Audi A6 4.2 Review
For years and years the luxury status-car of choice has always been either a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz. If you wanted to tell people you appreciated fine handling and sports roots, you drove a 3-series. If you wanted to tell people you're the sophisticated, yet understated type, you drove a 5-series or an E-Class. And if you wanted to tell people you have $250,000 in your bank account this very moment, and that you bathe yourself in wine, you drove a 7-series or an S-Class. So what did you say about yourself when you drove an Audi? Well, you didn't say a whole lot. Except maybe that you enjoyed a Volkswagen with some leather upholstery and an all-wheel drive system. Up until a few years ago, Audi's haven't achieved that level of symbolism that the other two high-end German makes have had all this time. And today, there's no question that Audi simply makes some of the very best driving and looking cars in the world. This particular review focuses on the current generation Audi A6, to be more specific, this very A6 has the 4.2L V8 - which produces 335HP. And it's also one of my other cars. Now, this first section is a direct comparison of the Audi's competition. If you want to, you can skip it...but I'd say it makes for an entertaining read.
Why Your Favorite Luxury Car Sucks (a.ka. The Comparisons):
It was precisely a year ago last year that the Audi was delivered to me. Now before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm not rich. And in fact, I didn't buy this car new. This A6 4.2 is actually a 2005, the first year the redesigned model was made available. I bought it with 43k miles, for a price that was more than fair (thanks to the mega high gas prices of 2008, nobody wanted a 335HP V8 on their car lot), and still had a good bit of warranty remaining on it. You might be asking yourself why not go for the BMW 5-series? Or the Benz E-Class? Or an Infiniti M35? Acura RL, perhaps? And why not the Lexus GS? It's quite simple, actually. I didn't just wake up one day and say: "You know what? I want an Audi." It was a more refined process than that: I wanted luxury and sportiness tied together. So I started calling up friends to let me test drive their cars, and called up a few dealers to drive a few others.
It started out with a Merc E-Class. My buddy's dad was out of the country for a few weeks so he gave me the keys to the car for an hour. This E350 was a disaster. The interior was riddled with a hideous looking steering wheel that had buttons shaped to look like roaches. It had steering feel...no wait a minute, to say that it had "feel" is to imply I felt something. There was no feel to the steering, it is one of the most numb cars you could possibly drive. You can seriously wobble the wheel around a good 10-15 degrees and the car will move straight. For an executive car, the interior was tiny, and rear leg room, with even the most generously positioned driver and passenger is not ample at all. The car in RWD form felt fairly quick, but I needed the AWD, and the 4-Matic E-Class is a bit of a dog. I considered the V8 E500 4-Matic, but after seeing the interior and experiencing that pitiful steering, I ended my Benz search.
So why not the 5-Series? Well, for one, it looks awful. The flame surfacing theme applied to the car, and dubbed by the Bavarian's biggest crux, Chris Bangle, made the 5-Series stand out in the worst possible way - my girlfriend says the rear tails look like whiskers when the brake lights are glowing. And to her, that's a compliment. Now I don't know about you, but I don't want anybody saying my car's ass looks like a cat's face. Now sure, it handles well. And yes, the interior is pretty nice. But the i-Drive system is a clutter of epic proportions, and the engines offered for the car initially were terrible. Because I was looking for a used car, I couldn't opt for the all new twin-turbo 535i. And because I wanted power, that meant the inline-six motors were all pretty lacking to deliver the goods. And unfortunately for me, BMW never matted an AWD system to the V8s earlier on (they do now, though).
I said no to the Infiniti M35x because, well, quite frankly, I don't like Japanese luxury cars. I used to drive an Infiniti FX35, and even though I liked that car, once I stepped foot into a rivaling German, that appreciation quickly faded away. Besides, the M35x is essentially an FX35 with a different shell, so why not try something new? But for the curious, the Infiniti M is actually not a bad car. It's a solid handler, with great steering feel, a beautiful interior, and ample room. But, I never liked Infiniti's ATTESA "Intelligent AWD" system, because of it's design. It's 100% RWD when you're just driving about, but can send power to the front wheels when it detects traction issues. The system is actually quite stupid, because it isn't what I'd call fast when it comes down to delegating that power. In the snow the FX was dreadful and scary to drive, because you actually felt the rear of the car give out first, then feel power at the front wheels, and then feel the car straighten out. The system's brains were pitifully slow to react, and man did it make for some hard times climbing out of snow when the plows would bury the car. There is a "Snow" button you can flick on which locks torque at 50/50 front and back, but it completely killed the throttle response, requiring you to push the pedal 3/4 down just to get even the slightest bit of movement (I'm not exaggerating, either). And that created another problem, because if you pushed just a bit more than 3/4, the transmission would shift down and give you too much power...so, no, I'll pass on the Infiniti. It was a close 2nd, though.
