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New models - Audi - A6

First drive: New lease of life for Audi A6

On the up: The upgraded Audi A6 features improvements to performance and refinement.

The upgrade of Audi's A6 range goes deeper than just face value

Audi logo11 Feb 2002

REVISED grille, more effective lights, accentuated tailpipes. At face value, the mid-life upgrade to Audi's A6 medium-size sedan does little to improve the outlook of a range which to date has failed to capture the attention of Australian premium car consumers.

But look past the subtle appearance changes and a more influential picture emerges. Improvements to performance, refinement, equipment levels - to name a few main areas - and placement of an outstanding 2.7-litre, twin-turbo model into the heart of the range, have combined to give the A6 a new lease on life.

On sale from this week, the line-up continues with a sub-$80,000 2.4-litre model at the bottom rung - now with a small (4kW) power boost to 125kW - and sees the return of a second tier with front-wheel drive ($80,000) and quattro all-wheel drive ($90,000) variants, now with an all-new 3.0-litre engine replacing the previous 2.8.

The same engine used in the top-of-the-range A4 sedan, the 3.0 produces 160kW of power at 6300rpm and 290Nm of torque at 3200rpm.

Both the 2.4 and front-drive 3.0 models are also now mated to a multitronic continuously variable automatic transmission, while the Tiptronic auto used on the 3.0 quattro (and all other models further up the scale) gains a sports shift mode that remains in a chosen gear for a longer period than usual.

A further feature on the 3.0 quattro is steering-mounted gear selection, which enables the driver to switch between automatic and Tiptronic selection without moving the T-bar.

There is a considerable leap in price to the $120,000 A6 2.7T quattro but benefits come via uprated engine performance, sports suspension combined with 17-inch wheels and premium equipment such as satellite navigation, xenon headlights (now including the main beam) and parking sensors.

A version of twin-turbo found on the S4 and allroad quattro off-roader, the 2.7-litre engine produces 184kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm between 1800rpm and 4500rpm. Claimed acceleration from rest to 100km/h is 7.4 seconds.

Up in V8 country, the 220kW A6 4.2 quattro has broken the $140,000 mark for the first time while the 250kW S6 sports sedan holds firm at $166,500. Engine specifications remain unchanged for both.

Apart from the revised model mix, minor tweaks to the exterior and the engine/transmission alterations, the A6 upgrade has brought a litany of small-scale improvements.

The multi-link front suspension now has a forged aluminium pivot bearing and a lightweight steel wheel hub, which help reduce the unsprung mass at the front axle by 35 per cent (5kg). Sports suspension with 17-inch wheels fitted to the 2.7T and 4.2 quattro becomes an option on low-series models.

Speed-dependent Servotronic steering has trickled down from S6 to become an option on all other variants, while stopping power has improved with an upsized tandem brake servo and hydraulic brake assist system used across the board and bigger-diameter floating-calliper disc brakes found on 3.0 and 2.7T models.

A 40 per cent improvement in cabin sound insulation is also claimed, a result of new windscreen wipers and door seals, and thicker glass in the side windows.

Inside, aesthetics improve with a colour-coded leather scheme on optional features and operational issues are assisted with redesigned exterior mirror and lighting switchgear and an easier-to-use stereo.

Equipment levels continue to reflect the premium pricing, with the major additions being front and rear head airbags and automatic air-conditioning with pollutant sensors fitted across the range. The 4.2 quattro and S6 models gain a high-tech alarm.

All A6 models are equipped with six airbags (plus the curtain airbags), traction and stability control, leather upholstery, wood panelling, electric seats with lumbar adjustment, a trip computer, cruise control, auto-dimming rear view mirror, premium sound system with six-CD stacker (and now improved radio reception), sunroof and front and rear fog lamps.

PRICING:
A6 2.4 multitronic $79,980
A6 3.0 multitronic $89,980
A6 3.0 quattro Tiptronic $99,980
A6 2.7T biturbo quattro Tiptronic $120,000
A6 4.2 quattro Tiptronic $142,500
S6 quattro Tiptronic $166,500

DRIVE IMPRESSION:

WHAT became clear during a rain-sodden drive from Canberra to Sydney is that the Audi A6 remains a solid all-rounder let down on occasion by a lack of finesse.

The standout was the 2.7T, which of the cars we drove (3.0 and 2.4 multitronic) was the one that found the right combination of powerful engine performance and well-sorted ride and handling.

The twin-turbo is sweet, smooth and strong, quite wonderful for effortless low-speed work and still remaining enthusiastic as revs rise.

Corner to corner, the car is quick and composed, and provides an exceptional amount of grip through a turn before the front end shows an inclination to push wide. Bodyroll, which is still an issue on softer-sprung models, is also well contained while the ride remains supple despite the firmed-up springs and shocks.

Refinement? Even here the bigger-wheeled 2.7T - as well as the standard 2.4 - proved outstanding. Alas, the same could not be said about a 3.0 multitronic we drove, which allowed a significant amount of tyre noise to enter the cabin over coarse-chip and smoother-surfaced bitumen alike.

For all the work on the wipers, streaks were also left across the windscreen on this model.

Yet positive aspects were never far from the surface. As smooth as the 2.8, but more willing and stronger, the 3.0-litre engine makes a fine pairing with the multitronic transmission. Some familiarisation is required with the CVT, though the response from driver inputs and adeptness at maintaining engine rpm at the desired point is commendable.

As seen on the A4, sequential manual gear selection also allows the driver to choose between six programmed ratios for greater control.

In 2.4-litre guise the smooth and energetic engine characteristics of its predecessor remain and the pace is a tad quicker thanks more to the multitronic transmission than the extra few kilowatts.

Ride and handling also remain quite benign on the front-drive 2.4, though large bumps brought up some vibration through the throttle. A rattle in the headlining was a further unwelcome intrusion during our drive.

Inclusion of the excellent 2.7T in the range and performance enhancements to the volume-selling 2.4 and 3.0-litre models should ensure Audi Australia's modest sales projection for A6 - 350 units for 2002 - is achieved.

It will, however, take an awesome marketing effort for Audi to change the status quo in a market segment dominated by the "other" two German manufacturers.

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