Review Audi S6 Avant


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SEE ALSO: Audi Buyer's Guide

2002 Audi S6 Avant: Uberwagon
Base price: $58,700
Price as tested: $61,875
EPA mileage: 14 city/21 highway

By Des Toups

Given the almost weekly introduction of oddly shaped vehicles by automakers 
staking out territory in that new automotive niche, the crossover, it seems 
clear now: The Holy Grail is a car that can haul plants back from Home 
Depot. At 100 mph. In a snowstorm.

That would make the Audi S6 Avant -- a marriage of all-wheel-drive 
security, cushy versatility and 340 burbling horsepower -- the ultimate 
crossover. The S6’s throaty V-8 and sharp reflexes offer the kind of 
effortless athleticism a three-ton sport-utility could never hope to 
provide, yet its manners are far friendlier than the high-strung moves of a 
sport sedan. It’s a subtle, expensive-looking wagon that hauls butt but 
carries no Mommy-mobile or midlife-crisis baggage.

Of course, for 60 grand, it <I>should</I> be good.

The A6 sedan on which the S6 Avant (Avant is Audi-speak for wagon) is based 
is among Audi’s older platforms, regarded highly for its clean lines, 
high-fashion interiors and sure-footed handling. It’s never been known for 
speed.

A 4.2-liter V-8, a slightly detuned version of the motor that powers the 
ultra-luxury S8, changes that perception dramatically. At idle, the S6 
gives off the wonderful tick-tick-tick enthusiasts love, but the engine is 
never intrusive except when the accelerator is floored. Forget the 0-60 and 
quarter-mile numbers (they’re great, but who drives like that?) and revel 
instead in the kind of thrust that builds confidence. Power is abundant and 
instant even at low speeds -- you'll never hesitate to enter urban traffic 
– and passing is over in an eye blink. Knowing your car will do what you 
ask of it is the ultimate in safety. Of course, it’s a rush, too.

Power reaches the pavement through Audi’s Quattro system, which sends half 
the muscle to the front tires and half to the rear. There’s zero wheelspin 
at launch, even if you left-foot brake and rev the engine first. Otherwise 
the all-wheel drive is invisible, with no binding in the steering or 
feeling of friction in the powertrain.

The link between motor and driveline is a five-speed automatic, which can 
be left alone or pushed into what Audi calls Tiptronic mode, allowing the 
driver to control up- and downshifts manually. It’s useful for the 
mountains and a great toy for gearheads, but irrelevant for 99% of the 
driving most of us do. I’d rather have steering-wheel controls for the 
radio rather than the redundant shifter buttons there now. Left alone, the 
transmission offers easygoing, unobtrusive shifts in routine traffic. A 
“sport” mode holds the transmission longer in each gear (right up to the 
7,000 rpm redline) for better acceleration when you need it (like dusting 
off the Z28 in the next lane).

The automatic does seem reluctant to shift into second when trundling 
through parking lots.

Steering is light but not touchy, and it requires more effort the faster 
you drive, as it should. The S6 tracks like a train on the Interstate, 
little affected by road ruts that keep sport-sedan drivers on their toes 
and absolutely impervious to the crosswinds that push big’n’tall SUVs to 
and fro. Even with ultra-low-profile 40-series tires surrounding its sharp 
17-inch alloy wheels, the S6’s ride is relatively serene, calmer than you’d 
guess, given the car’s immense capabilities. Still, these aren’t winter 
tires, and anybody who lives in the Snow Belt should consider a taller, 
all-season tire. Ride would certainly improve and the handling should 
remain bulletproof in every situation but a racetrack.

Inside lies the interior that launched a thousand imitators, a mix of 
soft-touch vinyl, aluminum accents, red lighting and leather. The suedelike 
material on the seats and headliner is a particularly neat compromise, 
offering the comfort and grip of cloth with the rich feel and look of 
leather. Other than tiny, Chiclet-size buttons on the powerful Bose stereo 
and in-dash, 6-disc CD changer, there are no annoyances inside.

Five adults fit comfortably, and four like kings (especially with seat 
heaters all around). This is a car, though, and a thronelike driving 
position isn’t part of the deal. You sit relatively low, but relatively 
large mirrors and easy-to-see corners take away any real feeling of 
vulnerability.

There’s no third seat in back, just 36 cubic feet of well-finished cargo 
room, far more than in the heavyweight BMW X5. Capacity doubles with the 
back seats down, and it’s accessible at a lower-back-friendly height. Strap 
bikes to the 57-inch-high roof (about a foot lower than the typical SUV) 
and you won’t hyperextend a muscle.

I love the lack of pretense in the S6. There are no strips of body 
cladding, running boards or brush guards to mar its clean look with faux 
outdoorsy cues (those are the province of another A6 wagon variant, the 
Allroad). And while there are mild hints of the remarkable power and 
handling underneath (bigger wheels, fat tires, a low-slung look), anybody 
in search of bait for a trophy spouse had best look elsewhere.

The only real competitors for the S6, for now, are the go-fast versions of 
the Mercedes M Class, the M55, and the X5 4.6is. Both offer similar speed 
and all-weather traction, yet neither has the anything close to the grace 
found in the S6.

Anybody in real need of a sport-utility, who tows a boat or bogs through 
mud, should have one, of course. But it’s always amazed me that those who 
don’t live an off-road life so willingly give up the advantages inherent in 
a smoother, quicker car. The S6 is a rolling showcase for those advantages, 
and it takes its driver only <I>one</I> try to park at Home Depot.

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