Lexus GS350-AWD and Acura RL
So why drive two other Japanese cars, the Lexus and the Acura? Well, I figured maybe one of them would surprise me. I found an AWD Lexus GS350, and I happen to think they're quite beautiful cars. Pretty quick too, with a nice interior. But one turn around a corner, and I was totally flabbergasted. That is to say, I wasn't impressed. The Lexus and Benz were easily tied for a lack of steering feel, but at least the Benz's body remained somewhat flat and didn't roll like a fat kid that tripped over his untied shoelace down the stairs. The chassis was absolutely awful. How can a car look so amazingly sporty, so elegant, so aggressively low, with such sharp lines, drive like it's on a suspension made out of butter? I really liked the GS, up until I took a turn and I had to walk away. Then came the Acura RL, or the Honda Legend as the Europeans may know it. The exterior of the car is, well, a bit Honda-ish. But the interior was simply bonkers, it was like stepping foot into another world of automobiles. I played around with the tech toys inside, liked the rear-leg room, and found the trunk adequate. I went on a test drive and thought the car handled extremely well, which was a by-product of the SH-AWD system - which is more befitting of the "intelligent" label, than the Infiniti. But the power wasn't all there. The 290HP V6 wasn't enough to propel this 4100lb spaceship with speed, especially not with a meager 256lbs/ft of torque.
Audi A6 4.2
And then, it came time to drive the Audi. I had found a number of A6 4.2s, and even with the ones I didn't buy (odd smells, physical defects, interior blemishes, etc.), I just knew this was the car I wanted. The Audi A6 4.2 simply does everything. It has the room the E-Class didn't have. It has the amazing interior and gadgetry the Acura RL does have. It has more power and punch than the Lexus GS350, with a motor that is much more refined. It has a functioning and easy to use multimedia unit, unlike the BMW. It has an AWD system that is, without question, the best in the world; as this QUATTRO unit sends 60% of the power to the rear, and 40% to the front. That means you to stay safe, and yet still have some fun in the corners with that throttle. It also has the looks, mixing beautiful with unassuming. The soft and round lines move to the rear of the car, where it gets a bit more angular and sharper. And the profile is one of the earlier examples of the "Four-Door Sports Coupe" look that Mercedes popularized with their CLS. That pinched C-pillar in the rear runs all the way to the trunk and makes you assume that headroom is tight, but it isn't. And that face, with the massive grille, and those beautiful headlights is menacing, yet subdued.
The A6 4.2 is a terrific car. It even handles well enough, and provides the proper steering feel that actually changes based on your speed, thanks to the Servotronic unit, which can be removed in 20 seconds, if you're looking to firm up the steering. The 335HP grunts and moves like a banshee, allowing you to hit 60MPH anywhere between 5.7-5.9 seconds, all depending on the conditions and type of launch. The 1/4 mile will end in the mid-14 second range, with the A6 trapping anywhere between 95-97MPH. But things get crazier, because unlike your typical V6, which begins choking past 100MPH, this big and burly V8 powers along all the way to 140 without breaking a sweat. You never get the sensation that you've hit a brick wall, and you're struggling to reach top-speed - it's effortless for this giant sedan. The Tiptronic 6-Speed transmission also helps alleviate this high-speed brick-wall issue, as well. And I guess much to the snarl of Volkswagen's and Audi's designers, we have Porsche's engineers to be thankful for - it is their transmission, after all.
Factory Vroom, Vroom Options? Engines. Suspensions.
