Inevitably, every time an Audi appears at our doorstep for a full review, certain scenes play out–as surely as death and taxes, and so similar they could be scripted. For example, being behind the wheel of a new Audi–be it an A-line or an S-line model; no matter what series–one is sure to hear, at least once per hour, how “nice” the car is, from passersby of all stripes and social strata. Or take the dialogue that develops with utter dependability when friends or family drop in for a drive–inescapably, the rest of the ride will be spent discussing, in detail, each and every device, doodad and doohickey; and agreeing for the umpteenth time that yes, the interior *is* beautiful. Those events are given, and with experience the sense of deja vu dissolves into acquiescence to one’s destiny. These little vignettes are more tedious than troublesome, and entirely trumped by opportunity to pilot wheeled perfection. So, as the new 2006 Audi A6 Avant arrived, the atmosphere at Roadfly HQ was giddy with anticipation.
Shining darkly in its Oyster Gray Metallic skin, the Audi imparts an initial impression of intrinsic intensity. Low, lean and lithe, it looks likely to leap out at you from sheer ferocity. The two-box shape subtracts nothing from its stance; if you even notice that it’s a station wagon, your first thought will be that this is the ferocious family vehicle you’ve ever seen. Strategic swathes of chrome and billet convey affluence without opulence. 19″ alloys out at the corners also aid the athletic appearance, and even Audi’s signature shield grille succeeds stylistically. On the whole, we can’t recall seeing another wagon that smacked so wholly of sportiness, strength, and sex.
We all know, though, that no matter how bad-ass a car looks, it’s what’s under the skin that counts. Audi is notorious for offering hot-rodded S-tune editions of every model line, of course, and the even-hairier RS-badged 4s and 6s, in sedan *and* Avant form, have become the stuff of legends. Today, the RS6 Avant of 2004 is nothing but a sweet memory–redesigned last fall, the midsize model line currently tops out with a 335-horsepower A6 4.2. Adrenaline junkies can take solace in the knowledge that the 450hp V10 S6 is slated to start sales by year’s end, though, and a 550hp RS6 stormer is said to be right behind. Good news for Dads with extremely demanding schedules–both will be offered in Avant guise.
For now, though, there’s only one flavor of A6 Avant, featuring V6 power. Displacing 3.2-liters, this is a direct-injection engine–Audi calls it FSI, for Fuel Straight Injection–which essentially means the common-rail fuel injectors are plumbed right into the combustion chambers. The end result is 255 horsepower and 243 lb.-ft. of torque, with a 7,200 rpm redline. It’s a silky-smooth honey of a motor, with broad power curves that move the A6 Avant’s 4167 pounds with ease. Our precision testing apparatus averaged the 2006 Audi A6 Avant’s 0-60 mph sprint at an even 7.5 seconds. True, that’s at least a couple seconds behind the S6, but the V6 does return better fuel economy–EPA estimates say 18/26; our observed figure was 17 mpg.
Lamentably, a six-speed automatic transmission is the sole gearbox. Tiptronic tempers the disappointment to a degree, but we’d at least like shift-paddles behind the steering wheel. Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard as well, adding all-weather aptitude and augmenting the Avant’s cornering ability. We found the A6 exhibited an enviable balance between suppleness and high-speed stamina.
Then there’s that interior. Our tester sported the Amaretto color scheme, which translates into leather seats the color of a new baseball glove harmonizing happily with slate-grey door panels, carpet and trim. The bright white overhead console clashed somewhat, but the overall effect was utterly elegant. The prerequisite power windows, locks, mirrors and seats, plus a powered tailgate, press-on parking brake and push-button engine starting project an impression of high-tech sumptuousness. Even the glovebox gets a trick maneuver; depress a spot on the dash and it slides open, leaving the actual surface unbroken. Music-lovers will marvel at the stereo; a 6-disc CD changer and satellite radio from *either* Sirius or XM provide plenty of entertainment, but the superb Bose system supplies brilliant sound reproduction, from basement-level bass to sky-high treble.
Simple spaciousness ranks as another selling point for the A6. Interior volume is said to measure 99 cubic feet, and we found that plenty for 4 or even 5 passengers (although we didn’t test that figure; the only experiment we could think of involved pumping the press fleet car full of water, which Audi might not appreciate). Utility, too, is an Avant highlight; the 20″ of cargo room jumps to 59″ with rear seats folded. Additional flexibility comes courtesy of a cargo net, retractable cover, and a pickup-like bed-rail system, with four moveable tie-down points.
The engineers in Ingolstadt stuffed the A6 with state-of-the-art safety equipment, standard. Side and curtain airbags augment the dual-stage front units, and active headrests counteract whiplash. Braking performance feels robust, aided by Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). Electronic stability control is provided in hopes of keeping crappy drivers on the pavement, but it proved pleasantly unobtrusive in “high performance driving.” Audi’s efforts have not gone unrecognized; the A6 sedan and wagon both earned IIHS “Double Best-Pick” designations for frontal and side impacts.
Other conveniences included in our Avant were roll-up sunshades for the back windows, which rear passengers appreciated on sunny day drives; and Xenon HID headlamps that aim in the direction of every turn, for which the driver was exceptionally grateful in the dark of night. An audible Parktronic system also aided in impact-free parallel parking, for which Audi’s fleet manager was undoubtedly thankful. Absent, though, was an amenity we’d become accustomed to in last week’s tester–we anticipated the same in-door umbrella caddy.
Comprehensive computerized control centers have become all too common in cars of this class. Think BMW’s infamous iDrive, or the COMAND system now customary in most Mercedes models. Theoretically, combining the operation of many disparate features into one system cleans up dashboard clutter, and allows owners additional control over advanced operations. Whether the average user will appreciate, use, or even understand the ability to administer such minutiae as the degree of footwell lighting or the delay between headlight flashes upon remote unlocking is, well, debatable at best. With a week to acclimate ourselves to Audi’s take on this trend–dubbed MultiMedia Interface, or MMI–we scarcely scratched the system’s surface. In a few hours of intense immersion into it all, we deciphered the basic tasks, like programming radio presets, finessing fan speed, and navigation operation. Still, many more maneuvers remained to be mastered, however minor. To our way of thinking, burying basic functions, like fan speed, is counterintuitive–and we’re bound to be better-adjusted to today’s technology than the average buyer of the Audi brand.
That, though, is the sum total of troubles we have to relate after our week with the Audi A6, and it’s a very trifling roster indeed. And yet, we were dogged by one concern that, while not a defect ascribable to the Avant, tempered our enthusiasm for it considerably. You see, by sheer coincidence, the A6 arrived directly after our assessment of the Passat Estate (wagon). Close corporate kin, the Audi and Volkswagen share a significant amount of stuff, from chassis stampings to overall size. The VW is every bit as solid and sinuous, and somehow also snared the sexier engine–a 3.8-liter with 280 horsepower. Inside, the Passat practically parallels the A6, too–equal part for part, excepting only the power-folding mirrors, rear heated seats, and adaptive cruise control (a $2,100 extra on the Audi). Shoulder to shoulder, in fact, the comparative ease of use of certain controls creates another category where the more common car proves more pleasant. Design-wise, the A6 is definitely more desirable; and yet Volkswagen’s recent stylistic shift towards Audi aesthetics dulls the distinction. All told, we still prefer the Avant to the Estate, but considering the price differential, such similitude is still seriously hard to rationalize. At $58,740, our Audi’s sticker outstripped the Passat’s by nearly $25,000.