2003 Audi A6
    MSRP
    $41,000
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    2003 Audi A6 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    Precise handling, excellent ride, great interior.

    Introduction

    Precision engineering, attention to detail and high levels of quality make the Audi A6 an excellent alternative to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series models. Audi buyers tend to be more on the cutting edge and more willing to be different and A6 delivers the goods. It stands out with its Bauhaus style. 

    Most A6 models come with Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system giving them a major traction advantage over BMW and Mercedes models, most of which are rear-wheel drive. One of the most popular models, however, is the front-wheel-drive A6 3.0, which delivers a smooth ride, responsive performance, and a sumptuous interior. The A6 3.0 comes with Audi's latest V6 engine and its excellent CVT automatic, a smooth, responsive and efficient combination. It's fitted with traction control, anti-lock brakes, and Audi's superb safety engineering. 

    At the other end of the spectrum is the new high-performance RS 6 with lightning-fast passing performance from a 450-horsepower twin-turbo V8. Punch it and the RS 6 delivers world-class performance, 0 to 60 in less than 4.6 seconds, Autobahn stability at triple-digit velocities. Even more impressive: It motors around town with the smooth ride and easy demeanor of a refined luxury car. 

    In between is a host of models that are a joy to drive, including the sporty 2.7 T and the powerful 4.2. They all share crisp steering and finely honed handling. All come with beautifully finished and highly functional interiors. Avant wagons offer cargo capacity with sports sedan handling and a luxurious ride. There isn't a dog in the bunch, so choosing one comes down to personal preferences. 

    Lineup

    Audi A6 is available in a variety of models with a full selection of engines. Each has a distinctive personality. Quattro all-wheel drive comes standard on all models except the A6 3.0 CVT FronTrak. All are four-door sedans except the A6 3.0 Avant wagon. 

    A6 3.0 ($35,700) comes standard with the 220-horsepower 3.0-liter V6, continuously variable transmission (CVT), front-wheel drive, traction control (anti-slip regulation or ASR), antilock braking (ABS), electronic rear brake pressure regulation, an electronic differential lock (EDL), and automatic climate control with filter. A6 3.0 Quattro ($37,450) adds Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system and a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, which allows the driver to shift manually when desired. A6 3.0 models come standard with leather seating surfaces. 

    A6 3.0 Avant ($38,650) is the station wagon version. (Avant means station wagon at Audi.) It comes with the 3.0-liter V6, five-speed Tiptronic automatic, and Quattro all-wheel drive. 

    A6 2.7 T ($40,850) is the rowdy member of the A6 family, equipped with a 250-horsepower turbocharged V6. It's the only A6 offered with a manual transmission, a six-speed gearbox. It's also available with a five-speed automatic for the same price. Sport seats are available as an option ($500), but 2.7 T comes standard with leather seating surfaces. 

    A6 4.2 ($47,800) borrows the V8 engine from the mighty Audi S8. Stuffing this big 300-horsepower V8 into the A6 required Audi to stretch the nose slightly. While they were at it, they expanded the fender flares to cover wider tires. 

    S6 Avant ($58,700) is a high-performance sport wagon powered by a 340-horsepower V8. With that much power, the Avant's rear will be familiar to other drivers who try to keep up. The S6 Avant comes with the highest level of equipment, including heated front sport seats with 12-way power lumbar supports, gray birch wood trim, an in-dash six-CD changer and a 200-watt Bose audio system, and much more. 

    RS 6 (about $85,000) is a world-class luxury sports sedan with the heart of a race car. It's powered by a twin-turbocharged V8 that generates 450 horsepower and 415 foot-pounds of torque. Big brakes, a sports suspension and Audi's Dynamic Ride Control make for a complete, well-balanced setup. Only 1000 will be sold before the A6 line is redesigned. 

