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We had trouble getting a handle on the dimensions of the 2007 Audi A6. Inside the cabin, we felt as if it were a big monster of a European sedan. Looking at it among other cars, it seemed more in the midsize range. Driving the A6, it felt almost like an A4, but with substantially more power. And all these perceptions work to the A6's advantage.
We had the top-level A6 sedan, powered by a 4.2-liter V-8, a step above the base level 3.2-liter V-6 version. The A6 represents a long leap over the Audi A4 in cabin luxury, and a pretty significant price increase, as well. But at a little more than a foot longer than the A4, the A6 isn't really all that big.
The A6 embodies the look of a refined European sedan. There are no harsh edges and the roofline has a pleasing curve, which, unfortunately, compromises rear-seat headroom. An extra set of side windows aft of the rear-seat side windows lets in a little extra light and prevent an overly wide C-pillar. The A6 sports slight wheel flairs and a front end that looks as if its various parts are precisely fitted together. The grille looks oversize, the better to feed the beast under the hood.
With the Technology package, our test A6 offered all the amenities we could want. Its Bluetooth hands-free cell phone system is excellent, the Bose audio system sounds very good, and the navigation got us where we wanted to go. We also got to try out Audi's iPod integration.
Test the tech: Backward slalom
Among the features listed as part of the Technology package was the Advanced Parking System. After putting the car in reverse a couple of times, we realized that this system consists of a backup camera overlaid with distance and direction lines, along with an audible parking distance warning. Because Audi's press materials highlighted this feature, we decided to put it to the test by running a backward slalom.
Our slalom course is a little tight, but we're not expecting to go too fast in reverse.
For our slalom, editors Wayne Cunningham and Kevin Massy would drive the A6 in reverse through a short course of four pylons. The drivers would only be allowed to look at the LCD on the dashboard while driving the course. Although it definitely counts as one of our more harebrained ideas, we felt it was feasible because the overlaid lines seemed to do a good job of tracking the direction of the car based on how the wheels were turned.
We constructed a fairly tight slalom course, as we didn't expect to be driving particularly fast in reverse. Cunningham went first, putting the car in reverse gear and gunning the accelerator. The LCD showed the line of pylons behind the car clearly. Cunningham made it through the first set, but it quickly became obvious that he wouldn't make the next one. The pylon loomed in the LCD view, and even with the wheel cranked hard, the direction lines showed the pylon in the path of the car. Cunningham continued in reverse until he tapped the pylon, disqualifying him from the race.
The backup camera shows that we aren't going to clear this pylon.
Next up was Massy. Learning from Cunningham's failed attempt, he reversed the car at a more leisurely pace, making sure there was room to weave the car through each set of pylons. Taking wide reverse turns, all without looking away from the backup camera image on the LCD, he managed to get through the entire course. We didn't bother recording his time because, after Cunningham's disqualification, he was the only competitor.
We came away very impressed by how well the car tracked to the lines on the display. The rearview image was clear and expansive, and the display also used shaded blocks overlaid on the image to give an idea of the car's distance from objects.
In the cabin
Sitting in the A6, you get a palpable feeling of luxury. The car is well-built and its materials are of high quality. It has a few tastefully placed wood inserts, along with thick leather seats, and a pliable material covering the dashboard. We had the Lincoln MKZ in at the same time as the A6, and although the interiors of both cars looked similar, the A6's felt more luxurious.
The hardware portion of Audi's MMI controls works well, although the onscreen menus can be a little convoluted.
The stereo and other car systems are controlled through Audi's Multimedia Interface (MMI) and voice command. Unlike on the A4, where the MMI is mounted on the dash, on the A6 it's mounted on the console, just behind the shifter. We much prefer this placement and generally liked its four-button and knob setup. But we found the menus a little convoluted. Audi helps a little by making the audio menus red, navigation menus blue, and phone menus green, letting you quickly see which function you are using.
Voice command in the A6 isn't particularly intuitive, but it is useful if you learn its command trees. You can dial phone numbers with it and choose specific AM or FM radio stations, although you can't choose satellite radio stations. We also couldn't find a way to set destinations in the navigation through voice command, which was too bad because using the MMI can be tedious.
With the 4.2-liter V-8 version of the A6, a 13-speaker Bose surround sound system comes standard. This is a very nice-sounding stereo system with a couple of quirks. Notably, it can't manage to give the whole car surround sound--you have to select either the front or rear seats for the surround experience. In our testing, we found that the audio was still very good with surround turned off. It's a solid and strong sound, with good clarity and separation. The bass is rich and it hits the high notes without brightness.
