May 1, 2004

Road Test: 2005 Audi A6
Article by: Gavin Conway, UK Correspondent

It is late afternoon on a crowded Italian highway. Up ahead, a long black Audi sharks through the traffic, scattering battered Fiat Unos and Puntos before it like startled minnows. My co-driver frowns and wrinkles a brow, fixing a steady stare upon the middle-distant Audi. "Is that a new A6?" he asks. "Or is it an A8?"

And therein lies a clue to one of the most significant facts about this all-new Audi A6, recently launched in the suburbs of Lake Como and Milan. This is Audi going for the gold in the prestige executive class so viciously contested by the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes Benz E-Class and Jaguar S-Type. And a major plank in the A6's campaign is size, with swelling dimensions that move it closer to the luxury cruiser segment occupied by its own sibling A8, as well as the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes S-Class.

Indeed, this is a much larger car than the one it replaces, with an extra 83mm between the front and rear wheels, 45mm more width and a big 120mm increase in overall length. In short, this is the widest and longest car amongst its European competitors.

So what do you get with the extra inches? Well, there's more legroom in the back, more shoulder room all round and a much bigger trunk. In fact, the trunk is even larger than that in big brother A8. In real terms, all this extra space means that four of fellows of my size would be very comfy schlepping across the continent in an A6. And I'm a deal taller and wider than average. On any such adventure, luggage space just wouldn't be an issue.

Bigger it is, but the new A6 still looks very Audi, a gently evolved and more aggressive version of the car that came before. That new corporate face generates the most visual drama - Audi calls it a `trapezoidal single-frame radiator grille'. It's a bit out of keeping with the otherwise restrained elegance of the A6's form, which gets a nice visual lift with the deep, rising swage line that runs the length of the car just above the door sills. So the A6 is a handsome and well-proportioned beast. But in a world where car designs are shouting for more attention in a crowded market - see Chris Bangle and the BMW controversy - the new A6 just isn't terribly exciting to look at. Too evolutionary, perhaps, and not brave enough.

Grab hold of the chunky door handle, climb in, crump the door behind you and settle into one of the finest feel-good cabins on the market. The quality's there - we'd be horrified at any other result, given Audi's track record - but it is the detail that really makes this cabin special. Even little things like the interior door handles are beautifully crafted bits of aluminum, and the aluminum inserts (you can have wood if you like) in the doors and around the centre console are equally gorgeous and very `Audi'.

The new A6 also gains a version of the Multi Media Interface (MMI) system pioneered on big brother A8 as a standard-fit item. This controls radio, ventilation, navigation and other systems through the use of a simple controller working with function buttons and an easy to use menu. If that sounds vaguely techno-scary, don't worry: it really is one of the most intuitive and easy to use systems I've ever encountered. And I'm a Luddite.

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