There are numerous motor options for this car now, and I'd strongly advise against the A6 3.2 (which was actually powered by a 3.1L V6). It's 255HP output makes the A6 an utter bore and boar to drive. The 3.2 has since been replaced this year with the A6 3.0T (which is actually supercharged, not turbo'd), shooting out 300HP and 310lbs of torque! And after 2007, the V8 in my car saw some improvements, with a power bump from 335HP to 350, and an increase in twist from 315TQ to 325TQ. As much as I love V8s, the all new supercharged 3.0L motor is the one to get, as aftermarket ECU tunes have bumped power up to over 400HP, with torque reaching 450lbs! That's practically Audi S6 performance, for thousands less - and that's just mind boggling. A Sports Package is a must for the A6, as it provides a firmer, lower suspension, and much more supportive seats. The seats in my car are extremely comfortable, but not very supportive, so a sharp turn here and there can be unsettling for myself and my passenger. Also, with the suspension sitting lower, the A6 simply looks much better, as the giant wheel-gap in my A6 really gets on my nerves...but I plan to fix that with a set of Eibachs or OEM Audi S-Line Springs.
No Pompous Douchery Here: This Bose is Heavenly
The interior of my car is optioned with the Amaretto leather, a mixture of brown and orange that has served me nothing but compliments from every guest to have entered this machine. The sound system is a 10-speaker Bose unit that is, without a doubt, the best audio setup I've ever listened to. And normally I associate Bose units with the crap I've been exposed to in my 350Z, among other Infinitis and Nissans (many of which are actually Clarion units, with Bose speakers). But this one goes to show that Bose pulls no stops and cuts no corner for a high-end German car. There are two powerful subwoofers pounding in the rear, tweeters that bring out the highest of highs, and door mounted speakers that magically pulsate their mids in addition to doling out their own bass notes flawlessly. The entire setup is simply marvelous. And not to sound like a pompous douche, but it's really worth listening to some orchestral tunes on this thing.
What's Longer: This Review or the Car's Options?
This particular A6 is practically a fully loaded car, missing only the S-Line package, and the very rare air-suspension (less than 3% of A6s have these). In my A6 you will find keyless start/stop buttons (manual key start optional), keyless entry (simply walk up to the door and pull handle), MMI system with navigation, 6-Disc & 10 Speaker Bose system, heated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, heated mirrors, privacy glass, memory seats based on keyfob, reverse tilting mirrors, swiveling bi-xenon headlights, and...honestly, it's actually pointless to keep going on, because the list of features may end up longer than this review. I'll put it to you this way, it's been a year since I've had the car, and I'm STILL discovering new options and features.
Don't Be a Cheap Cock.
Furthermore, because you are buying a German car, make sure that after your manufacturer's warranty expires, you go and get yourself an extended one - either Warranty Direct or one that your local Audi dealer provides. Two days after the factory Audi warranty expired, the MMI (multimedia interface) system decided to crash and burn on me. Luckily, my new warranty coverage took effect and covered the $1600 repair. The cost of the warranty was $2400 for an additional four years, so as you can see, it paid most of itself off already. Maintenance is also pricey on an Audi, with service intervals costing anywhere between $200-450. But, many Audi dealers offer Audi care for $600, and it covers service intervals up to 100,000 miles. So there's some consumer advice for you, don't just buy an Audi because you think you can afford it - that just makes you a cock. Buy an Audi if you *know* you can also afford the $3000 in warranty and maintenance coverage. Because quite frankly, these can be very temperamental cars, but the driving experience is extremely rewarding.
Hey, Is This V8 Secretly a Hybrid?
And I can't believe I forgot one of the most crucial elements to this car...the gas mileage. Don't gasp in horror. It's actually one of the very reasons why I so aggressively pursued this V8, because after doing some research, I realized the motor is magnificently economical. Here in this catastrophic New York City traffic, this car can net you just over 300 miles before it tells you to refill (and you still have 3 gallons left when it does), trust me, that's an amazing feat. Elsewhere, you can easily get 400+ miles out of the tank before it tells you fuel up. The gas tank's capacity is the same as it is in an Infiniti FX35, both cars weigh practically the same too. And the Infiniti never once made it past 300 miles driven in NYC, the highest was something close to 280 miles, and it happened once. Meanwhile the Audi, with a much bigger and more powerful engine, delivers even better results than a Japanese V6. Now that's amazing.
This car is simply amazing, definitely one of the best sedans I've ever driven. And I've driven more than what I've just listed here.
12/6/2009 Arnold Katayev