Our test car also came with the Audi Music Interface. This feature adds a socket in the glove compartment where you can plug in your iPod. We were impressed by the interface, which shows the iPod contents on the car's LCD and lets you select music from it using the MMI. At its top-level menu, it lets you navigate to artists, albums, genres, playlists, and tracks.
Also in the glove compartment is a six-disc changer. We found this changer inconveniently placed--you have to reach all the way across the passenger seat to load it--and were disappointed that it can't read MP3 CDs. Sirius satellite radio came as part of the Technology package. Our car must have had some kind of glitch, because we couldn't get to the full list of channels, and were stuck in preset mode.
The top-level menu for iPod integration offers access to artists, albums, playlists, and genres.
The navigation system works well enough in the A6, although we've seen others with better features. The map resolution is nice, but once you set a destination, it only offers one route to get there. Setting destinations can be very tedious, as you have to use the MMI knob as a rotary dial to select letters and numerals. Using this system, it became obvious why push-button phones supplanted rotary phones. Route guidance on this system is good, but it doesn't really shine in any particular way.
But the Bluetooth hands-free system in the A6 definitely does shine, and it's probably the best we've seen. We had a little trouble pairing our phones to it initially, until we discovered that the engine had to be running for pairing to take place. One nice pairing feature: you can set a unique four-digit PIN through the car's telephone interface. You can dial phone numbers through the MMI, which is tedious, or use the voice command. Better yet, the car will show your phone's address book on its LCD without copying over all the entries into the car's memory. You can import addresses one at a time to the car, but there's really no need, because the phone book is immediately accessible.
Under the hood
With a 4.2-liter V-8 driving all wheels through Audi's Quattro system, we would expect incredible performance, but we've been disappointed in the past. On other Audis we've tested, there has been poor throttle response, a noticeable lag between the time you step on the accelerator and when power goes to the wheels. Audi completely eliminated this problem in the A6. Our test car leaped forward as soon as we stepped on the pedal. And Audi didn't accomplish this feat by compromising the traction control and allowing wheel slip. The A6's drive systems are perfectly balanced to move the car fast off the line, applying just enough torque so there is no wheel slip and no hesitation.
The 4.2-liter engine in the A6 offers plenty of power on tap, which the car transmits to the wheels without hesitation.
The 350 horses of this direct injection engine go through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, which works very nicely for normal or sport driving. It has a manual gear selection mode and a Sport setting, the latter doing a decent job of downshifting when we let off the accelerator while approaching a corner.
As a driving test for the A6, we drove it up the narrow, winding road leading up Mount Hamilton, southeast of San Jose. Because the car's cabin feels so roomy, judging our position in the narrow lanes proved a little difficult, and we had some worries about putting the right-side tires in the dirt. But we drove the road without incident, and got to enjoy some hard cornering and the opportunity to feel the Quattro system power all wheels through the curves. We preferred using the manual gear selection for this type of driving, as the Sport setting isn't reactive enough to downshift in time for a corner.
As we would expect, an engine this big doesn't produce particularly good fuel economy. Its EPA rating, using the new test procedures, is 16mpg city and 23mpg highway. The V-6 variant of the A6 gets 17mpg city and 25mpg highway. During our time with the car, we got an overall 18.5mpg in combined city and freeway driving. We did notice very good numbers of close to 25mpg at speeds of around 75 mph on the freeway. As for emissions, the A6 only meets the California Air Resources Board's minimal LEV II requirement.
Our 2007 Audi A6 4.2-liter Quattro sedan started out with a base price of $55,300. Audi's Technology package, which includes navigation and voice command, added $4,000. We also had 18-inch alloy wheels, for $900, and the Audi Music Interface, or iPod integration, for $290. With the $775 destination charge, the total comes out to $61,265.
The price is hefty, but the Audi A6 does a good job of justifying it. While the GPS navigation could be improved, its stereo and Bluetooth hands-free system are both very good. We're not crazy about the glove compartment-mounted disc changer, but that would generally sit idle in favor of the iPod integration. In general, the cabin of this car feels very comfortable.
The performance of this car is exceptional--it feels like there is considerable power on tap. We barely had to tickle the accelerator to cruise at 80 mph on the freeway, as the car had potential to go much, much faster. Fuel economy isn't great, but it's average for this type of car.
For a little less money, the Volvo S80 offers a similar level of cabin luxury, but lacks the sporting character of the A6. On the flip side, the BMW 328xi offers a more sporty drive, but its cabin doesn't have the same roominess as the Audi A6.