2003 Audi A6
2003 Audi A6. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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For years, staid styling was the norm for European sedans. The Germans in particular – BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi – were among the staunchest proponents of this, their cars sporting handsome but plain sheetmetal. That’s changed, of course. It’d be a massive understatement to say that Chris Bangle’s work as BMW’s head stylist – think the most recent generations of 5 and 7 Series – caused some controversy.

But years before Bangle’s designs began showing up in BMW dealerships, Audi had already eschewed right angles and squared-off corners for soft edges and curves, in small part on the 1996 A4, and more dramatically with the larger A6 that debuted in 1998. If the A4 was a nice-looking car, the A6 was positively beautiful, with lines that would be echoed in the TT sports coupe that was introduced in 2000.

The 1998 A6 was sold as a sedan only, with the Avant station wagon variant joining the line-up in 1999. In 2001, the SUV-wannabe Allroad was introduced, complete with a complicated height-adjustable suspension. It continued to be sold alongside a redesigned A6 in 2005, and was dropped after that.

2003 Audi A6
2003 Audi A6. Click image to enlarge

Initially, a 2.8-litre V6 was the sole engine choice but was replaced by a 3.0-litre as the base engine in later cars. Uplevel cars, as well as the Allroad, got either a twin-turbo V6 poached from the S4 and a 4.2-litre V8 that also did duty in the big A8. In 2003, Audi applied its high-performance S-line treatment to the A6 Avant to create an S6 wagon powered by the same V8 offered in the A6, but in the more powerful state of tune used in the A8.

So the look was different, but what else did this mid-sized Teuton bring to the luxury party? Well, typical solid German build quality, for one, and very nice interior appointments as well. But there were problems related to electrical components, and engines in earlier models. However, it’s fair to say the A6 is one of the better choices out there if you want a used German luxury car. Strong points include body panels that seem to resist rust well, and transmissions – mostly automatics – that have held up very well. If you read these columns regularly, you’ll know that the key to buying any used car is to look for one that has been well-cared for by previous owners. Apply that in the A6’s case, and you stand a chance a getting a reasonably dependable car.

2003 Audi A6
2003 Audi A6. Click image to enlarge

Fuel consumption is average for this class, with both the base and turbocharged six-cylinders rated at 13 L/100 km city and 8.5 L/100 km highway. Considering the V8’s added horsepower, it’s positively thrifty, using 13.8 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 L/100 km on the highway. The rare S6 used 16 L/100 km in the city and 10.3 L/100 km on the highway and the Allroad, powered by the turbocharged V6, was rated at 14.8 L/100 km city and 10.4 L/100 km on the highway.

Surprisingly, crash safety isn’t one of the A6’s strong points. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it an “acceptable” rating due to so-so structural performance in the organization’s frontal offset crash test and a higher-than-normal risk of foot injury for front seat occupants. The IIHS didn’t conduct side-impact tests on the A6, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Institute (NHTSA) didn’t crash test it at all.

2003 Audi A6
2003 Audi A6. Click image to enlarge

Used A6s aren’t cheap. A 1998 Quattro sedan, priced at $51,630 new, is still worth $12,275 according to Canadian Red Book. Most 2000 models should come in under $20,000; the most expensive of the bunch, the V8-powered A6 4.2, is worth $19,050. The 2002 models are valued in the low- to mid-$30,000 range and for 2004, the last year of production for this generation of A6, used prices start at $42,925 for a front-wheel-drive sedan and top out at $54,875 for the V8 model. Allroad values range from $27,400 for a 2001 model to $52,125 for a 2005 version.

The A6 is as solid a car in terms of its on-road performance as any mid-size German car, and its looks certainly set it apart among other cars conceived in the late-90s. Many owners love their A6s despite the car’s less-than-perfect reliability record, and that has to count for something. Resale values are on the high side, but for some drivers, the A6’s Teutonic sensibilities are well worth the money.

Online resources

www.fourtitude.com – This is an Audi-specific site run by the Vortex Media Group, the huge online conglomerate that runs the popular VWVortex.com website. There’s a forum specifically for the 1998-2004 A6, known internally at Audi as the C5. Membership here is huge, so there’s lots of info available.

www.audiworld.com – Like Fourtitude.com, Audiworld.com features forums broken down into sections for each model, including one for the 98-04 A6. Audiworld also has a long list of member-contributed technical articles. Other features include classifieds and a useful aftermarket guide.

www.audizine.com – A comprehensive site with lots of info, but the A6 forum section, which also takes in the S6, RS6 and Allroad, is one of the less active areas. Still, there’s technical info, how-tos and Audi news to check out, too.

www.audifans.com – This site deals mainly with technical information, but it’s broken down based on engine, rather than body style. Much of the info centres around older Audi models, but some applies to newer cars as well.

www.topaudisites.com – lots of links to a variety of Audi website.


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004095; Units affected: 9,655

1998-2004: On certain vehicles, contact between the left driver’s side crash element and the headlight switch wiring harness could eventually result in an electrical short. Even though such an electrical short is not very likely, it could result, in a worst-case scenario, in a fire originating in the left dashboard area. Correction: Dealer will install a protective covering on the crash element and inspect the wiring harness for damage.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999195; Units affected: 4,900

1998-1999: On certain vehicles, the steering assembly tie rod seals do not seal properly. If moisture and/or dust particles enter the swivel bearing mechanism, the swivel bearing may wear over time to a point where the steering begins to feel “loose” and could diminish the steering control of the vehicle with the potential for a vehicle crash. Correction: Tie rods will be replaced on affected vehicles.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1998126; Units affected: 1,437

1998: In the event of an engine backfire during cold start, an air screen which is loosely seated in the air flow meter could become damaged. Should this happen, screen pieces could enter the intake air flow system and could prevent the throttle plate from returning to its full idle position. Correction: a screen retaining ring will be installed and damaged screens will be replaced.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002104; Units affected: 2,853

1999: On certain vehicles the tie rods of the steering assembly may be inadequately sealed to prevent moisture and dust particles from entering the swivel bearing mechanism. If moisture and/or dust particles enter the swivel bearing mechanism, the swivel bearing could wear over time diminishing the steering control of the vehicle. Correction: Dealers will replace the tie rods.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003092; Units affected: 82

2001: Certain vehicles equipped with a 2.7 L engine are not in compliance with CMVSS 110. The calculated “Vehicle Normal Load” exceeds the allowable weight of the axle load with tire dimension 225/45R17 by 19 kg. Correction: Dealer will install five proper sized tires.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002102; Units affected: 184

2001: On certain vehicles, activating the windshield wiper under heavy load conditions such as freezing, snow or heavy rain, one wiper could be delayed behind the other wiper. If that happens, the wiper blades, because they overlap wiping areas, could become entangled with each other and cease functioning. This could impair the driver’s visibility. Correction: Dealers will replace the entire driver side wiper arm.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000132; Units affected: 4,822

1998-2000: On certain vehicles, sulphur in the fuel interacting with certain additives found in widely available fuel can become deposited on certain contact points on three sending units mounted inside the fuel tank. Low electrical resistance at contact points of any unit signals that the tank is full. The accumulation of sulphur deposits on contacts would increase the resistance and erroneously signal that the tank is filled with fuel while in fact it may not be full or could be empty. If a driver is not cognizant of the miles driven and the potential driving range of their vehicle from a fuel fill, the erroneous fuel level signal could cause the vehicle to become inoperable without prior warning. Correction: Fuel sending units will be replaced with redesigned sending units.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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