It's hard being the middle child. You're neither eldest nor youngest, first nor last. You fight constantly for the attention that automatically seems to come to your "better-ordered" siblings. The oldest is praised for his elegance and sophistication; the youngest for his sportiness and innovativeness. Where and what does that leave you? In the case of Audi's middle child, the A6, it leaves you with the best attributes of both siblings.
The all-new Audi A6's sportiness is obvious at first glance. The low-slung windows, the coupe-like bow curve of the roofline, the slightly curved hood, the visually striking trapezoidal grille and the subtly upturned rear end give the executive-class sedan an aggressive appearance from every angle. It's a welcome change. Think of a professional athlete versus an amateur one. The amateur may be dedicated, but the professional means business.
That professional demeanor is also apparent on the inside. Audi is known for its excellent interiors, and the new A6's raises the company's benchmark up several notches. The cockpit is completely driver oriented. The instrument panel and upper center console are encased together in one frame, and the center console's fascia is angled toward the driver. A slight glance right and you're able to see clearly and reach easily all the knobs, screens and buttons that influence your driving experience.
Audi's easy-to-comprehend Multi Media Interface (MMI) system is standard on the new A6 and adds to the functions the driver can control at the turn of a knob, including the optional adaptive air suspension (first introduced on the A8L). The A6 also gets the first of Audi's new steering wheels. Most noticeable on the four-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel is the four rings surrounded by a representation of the new trapezoidal grille. A simple yet effective reminder of the A6's new presence. (A multi-function version of the new wheel is standard on the A6 4.2 quattro.)
Said presence doesn't forsake elegance and comfort for sportiness. The 12-way power leather front seats with four-way power lumbar offer infinite adjustability so that even the fussiest of sitters can find a just-right position. For those who prefer sporty to elegant, the A6's interior is trimmed in aluminum (standard on the 3.2 FSI), while traditionalists can choose from brown walnut or beige birch wood trim on the 4.2 model. There's also more space inside, giving rear seat passengers more head- and leg room
With elegance comes luxury-and electronic toys-and the new mid-sized sedan doesn't scrimp here, either. The A6 boasts a DSP sound system with 10 speakers and a six-CD changer. Also standard are a tire-pressure monitoring system, satellite radio preparation, phone preparation with Bluetooth interface, coming-home/leaving-home lights and a rain sensor. The 4.2-liter version also features a power sliding/tilting glass sunroof, three-position driver seat memory, Homelink, adaptive bi-xenon headlights and premium leather upholstery. (Note: the sunroof, multi-function steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, wood trim and a Bose premium sound system are part of a Premium option package for the 3.2 FSI. Homelink and driver seat memory are part of the Convenience package.)
Other options for both models include rear Parktronic, DVD nav system, power rear and manual side sunshades, sport seats and Advanced Key (a keyless start/stop function similar to Mercedes' Keyless Go).
The models' key differentiation is, of course, the powertrain. The 3.2 FSI quattro is powered by a 3.2-liter V6 FSI (fuel stratified injection, but not really-see sidebar on page 40), outputting 255 bhp at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3250. The 4.2 quattro has a 4.2-liter V8 with 335 bhp at 6600 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed Tiptronic transmission. An 80-bhp gap would appear to make the smaller engined A6 a bit of a dog. Not so. I drove both versions (3.2 liter first, 4.2 second) on the autostrada and up and down narrow, curvy foothill roads. In every instance, the 3.2 FSI was eminently capable of smoothly propelling, and keeping, the 3,703-lb sedan at decent a rate of speed-0 to 62 mph is reached in 7.1 sec. The V6 also emits a lovely sound; not as deep in timbre as the V8, but nonetheless pleasing to the ear.
Audi's six-speed Tiptronic transmission is well known among automotive enthusiasts and needs no introduction here. Updated for the recently introduced S4, the six-speed automatic is adept at handling the power output of both engines, shifting seamlessly in either automatic or Tiptronic mode. Being able to shift via the controls on the multi-function steering wheel simply adds to the A6's overall fun factor.
Another system whose name says it all is quattro. The vaunted all-wheel-drive system is standard (for North America) on both models. When combined with the new A6's stiffer chassis (torsional stiffness was improved 34%) and its dynamic suspension system, quattro allows you to drive the sedan as though it were a sports coupe. The suspension setup consists of enhanced four-link front suspension and self-tracking trapezoidal-link rear suspension, a combination featured on all quattro models. Whether flying through tight turns or gentle sweepers, the A6 never once felt nervous. With the added benefit of ESP (Electronic Stabilization Program) and Servotronic (speed-sensitive steering), the A6's handling was always precise and controlled. A sport suspension setup is optional as part of the Sport package, which also includes 18-in. alloy wheels with performance tires.
