Last but not least, I drove the Audi A6 2.7T S-line with a base price of $63,200 Cdn. Although one could argue the current A6 styling is "dated" vs. the recently redesigned BMW 530 and Mercedes-Benz E320, no one would disagree with the notion that the classic clean lines of the A6 are still a thing of beauty. I guess "timeless" would be more appropriate. The Jury is out on the "love it or hate it" styling new generation BMWs. I know many BMW enthusiasts that are not enamored with their latest creations. To be fair, their interior redesign and technology advancements are world class, I-Drive arguably being the exception. The Mercedes-Benz styling department was definitely more conservative then BMW. The styling evolution of the product line is conservative yet tasteful.

The C5 S-Line, with a little more grunt in the horsepower department (265HP) over the previous model year's 2.7T, and much improved handling characteristics, gave me optimism that the Audi would hold its own vs. the 530's. The A6 behaved very well through the slalom section, displaying strong acceleration, good steering response and minimal body roll. The quattro system was flawless.

Through the pothole section, the I could really feel the firmer ride the S-line suspension setup delivers. During the 180-degree left hand sweeper the driver was supposed to accelerate to about 60 km/h approaching the accident avoidance section. The A6 was firmly planted as I exceeded the recommended speed through this sweeper causing me to actually have to apply the brakes to bring it down to 60. Cornering was precise with minimal body roll. I veered left then right and aggressively hammered the brakes to the stopping cone. Flawless. The ABS performed as expected.

As I mentioned earlier, I had witnessed the A6 drifting all four wheels off the final skid pad section. Now it was my turn. Remember, maintain speed at 30 km/h, no brakes, no throttle, and yikes, off the skid pad we go... Could the quattro system on this A6 have been tampered with? No, surely BMW would not stoop to this level.

After close examination, my initial suspicions were confirmed. The A6 had over 14,000 kms on the clock and the Continentals had virtually no tread left! The other test subjects had under 2,000Kms with plenty of tire tread. At the conclusion of the test, I approached the on-site BMW marketing rep and in my most politically correct tone commented, "It would be interesting to try the A6 again with decent rubber". He just smiled and responded, "the A6 had been driven hard throughout the national road trip". At that point we were ushered back to the hospitality tent to complete the post-test surveys.

In conclusion, my finalists for this comparo were the BMW 530 with Dynamic Drive package and the A6. I base this opinion on "bang for the buck" and "soft" criteria like styling, ergonomics, and all-season drivability, especially in Vancouver where it tends to rain in the city and snow in the mountains during the winter season.

If I had to pick just one then the A6 was the winner edging out the 530. It's tough to beat the surefootedness of quattro, timeless styling, and value for money that the A6 delivers. Throw on winter rims and tires in addition to the quattro system for the winter season, and you have an all purpose, all season luxo-sedan that will leave the competitor's standing in the rain/snow.

It would be interesting to see how the 2005 A6 will compare in this format. Perhaps Audi should consider doing a similar comparo, under their terms.

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