Sunday, July 25, 2010

Road Test: 2010 Audi A6 3.0TFSI quattro
By: Kris Hansen

I’ve got a confession to make. I like big cars. I mean, I REALLY like big cars. Small cars are quick, nimble, fun to drive, and so on, but there’s nothing like taking a long drive in a really nice, comfortable, roomy, luxurious, big and powerful car. The Audi A6 happens to be exactly all of those things, and more.

The A6 doesn’t really look big sitting by itself. The proportions of the body are perfect, and if anything, it looks like it might be only slightly larger than A4. The nose is a bit deeper than that of an A4, the grille a bit taller. The body lines are not quite as flamboyant, the A6 is much more subtle, more elegant, visually masking the true size of the car.

The design is largely unchanged from when the C6 A6 was launched in 2005, though it received a subtle refreshening 2009. Even though the A6 is still is fitted with the older style door handles (the lift up type), the design is nevertheless ultra modern, and in keeping with Audi’s current look for the full range of models, with elements such as the sculpted chin and the gentle upward curving character line at the bottom of the doors.

Since our car had the optional sports suspension and 19 inch wheel packages, it took on an aggressive stance which gives it a muscular appearance, transforming the A6 somewhat. It doesn’t lose any of its luxury feeling, while it gains the look and feel of a sports sedan. The LEDs in the headlights of course helped, as did the dark color. We hard pressed to find fault with the overall look of the car, everything just seems correct. This is not a car that screams “look at me” though. We find that with smaller wheels it loses some of its sporty look, and becomes stealthier. We like that.

Inside is where big cars rule over smaller cars. No one wants to have to fold and cram themselves into a tiny car, with tiny uncomfortable seats, and nothing to look at or play with once there. Even though the A6’s interior design is now 5 years old, it still looks very fresh and modern.

We love the A6 dash. The instruments are not buried deep in a binnacle, instead they are very much front and center, essentially flush with the same plane as the MMI display screen. The driver information screen, which is located between the speedometer and the tachometer is in color when the Navigation is fitted to the car (as opposed to LCD), and is very clear. Using the controls on the windshield wiper stalk on the right side of the column, drivers can cycle through various trip related data such as time, distance, mileage, etc, and can also view navigation information, as well as display audio information.

The center console is the piece de resistance of the interior. This is the original layout of Audi’s MMI system, though updated with the 3rd Generation joystick atop the main command dial, which allows scrolling about the navigation system’s map to locate stopover points, points of interest, and more. MMI is a masterpiece control interface combining the functions of Navigation, audio, telephone, various and sundry car related items such as exterior lighting options, service indicators, and so on. It seems somehow more elegant in the A6 than in the A4/A5/Q5, given the lovely arched wooden trim plate, but it’s identically intuitive and useful.

Our car was equipped with the incredibly cool Audi Advanced Key, which allows the driver to keep the key in pocket or purse, and simply press the Engine Start button to start the car. Given that this is the first generation Intelligent Key, the A6 has a separate button to then stop the engine, and also lock the steering. The key is still of the flip-out variety, which means there is a standard type ignition switch on the dash. On cars with the Advanced Key, each of the exterior door handles is fitted with a small rubber coated button, which tucks underneath and is nearly invisible. A simple tap of that button with the Advanced Key in your pocket will cause the car to lock up. All it takes to get back in is give a tug of one of the handles. Honestly, this is one of our favorite features of the newer Audis.

Once within the spacious confines of the A6 cabin, occupants are coddled by some of the finest seats in the business. It’s quite possible to become completely comfortable in seconds thanks to the 12 way adjustable leather seats. The leather is supple, but not too soft or thin feeling. Drivers and passengers will find leg, head, hip, shoulder, knee room in abundance. Our only gripe is with the electronically adjustable steering column – we wanted it to extend farther for some reason. It seemed that we would adjust the seat to where we wanted it for a comfortable leg bend, but then we sometimes felt our arms were extended a bit too much. But that was a very minor issue most of the time. The trunk is cavernous, wide enough for golf bags, deep enough for very large suitcases.

Audi is also renowned for being fanatical about safety. The A6 comes standard with front and side airbags, as well as Sideguard curtain airbags. Other driver aids like anti lock brakes with brake assist, stability control, and the optional reversing camera and proximity sensors help the driver maintain safe operation.