The standard rolling equipment for the 3.2L are 16-in. seven-spoke alloys with 225/55-16 all-season tires; 17-in. nine-spoke and 18-in. five-arm wheels are optional. For the V8 version, 17-in. 16-spoke wheels with 245/45-17 all-season tires are standard and the above mentioned 18-in. wheels with performance tires are optional.
On the 3.2 FSI quattro, deceleration is executed by a 16-in. brake system-meaning the minimum size wheel that will fit over the brakes are 16s. The system includes 12.64-in. ventilated front discs and 11.89-in. rear ventilated discs. The 4.2 quattro comes with a 17-in. brake system: 13.66-in. ventilated front discs; 12.99-in. ventilated rear discs. ABS is a given, as is EBD-electronic brake-force distribution. And in keeping with Audi's safety record all the prerequisite systems, both passive and active, are present on the new sedan.
As is the usual case on long-lead press events, I spent too little time driving the all-new A6: a few hours in the 3.2L, followed by even less time in the V8. While I was able to get a good feel for both cars, the time spent was just enough to whet my appetite for more. The driver-centric interior, the purposeful new look and the powerful engine choices all combine to create a true driver's car. The all-new A6 banishes the stigma of being a middle child. It deserves attention and merit all on its own, no matter what its siblings have achieved.
FSIThe Benefits Of Being DirectThe launch of the new Audi A6 also marked the introduction of a new V6 direct-injection gasoline engine. The 3.2-liter power unit has a top output of 255 bhp and 243.4 lb-ft (330Nm) of torque at just 3250 rpm, 90% of which is available between an impressive 2400 and 5500 rpm.
One of the principal factors in achieving these figures on a naturally aspirated engine is the higher injection pressures possible by spraying fuel directly into the cylinder. In the 3.2-liter V6 FSI, fuel is injected by a newly developed single-piston high-pressure pump at between 30 and 100 bar, compared with roughly 8 bar in a comparable indirect-injection unit. Internal cylinder compression is also considerably greater, with a ratio of 12.5:1 instead of the normal 10.5:1. On top of this, the intake stroke also incorporates a two-stage variable intake manifold, which moves flaps to create the tumble effect necessary for an effective fuel/air mix. This all leads to a more homogeneous mix in the cylinder and therefore more complete combustion, giving you more bang for your buck and cutting fuel consumption.
With only 3.2 liters and no turbochargers to help it out, the power and torque profiles for the V6 unit are pretty impressive. It gets the new A6 to 62 mph in only 6.9 sec. and has a top speed limited to 155 mph.
Now, Audi is no stranger to direct gasoline injection, having first used it in 2001 to power its Le Mans-winning R8. The improved power profile and lower fuel consumption possible using FSI were proven by an 8% improvement in fuel consumption-cutting down fuel stops-and a convincing 1, 2, 3 romp through the finish line.
Rather ironically, Audi's first production application of the technology was in the diminutive and decidedly unsporty A2, alongside much pontificating about the fuel-saving credentials of direct-injection technology.
But the benefits were not best demonstrated in its little 1.6-liter power unit. Touted as an economical city car, with the benefit of 110-bhp performance, the A2 failed to live up to the claim of useful performance with low consumption-the reason being that direct gasoline injection is better suited to larger capacity, higher performance engines.
However, the 1.6-liter unit is blessed with something that the Le Mans engines didn't have-a two-phase combustion profile. Under full load the engine works in "homogenous" mode, in that the fuel spray is spread evenly throughout the cylinder for more complete combustion. In "stratified" mode, the fuel spray is restricted to the area immediately surrounding the spark plug, resulting in localized combustion and using a proportionally smaller volume of fuel. This is fine, as long as you spend the majority of your time tootling around under partial load.
But the truth is that most of us simply don't drive like that.
It is a further truth that the majority of smaller capacity engines spend more of their time under full load, whether accelerating between traffic lights or motoring along the highway. This means that the fuel-saving benefits of stratified combustion spend a large proportion of their time being upstaged by the homogeneous mode.
Recognizing this, Audi has installed the worthy performance benefits of homogenous combustion into the 3.2-liter V6 unit without bothering with the stratified bit.
Although there is still a benefit in terms of fuel consumption-the A6 3.2-liter V6 FSI achieves 24.4 mpg-the positioning of the technology is now more directed at the performance benefits.
