By Dan Carney
Winter was late coming to the nation’s capital, but its damp, chilly debut was coincident with the arrival of the quattro-adhered Audi A6 Avant with its electrically heated front and rear seats. Easing the shock of the belated appearance of winter is simply a matter of thermal management and traction control, so a heated steering wheel and skillful all-wheel-drive can fend off lingering remembrances of the beach, refocusing thoughts on the ski season.
There is nothing so comforting in times of suspect traction as quattro all-wheel-drive with electronic differential locking and electronic stability control to Velcro (brand hook and loop fastener) the tires to the slick pavement. I also applaud the addition of brake assist, the quick-draw emergency stopping technology that shaves a few critical feet off full U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt–arrester-cable stops. Since I winged a deer by only the narrowest of margins a couple years ago in an A6 that lacked brake assist, I’ve been a believer in the potential of brake assist to avert needless collisions.
The Audi’s controls are fingertip-light, the Servotronic speed-sensitive power steering approaching but not crossing the threshold of too much assist, and a brake pedal that seemingly responds to the mere wish of deceleration. The A6 Avant is a hypersensitive Border Collie of a car, reacting to the subtlest gestures, a stark contrast to a world of the sluggish, dull-witted retrievers that are truck-based SUVs.
2006 Audi A6
Rear seat occupants are treated as lavishly as the front-seaters, with supportive seat cushions and the same six levels of seat heat available. Window shades on the rear doors let passengers screen out the sun and unwanted attention, which is a nice alternative to the tinted windows that aren’t allowed by the federal government in cars. They are only for trucks and SUVs, thanks to Beltway logic.
Handling delights, cargo bites
The A6’s sculpted fenders and
flush glass lend a modern look, absent the overwrought, superfluous lame, er,
flame surfacing styling cues increasingly aped by more of BMW’s competitors.
Unfortunately, BMW’s other styling trademark, extremely short front overhang
with aggressive front fender bulges, isn’t possible with the front
transaxle-equipped Audi, which has a long, heavy-looking nose on an otherwise
lithe body. Perhaps it is
The slender vestigial chrome roof rails echo the functional roof racks of Country Squires past, accenting the long, lean and luxurious appearance of the A6, but they secure no oversize baggage to the roof. Back in the cargo hold, Audi has included handy channels in the floor with sliding tie-downs to hold goodies in place, much like the cargo channels in the bed of a Nissan Titan pickup truck. Even more convenient is a sliding cargo fence mounted in the channels, which can be used to secure objects such as coolers that are prone to sliding around between the fence and the front or rear of the cargo area.
2006 Audi A6
As usual, interior materials are unsurpassed, with opulently soft matte surfaces that imply expensive kid leather even where there are only petroleum products, such as the black dashboard. The tan leather upholstery lightens the interior considerably compared to a black or gray interior so common in Teutonic equipment. This is especially beneficial in light (or lack thereof) of the unfashionably small sunroof. Especially in the wagon segment, more and bigger glass roof panels are increasingly the norm. Look out Vista Cruiser.
The dashboard features a pair of ovoid instruments that provide an imaginative break from the usual circular gauges rimmed with classic car chrome. The result is however, evocative of a droopy-eyed face looking back at you every morning. So, higher marks for concept than for execution.
How moving buttons from the dashboard to the console is considered an improvement is a question whose answer probably cannot be faithfully translated from its native German, but perhaps they can explain why, after doing so, the volume knob for the stereo ended up on the passenger’s side of the console.
2006 Audi A6
The only upside here is that Audi offers one of the better steering wheel–mounted volume controls in the business, a device reminiscent of a mouse’s scroll wheel that lets the driver roll intuitively up or down in volume without the usual GameBoy rapid-fire button-pressing required by most cars.
Despite all the techno-gimmickry, the A6 is saddled with an old-style remote CD changer mounted in the glovebox. There is a release button for the glove compartment door mounted within reach of the driver to ease stop light CD changes, but the car should have a dash-mounted CD changer and forgo the clutter of an auxiliary release button for the glove compartment.
Continuing on the theme of
techno-gimmicks, while Mercedes’ overreach with the current E-Class was exceeded
only by Hitler’s push to take
These systems are darned convenient when your hands are full — if they work. The Audi’s worked exactly once during its visit. The company’s response to this situation? Basically, “Yeah, sometimes those things don’t work.” Audi’s reliability ratings will follow Mercedes’ to the ocean floor, where they can both look up at Kia’s score, if they ship cars to customers with technology that doesn’t work every time.
One technology that does work is the A6’s bi-xenon lighting, which is worth its weight in tungsten. The beautifully bright, crisp xenon lights scrub the road ahead clean of shadow and uncertainty, and spotlight the shoulders to give the earliest possible warning of pedestrians, or deer lurking in the trees.
Another good technology is Audi’s direct fuel injection system, which helps give the smallish 3.2-liter V-6 an impressive 255 horsepower. The EPA says this engine will deliver 17 mpg city and 26 highway, and after a week in the car, I saw 18.5 mpg in mostly suburban driving. The engine’s silky power delivery and staccato note under acceleration give the A6 true premium-class power and character.
2006 Audi A6
Of course, with an as-tested sticker of $58,740, the A6 Avant 3.2 quattro ought to have premium-class character. And while choosing Audi’s “alternate route” lets drivers fly under the radar that identifies Mercedes drivers as rich snobs and BMW drivers as selfish jerks, the fact is that those stereotypes are developed by both brand’s powerful images as luxury icons.
What does driving an Audi mean? That you’ve upgraded from your Volvo? Sixty thousand dollars is too much to spend for safe, dependable, even stylish, transportation. Shoppers in this category are paying for prestige, and Audi has a lot of work to do if it wants to deliver the kind of commanding impression conveyed by other $60,000 cars. Cars like the new A6 Avant should help cultivate such a reputation.
2006 Audi A6 Avant 3.2 quattro
Price: $46,870 base; $58,740 as tested
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, 255 hp/243 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, full-time all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 194.2 x 79.2 x 58.2 in
Wheelbase: 111.9 in
Curb weight: 4167 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 17/26 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist; dual front, side, and curtain airbags; traction and stability control, quattro all-wheel drive
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors; AM/FM/six-disc CD stereo; automatic dual-zone climate control; 12-way power adjustable seats; power glass sunroof; leather seating surfaces; heated front seats
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles