronic driver assistance hardware into the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), comprising anti-lock braking (ABS), traction control (ASR), electronic braking-pressure distribution (EBD) and Electronic Differential Lock (EDL).

Of course, all that is mated to the sophisticated Torsen centre differential all-wheel drive system, which distributes power to all four wheels on an "as required" basis.

The mechanical package is completed by an adaptive shift five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic function, which means you can knock the lever across to the right and choose the shift points for yourself, although the gearbox will take over if you are abusing the privilege - like over-revving.

And that's an entirely possible proposition because revving is one thing this engine is extremely good at.

Redline is set at 6200rpm and considering this is a V8 with oodles of torque below 4000rpm, you spend an unseemly amount of time high in the rev band when you are pressing on.

That's because acceleration goes from good to great once you clear about 3700rpm and the combination of that free-spinning engine and trigger-happy electronic throttle is always urging you onwards and up the rev scale.

Back off and the Audi is amenable, almost docile. The engine is the highlight of the package undoubtedly - we just wish that delicious V8 growl was not so muted.

In cruise mode the transmission works beautifully with the engine, slurring from gear to gear invisibly. In attack mode it is less impressive, tending to become a little indecisive in its gear selection. Better to use the Tiptronic function, hold it in second or third and let the revs do the work.

Grip levels are outstanding, as you would expect, even when the ESP is switched off, although the system enables itself automatically at the first hint of an untoward movement or a touch of the brake pedal. Speaking of which, there is some initial pedal give, but bite is reassuringly solid and consistent once you get response.

Unfortunately, the package is compromised by steering that is frustratingly lifeless and light.

Considering the excellence of so many other elements, this is a disappointment because it stands in the way of an intimate relationship. Sure, the grip?s there to do virtually anything you want wet or dry - it's just you want to feel connected to the car when it is going about its business.

Other negatives are minor by comparison - a firmness to the ride accompanied by some suspension and tyre noise over harsher surfaces, and a certain ponderousness no doubt brought on by the 1730kg kerb weight.

This is really only noticeable when the going gets really tight. When the road opens up slightly and there is more flow than kink, there are few high-speed tourers that would be more capable. The responsiveness, grip, low levels of noise, vibration and harshness combined with the plushest and best equipped interior we have yet seen in an A6 make it so.

Yet, it's not only creature comforts like the excellent Bose sound system, leather and burr walnut trim and commodious and supportive seats that impress, or the multiplicity of front side, rear and head airbags.

It is also the sheer quality, the texture of the materials, the thought that has obviously gone into the design, the finish and the comfort.

The 4.2 quattro distances itself from its German rivals by providing a softer, cosier environment. No concrete-hard seats or sparse levels of equipment and trim here.

It actually feels welcoming. But in that European way, it is still too sombre and dark, and those high window sills and sloping roofline emphasises a sit-in, "bath-tub" effect.

And do we really need 13 (yes 13) different pieces of information beaming out at the driver from the instrument binnacle. After days of driving I still had to flit my eyes from dial to dial to find the clock. Too much time to find out the time, so to speak.

The centre console containing the entertainment centre and climate control is also daunting with its array of buttons and displays, dominated in our car by the combined TV screen/information centre and optional satellite-navigation display (although the latter function is yet to be enabled here as Bosch is still developing its third generation system). The sat-nav, along with a multi-function steering wheel, a Nokia telephone and metallic paint forms the "A+ package".

By the way, do not make the mistake of sliding a music CD into the slot above the TV. That?s for the navigation CD ROM only and there is no eject button. The six-CD cassette is snugly mounted in the large boot.

Much more straightforward are the powered adjustments for the driver's seat, which includes memory, aided by reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel, although that is still done manually.

You should be able to get comfortable, as should rear seat passengers who have plenty of room in all directions as long as you stay with four rather than five adults. Then it becomes a squeeze, although on the bright side everyone gets a lap-sash safety belt and a headrest.

It is another indicator of Audi's fastidious attention to detail, an attitude which is demonstrated time and again when you examine this car.

Happily though, there is more than a hint that with the 4.2 quattro that Audi has recognised excellence without passion is not enough for A6.

If you still feel the need for more, just wait until the end of the year when the S6 arrives with an extra 45kW.

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