The fact that the "stratified" phase has been ditched is only an issue for those concerned by what FSI actually stands for-Fuel Stratified Injection.
As long as you don't mind the "S" being an interloper, I would suggest you simply accept that this is actually the purpose for which FSI was always intended.
Grilling The DesignerI must confess that my breath wasn't exactly bated as I awaited the unveiling of the new A6 at the London end of Audi's satellite-linked so-called big bang. This wasn't because I didn't expect to like it, nor was the star-studded event dull. No, the lack of anticipation was quite simply because I rather knew what to expect.
According to Claus Potthoff, Audi's Chief of Exterior Design, this was quite intentional, particularly with regards to the new single-frame grille design. "It was, very important to us that the show cars from last year already introduced this topic, as well as elements of the new form language," he said. "When new elements appear there is a proportion of the public that are impressed by the change, and some that are less certain, and these are the ones we wanted to address with the show cars."
Audi is steering well away from the shock tactics employed recently by certain of its competitors and, with the A6, is staying close to its preference for elegant understatement in its design language.
Claus talked me round the car on the stand of the Geneva Show, and gave me a few insights into the design thinking that shaped the latest addition to the family.
"We wanted to develop a design language that, on the one hand, carries forward the qualities of the predecessor, such as precision and clarity," he explained, "while, on the other, introducing what we could call a more sporty, sculptural attractiveness."
I have noticed in many design interviews I have carried out with designers from several brands that "sculptural" is in. How it is interpreted, however, would appear to be highly subjective.
"We wanted to achieve a more muscular, sculptural form than the technical emphasis in the body of the previous A6, or on the current A4," continued Claus.
Everywhere, the influence of design boss Walter De'Silva can be spotted. The new single-frame grille design is definitely his baby, while the sharp edge flowing along the side profile is another element that observers will recognize, not only from the new A3, but also from Spanish manufacturer SEAT and even Alfa, De'Silva's previous employer.
However, it's not just the obvious elements that are important. Claus points to one or two more subtle details. "The car is noticeably more dynamic and elegant from the fundamental proportions," he pointed out. While retaining much similarity with the outgoing model, Claus' team achieved subtle changes through a wider stance, larger diameter wheels and an increase in length, while maintaining the same overall height. The front wheels have also been moved forward, placing them further away from the A-pillars and shortening the front overhangs.
Speaking to Claus, it is apparent that the new front end is by far the most important feature of the new model, with the rest of the car playing largely a supporting role. The grille, of course, is what stands out. "It says, 'This engine needs a lot of air'", he said. This is part of the brand's new emphasis on sportiness. It's all about power, power and more power. Not only does the aggressive grille give onlookers something to think about, the lines of the bonnet have also been designed to create the impression of a longer, more dominant engine bay.
But what of this artsy-fartsy sculptural stuff? Claus reminds us that recent Audi design history has been peppered with sharp edges and clean lines. "On the one hand, we continue to employ sharp edges, to present precision," he explained. "On the other, what you can see very clearly on the front wings is that the form is significantly more fluid and voluptuous than before.
"The way light plays on the surfaces themselves gives them more life and demands more attention," he continued.
The back end, Claus confesses, may give the first impression of being rather conservative (ahem, not just the first impression pal). However, he is keen to point out that there is a reason for this. "In conveying the sportiness of a car, it is very important to demonstrate that it is firmly planted on the ground," he explained. The positioning of the rear lamps are very important for this, and they have been placed substantially lower than on the previous model in order to achieve this effect.
Claus pointed out that Porsche uses a similar strategy on its 911. "For a sports car, it has a relatively high cockpit," he commented. "But the low rear lines and lamp arrangement push it onto the ground."
While the rear end may be nothing surprising at first glance, Claus is of the opinion that its qualities will show through on the road by giving the overall car a very good, sporty proportion. "At the rear end, this is more important than simply finding a new look from every angle," he said, not making a dig at anyone in particular.
Now, I took on board his comments, and promptly toddled off to Italy for the press launch of the car and, lo and behold, the lad's right. On the road, the car looks truly stunning. It normally pays to reserve judgment on a car's visual appeal until you see it in its natural setting, i.e., on the road, and never was that truer than in the case of the Audi A6. My initial feelings that it may be a tad conservative were blasted away by its stance, proportions and, of course, its new face. Some may miss the curvaceous rear of the old model but, on the road, there's no doubt that the new-look tighter ass makes the whole package a great deal more sassy.
Whatever you may think when you see the press pictures, wait until you see it cruising the freeway. It's mean.