January 22, 2007
All-wheel drive, winter tires, and 30 cm of fresh powder on the road. Could there have been a better time to test this car?
Ingolstadt’s premium wagon, or Avant in Audi terms, is the $66,200 A6. It’s significantly larger than the A4 Avant, and smaller than the company’s SUV, the Q7. The Q7 starts at $54,500, but since it tips the scales at almost 1,000 lb. more than the A6, buyers would need to order the V8-powered Q7 4.2 which starts at $68,900 to get the kind of acceleration available in the A6. If handling, and not seven-passenger seating, is a priority, the A6 is the way to go.
Major standard equipment on this wagon includes quattro all-wheel drive, LED taillights, dual-zone automatic climate control, 17-inch wheels, power moonroof, leather upholstery with heat for the power front seats, real wood trim, 10-speaker audio with CD changer, telephone pre-wire with Bluetooth capability, and side curtain airbags.
Our tester was equipped with almost every available embellishment, adding about $15,000 in options for a total as-tested price of $80,770 plus freight. Among this extensive list of goodies is the convenience package (bi-xenon lights, Bose premium sound, HomeLink transmitter and more), S-Line package (sport suspension, headlight washers, grey wood trim, 18-inch wheels, wheel-mounted shift paddles), technology package (DVD navigation system, voice command recognition, and keyless go), Volterra leather upholstery (amaretto in our tester – very nice), and park assist with rear-view camera.
Surprisingly, there are a few more factory options available: a heated steering wheel, adaptive air suspension, and adaptive cruise control top that list.
Motivation is provided by Audi’s 3.2-litre V6 with direct fuel injection. Generating 255 hp at 6,500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3,250 revs, it moves this 4,200-lb car with impressive ease. For those keeping track, BMW’s 530xi wagon has the same horse count and Mercedes-Benz’s E350 wagon is armed with 268 hp, so Audi’s right in the game. The 350-hp 4.2-litre V-8 that is optional on the A6 sedan and Q7 SUV is not available on the wagon, but only the most power-hungry will miss it.
The engine sounds good when winding up and delivers a great punch when asked. We did notice an annoying buzz that persisted at high revs but given the overall standard of quality present in the rest of the interior, we’ll chalk that up to an anomaly waiting to be checked at the dealer.
Channelling this power to Audi’s quattro full-time all-wheel drive system is a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual shifting technology. This isn’t the direct-shift sequential manual gearbox available in the A3 and some VW models, which is too bad: that DSG is the most responsive two-pedal arrangement I’ve tried. Having said that, though, the Tip is tops when compared with most conventional slushboxes. In manual mode, upshifts occur fairly quickly after the shift lever or wheel-mounted paddle is tapped, but more impressive is the smoothness of the downshifts which are executed with a quick blip of the electronic throttle to match revs on the lower gear.
There’s also an automatic sport mode that holds lower gears longer, keeping the revs elevated for better engine response and fewer downshifts when power is needed.
Because of these traits, the car’s power delivery – and its overall demeanor – leans heavily on the ‘sport’ end of the sport-luxury spectrum, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for. But we can’t forget that at this price point luxury is expected to be uncompromising. The transmission that’s so eager to respond doesn’t have the smooth part of the equation in its repertoire, which means that it’s always felt in moderate driving conditions, even when the shift lever is left in the more sedate ‘D’ position.
And the S-Line package magnifies the sport: with the stiffer suspension this is truly a performance-minded wagon. If I were considering this vehicle, I’d take a real close look at upgrading to the air suspension: for $3,000, you get four driving modes that can more closely follow your driving mood.
In the foot-deep fresh snow of December 30th, the Audi demonstrated why its quattro system has earned its place as the benchmark of all-wheel drive systems: aided by Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, the car clawed its way through the snow and hung on tenaciously on slick surfaces. If you need proof that an SUV isn’t a pre-requisite for making it through our winters, the quattro is it.
Holding the button marked “ESP” down for a few seconds disables the car’s standard stability control system and makes for great fun in the snow. And when it’s off, it’s really off – no second-guessing by the car’s computer as to whether you really meant to tackle the curves a capella.
The Audi’s navigation system is fairly intuitive. It is controlled via the MMI (multi-media interface) knob located on the centre console. While not as efficient to operate as the touch screen system found in GM models and other cars, it comes closer than most. Much work has been put into developing a slick graphical display with attractive colours and screen transitions.
But it is styling and craftsmanship that sets this Audi apart from its competitors – an emotion that is all but absent from the Audi’s rivals; one that makes driver and passengers feel good every time they look at its sleek lines and finely crafted interior. Quite simply, nobody does it better. BMW’s 5-Series styling is something that requires effort to accept, and the Benz E-Class wagon is certainly classy, but the word ‘stuffy’ also comes to mind.
In contrast, the Audi looks sleek in a way that belies its 4,000-plus pound heft. And the combination of the interior’s colours and textures make for a wonderful retreat from the ubiquitous black and silver trim used in many luxury cars.
Pricing: 2007 Audi A6 3.2 Avant
Base price: $66,200
Convenience Package ($3,980)
Technology Package ($3,700)
S Line Package ($3,450)
Volterra Leather Upholstery ($1,500)
Power Opening/Closing Tailgate ($600)
Manual Rear and Rear Side Sunshades ($340)
Advanced Parking System With Rear View Camera ($1,000)
Front Grille Filler Panel (No Cost)
Freight: $ 700
A/C tax: $ 100
Price as tested: $81,570
Manufacturer’s web site