    Walkaround

    The Audi A6 is a handsome car, its rounded forms coherent and harmonious, the parts melding into the whole. There was a clear and consistent vision in the design of the A6, apparent in the curve of its hood line, the sculpting of the tail and the arch of its roofline. There's nothing that looks out of place. Even Audi's four-ring logo looks as if it were designed for this car. 

    A close look at the Audi's exterior reveals the tight fit of panels and doors, contributing to a richer look and reduced wind noise. 

    Dual exhaust tailpipes grace the rears of all A6 models, differing for each. The taillights have cylindrical back-up lights and turn signals with red outer lenses that flash amber. Up front the A6 has clear glass headlamps, with high-intensity Xenon headlamps optional on all A6 models. 

    The RS 6 features a split grille with large intakes that feed the intercoolers. Brushed aluminum trim, a rear spoiler, a unique rear bumper, and oval exhaust ports distinguish it from other A6 models, but it's subtle. Most people won't notice, but enthusiasts will. It's available in bright red and blue colors, but several testers voted for the gray. 

    Interior

    The interior of the base A6 is sumptuous and worthy of this class of automobile. Not only are the shapes pleasing to the eye, everything touchable feels like it belongs in a luxury-class car. Everything looks and feels like high quality. 

    The front seats of the A6 3.0 are well cushioned, but not deeply bolstered. Non-sporting drivers will prefer these seats, as they provide all the lateral retention they'll need for comfortable everyday driving while not requiring a climb over the side bolsters. There's lots of headroom, but the tallest drivers may find it has less legroom than the E-Class. Rear headrests, especially the center, impede rearward vision somewhat. The outside mirrors are on the small side, but larger than those on the E-Class. 

    The rear seat is contoured for two, though it will accommodate three adults even if cross-country trips would result in more intimacy than usually desired. There's plenty of rear legroom and headroom, though the rear seat bottom could use a little more support in the center. 

    The dash is well laid out, with controls that are easy to operate. Driver and passenger can set their own temperature. The sound system is easy to operate. Wood is tastefully used on the dash, center console, and door panels. Instruments are white-on-black in daylight, but at night illuminate in a jet-fighter cockpit red. It looks high-tech, and is theoretically better for night vision. 

    The A6 interior is a nice place to be and Audi's attention to detail is evident: Assist handles over the doors return softly when released. Front and rear seats have reading lights, and there are footwell lights front and rear as well. The door handles are also illuminated for easy nighttime exit, and a red LED light illuminates the center console area with a soft glow. Two cup holders are provided, both clever designs that take up minimum space and work well for standard drink cans. A small flip-down armrest holds a small cell phone, but there's not much cubby storage in the A6. 

    The leather in the RS 6 is buttery soft. Padded leather door inserts are in a contrasting color and have just the right amount of gather. The roof liner in the RS 6 is one of the best we've ever seen, made of alcantara that continues down the insides of the A-pillars. 

    The trunk is commodious and tall, with articulated hinges that don't enter the trunk itself: no more crushed grocery bags or wasted cargo space. With four cargo tie-downs and a cargo net, there's no reason for stuff to be rolling around the trunk. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold down for additional cargo capacity. 

    Driving Impression

    All Audi A6 models share crisp and accurate steering and a perfect balance between smooth ride quality and sharp handling. Even the RS 6, with its high-performance suspension, rides smoothly with no trace of harshness. A6 is peaceful at highway cruise, with only the slightest ruffle of wind noise around the A-pillars, noticeable only because the rest of the car is so quiet. A6 is extremely stable at high speeds. The steering is very precise, yet smooth, not darty. 

    The suspension on the A6 3.0 is on the soft side of sporty, providing the comfort that most buyers want, while still maintaining the driving control one would expect from a German car. Audi's complex front suspension yields absolute control in wet conditions, and that's with front-wheel drive and traction control. It's even better with Quattro. In dry conditions, the front-drive Audi A6 has none of the torque steer common with high-powered front-wheel-drive automobiles. 

    The new 3.0-liter V6 gives the base A6 energetic performance in just about any driving situation. We drove the A6 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in northern Virginia, where the engine performed eagerly on uphill grades. Yet it was like a silent partner on the expressway. 