The A6 is a supremely comfortable car for any length trip. The cabin is very quiet, wind and tire noise is very well isolated. Miles are gobbled up effortlessly, and you arrive at your destination with no fatigue. Even with the sports suspension the ride quality is excellent. Big bumps are gobbled up with no drama and no lingering body movements. Some larger cars like the A6 tend to be floaty at speed, but we found the A6 to be perfectly damped, while not being harsh in town at lower speeds.

Handling feel is one other area where larger cars sometimes suffer to the smaller sports sedans. We found that the A6 was pleasant to drive in a spirited fashion. Even though It’s not exactly the kind of car you’d want to toss into corners with abandon, if driven in a smooth flowing way, it’s quite possible to drive tight twisties very quickly. Certainly the abundance of power from the 3.0T, and the rear biased quattro all wheel drive system allows drivers to apply power very early to help cornering.

As is the norm with recent Audis and the rear biased quattro system, the A6 corners very neutrally right up to the limit of grip, where it begins to understeer. As we’ve found with other Audi models, when ESP is turned OFF, the handling is sportier, and the car will allow itself to rotate a bit more at the rear when trailing the throttle. If driven like a big car (smoothly, flowing it into turns instead of trying to wring it’s neck), the A6 is deceptively fast, while remaining supremely comfortable and composed the entire time.

When paired with the 3.0TFSI supercharged direct injected engine and 6 speed Tiptronic transmission, the A6 will move with surprising ease. The 6 cylinder engine is silky smooth, with good low end power culminating in a rush of power as the revs increase. The exhaust note is worth mentioning, it is very deep and throaty sounding in this car, very nearly sounding like a V8 in fact. We loved the way our car sounded as it ran up through the revs! Audi says that the engine produces 300hp at 5100 rpm, and 310 lb/ft between 2500 and 5100 rpm. Because of the flat torque curve, and smooth and quiet nature of the car which masks the sensation of speed, it’s all too easy to find yourself traveling along much faster than you thought you were.

It’s also willing to go very fast when you want to. Audi say that the A6 3.0TFSI will run from 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds, which is quick indeed, and we suspect somewhat conservative. The engine has plenty of power on tap for getting up to speed while merging on the highway or passing slower traffic on a rural road. All it takes is a push of the accelerator, the car does the rest, and very quickly. Pre-selecting the correct gear using the Tiptronic control hastens the process, allowing the engine to be operating in the meat of its power curve before applying full power, which results in blisteringly quick response. Passing multiple cars, trucks, none of it is any kind of worry with this car.

The Tiptronic transmission is unfailingly smooth as well, which quick and crisp shifts. The control unit will dynamically alter shifting points throughout the rev band as it adapts to the driver’s style, something we liked, but we also found that we preferred keeping the transmission in Tiptronic mode, to have full command over the engine. Since our car had the optional 3 spoke sport steering wheel with the shifter paddles, we found ourselves shifting manually, even occasionally overriding the selected ratio while in D.

When it comes time to stop, the A6 doesn’t disappoint either. While not necessarily overkill, the brakes are certainly never overwhelmed in daily driving, even spirited driving. The A6 is a fairly heavy car, at 4123 lbs (though not all that heavy considering it’s size and appointments) so we’d expect that repeated heavy use of the brakes might begin to tax them after a while. But in reality, that’s not the primary intent of this car, and even under very heavy braking, we experienced zero fade or pedal softness. Part of the Anti Lock system is Brake Assist, which can actually interpret what it feels to be a “panic” situation, and indeed apply more brake pressure than the driver is applying, all the while monitoring for and preventing lockup, to prevent a collision. In our driving, we never experienced any kind of intervention from the system, but we didn’t ever feel like we were in a panic situation, so it’s hard to tell if it will kick in under normal heavy braking.

The A6 3.0TFSI is truly a magnificent car for the driving enthusiast who happens to need a bit more space, be it for family, or things, but refuses to sacrifice performance and safety. The only problem we had with it is we don't get to keep it forever. I'd love to have one in my garage, preferrably the Avant version. Even more room, more practical and best of all, it's the best kind of car for stealthy driving.

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