The process of writing a car review often feels like creating a “Mad Lib.” TTAC readers old enough to have taken a long road trip in the pre-GameBoy era may remember Mad Libs; they are little booklets with blanks for nouns, verbs, proper names and so on. One person comes up with the nouns and verbs, another person writes them into the blanks, and hilarity ensues. Car and Driver appears to be almost entirely written by Mad Lib nowadays, but those oh-so-seductive English big-format car rags aren’t above doing a little fill-in-the-blank action themselves.
One of the most common English tropes is the “(proper noun) package (verb)s this car.” Eager to demonstrate their Princess-and-the-pea powers of discrimination, EVO or CAR will solemnly swear that, although the BMW 514d xDrive six-speed estate wagon with M Package is an unspeakably horrible car, the addition of the Dynamic Badge Coloring option group “completely transforms the on-road experience.” A variation on the theme: the recommendation of a Byzantine equipment choice, with the solemn assurance that only this particular example fails to offend the reviewer’s selective palate. “The Cayman is only truly enjoyed as a 2.7 litre non-PASM car with sport springs, 18″ wheels, adaptive seats, embossed floormats, and short-throw shifter.”
With this in mind, then, I’m almost embarrassed to explain why I’m only going to assign three stars to the Audi A6 3.0T Quattro. Car and Driver, Mad-Libbing their way through another low-speed Hocking Hills crawl retold to readers as an impossible series of derring-do accomplishments, gave this Audi the top spot above the 535i, Jag XF, Infiniti M45, and Mercedes-Benz E350. It wasn’t this A6 3.0T, however. C/D’s test car had the “Prestige” equipment level, Sport package, and rang the register to the tune of $59K. Ours was a “Premium Plus” with standard suspension, more than six grand cheaper.
What do you get with “Premium Plus”? Well, you get a button on the console that says “Navigation.” Press it, and you’ll be told that “Navigation system is not installed.” Hmm. The screen between the tach and speedometer, which displays a full selection of colorful information in the “Prestige,” is recast as a Space Invaders-style monochrome readout more fitting to a base-model Rabbit. There’s no backup camera, no high-end sound system, and the car is started with the turn of a switchblade key. A Ford Taurus Limited is considerably better-equipped, and it’s twenty grand cheaper.
Some of that price difference is eloquently explained in the driving experience. I ran the car around Nelson Ledges Road Course for a day. I was well pleased at the Audi A6 3.0T Quattro’s absolutely trustworthy handling, even on the all-season tires fitted to our tester. It’s possible to do some very stupid things, like trail-braking the “Kink” at 110 mph to point the big trapezoid grille at the inside curb, without upsetting the Audi’s fundamental nose-heavy composure. The brakes are acceptable. Even if they aren’t quite up to the challenge of repeatedly stopping the car from triple-digit speeds, they’re better than what you’d find on the equivalent Bimmer.
The supercharged V6, denoted by the “3.0T” badge on the trunk and the nifty little faux-carbon-fiber “Supercharged” insignia on each fender, is merely okay. On the road, it feels characterless. The powerplant never quite as strong as Audi’s rambunctious direct-injection V8, which it’s meant to replace. Over the course of ten laps of Nelson Ledges, heat-soak makes its presence known. Each successive exit onto the front straight feels softer. If you’re in the market for an A6, or for the S5 coupe, do yourself a favor. Get the V8 while you still can. It’s infinitely superior to this blown six, in sound, power, feel and feedback.
Alternately, you might consider saving up another ten grand past the price of an A6 4.2 and picking up a base A8. The difference between the A6 and A8 isn’t readily apparent on paper, so I’ll try to explain it here. The A6 is a very good “regular car,” while the A8 is a German D-class sedan. There is an extra layer of liquid-feeling insulation in every one of the A8’s controls, from the steering wheel to the shifter.
The A6 is shaken by bumps which fail to trouble the larger car. The A6 is quiet; the A8 is relaxing. The A6 tracks down the freeway very well, but the A8 feels as if it could follow the dotted-white line by itself. Open and close the door on both cars, and you will know immediately which one you prefer.
To make the A6 the victor of their mid-size sedan test, C/D had to ratchet-up the “Gotta Have It” score. It’s ironic. The Audi mid-sizer fails to exude any sense of “Gotta Have It” whatsoever. It’s a pleasant, handsome, somewhat anodyne automobile, nearly completely devoid of passion. With a V8 and the Prestige equipment, it has a powerful sort of techno-presence. As a mid-liner V6, let’s just say that “the (noun) fails to stir the (noun).”