    The 2.7 T is designed for more spirited performance with a broad band of torque (258 pounds-feet from 1850-3600 rpm) for quick acceleration performance. With the five-speed automatic, it's capable of 0 to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds, according to Audi. 

    A6 4.2 covers the 0 to 60 run in 6.7 seconds. More important is the torque from this 300-horsepower V8, 295 pounds-feet from 3000 to 4000 rpm, which gives it excellent passing performance. 

    The RS 6 delivers lots of torque and the twin-turbo V8 emits a satisfying rumble when cruising that reminded us of a race car. The passing performance is fantastic, as we learned on sweeping Arizona highways. Punch it and you're immediately around slower vehicles. 

    The standard five-speed Tiptronic automatic that comes on most A6 models is smooth and responsive. We don't miss having a manual. RS 6 features paddle shifters on the steering wheel that are handy for quick downshifts. Leaving the shifter in the auto position allows a quick downshift for making a pass, which automatically upshifts. It will hold it in gear if it detects you are going through curves. We felt little need to use the manual feature. 

    The six-speed manual gearbox found in the A6 2.7 T shifts smoothly and is enjoyable to use. The manual allows the 2.7 T to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.0 seconds, according to Audi. 

    A6 3.0 comes with Audi's new multitronic continuously variable transmission, or CVT. Bottom line: It works great, with seamless performance and it's very smooth when cruising. It's more responsive than a traditional automatic transmission. (A6 3.0 CVT can accelerate from 0 to 60 in just 7.1 seconds, according to Audi.) Most people don't realize it's not a traditional automatic transmission until told otherwise. And that's really all you need to know about it. Until recently we weren't impressed with CVTs in cars. They seemed a better match for snowmobiles. But Audi's CVT changed that impression. Audi's CVT is more responsive than a conventional automatic. It delivers marginally quicker acceleration performance, according to Audi. Because it lacks a traditional automatic's power-sapping torque converter, the CVT also delivers better fuel economy; EPA estimates 2 mpg better in city driving. The shifter looks like a traditional automatic with Tiptronic. Put it in Drive, and the A6 accelerates much like a car with a conventional transmission. Whether at light or heavy throttle, the engine gains rpm satisfyingly as the car accelerates. It's not the one-to-one relationship that a conventional automatic provides, but the ear and eye agree that the engine and the car are both accelerating. The transmission never actually shifts gears, of course, but it mimics a conventional automatic in feel. 

    Summary

    Audi A6 is a brilliant luxury sports sedan. It comes with a beautifully detailed interior that's just as comfortable for long trips as it is for the morning stop-and-go. Steering, handling, braking are all excellent. They are balanced well with a smooth, firm ride quality. A6 3.0 is the softest, RS 6 is the firmest, but none of them is harsh. Acceleration performance depends on the model, ranging from quick, to very quick to blistering. 

    A new A6 is on the horizon, however, so be alert for deals. 

    Model Lineup

    A6 3.0 FrontTrak with CVT ($35,700); A6 3.0 Quattro with Tiptronic ($37,450); A6 3.0 Quattro Avant with Tiptronic ($38,650); A6 2.7 T ($40,850); A6 4.2 ($47,800); S6 Avant ($58,700); RS 6 (about $85,000). 

    Assembled In

    Neckarsulm, Germany. 

    Options As Tested

    Premium Package ($1950) includes glass sunroof with power tilt and slide, auto dimming interior mirror with compass, auto dimming power folding exterior mirrors, Homelink, 3-position memory front seats, Xenon headlamps, multifunction steering wheel; rear Parktronic ($350); Cold Weather Package ($625) includes heated front seats and ski sack; rear side airbags ($350). 

    Model Tested

    A6 3.0 ($35,700). 

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    Read 2003 Audi A6 2.7T 4dr AWD Quattro Sedan reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Audi A6's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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