- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

She's a thirtysomething mom with two pre-school children, and she was quite taken with Audi's new S6 Avant.
"It's like a sports car, and then you step out of it and it's a station wagon," she said. "Perfect for me."
Precisely. That's what the Audi people intended when they crafted the 2002 S6 Avant Quattro. It's based on the A6 midsize station wagon, but its heartbeat is a 4.2-liter V-8 engine that delivers a pulse-pounding 340 horsepower.
It doesn't stop there. There's an all-aluminum sports-suspension system with stiffer shock absorbers and springs, high-performance tires mounted on 17-inch alloy wheels, speed-sensitive steering, all-wheel drive, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist and a tightly wound five-speed automatic transmission with a Tiptronic manual shift control.
This sort of high-luxury performance machinery has come into vogue in recent years, particularly from German manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz has AMG-badged land rockets all across its burgeoning lineup, including its M-Class sport utility vehicle.
BMW does the same thing, except it uses the M designation to distinguish its high-zoot models. And Audi substitutes S for A to tell the cognoscenti that a given model has the performance package.
But Audi did the full monty to distinguish the new S6. The fenders are flared, there are prominent dual-exhaust pipes poking out the back and superbright xenon headlights are part of the standard equipment. It's a handsome package.
The major distinguishing feature, however, is that the S6 comes only as a station wagon. Audi's competitors favor sedans and SUVs for their hopped-up models. So if you want or need a wagon, or simply the cachet, in this performance class, the S6 is the only game in town.
As was the young mom's impression, the S6 makes you quickly forget that you're driving a station wagon. It is, without question, among the more exhilarating automobiles you can find anywhere on the planet, regardless of body style.
Zero-to-60-mile-an-hour acceleration comes in a wisp over six seconds, with top speed governed by the manufacturer at 155 miles an hour not something you're likely to achieve anywhere in the United States.
For puddling around in an urban setting, you simply place the transmission in the drive position and the S6 exhibits a docile personality that would comport with any midsize family station wagon.
But wait. There's also an S, for "sport," shift slot that invokes the grrrr for "grunt" or "great" mode. It forces the five-speed automatic to hold itself in the lower gears longer, which makes the whole setup feel like you're constantly in a kickdown passing gear.
For even more driver input, there's the Tiptronic manual shift program, which allows the driver to decide when to upshift or downshift. It is controlled either with the shift lever, or as on some race cars with rocker switches on the steering wheel.
Handling is slot-car steady. At almost any speed short of disaster on twisting roads, the S6 simply hunkers down and goes where you point it. The tradeoff is a ride that will feel stiff to some, but it's also supple and compliant to the point where pockmarks in the road seldom bother the S6's composure.
However, the S6 is no bare-bones racer. It has all the accouterments of the finest luxury sedans.
Inside, the heated seats (with power adjustments and memory) are big and comfortable for both front and rear passengers.
On the test car, the seats were leather and Alcantara, a suedelike material that is nice and grippy on the tush and back. The question is whether it will get shiny or terminally soiled as the car ages.
The three-spoke steering wheel is covered with leather, as is the shift knob, and the polished birchwood inlays are stained a classy gray.
A six-disc CD changer, part of a booming Bose stereo system, nestles in the dash, along with the automatic climate control, and there are side-curtain air bags to protect both front and rear riders.
All of this performance and luxury, obviously, does not come cheap.
Because of the high output of the V-8 engine, which runs best on premium gasoline, the fuel economy is so dismal it prompts the government to slap on a $2,100 gas-guzzler tax.
The rating is 14 miles per gallon city, 21 highway. You'll likely get less.
Nearly fully equipped, including a power sunroof, the S6 has a suggested retail price of $59,275. Tack on a few minor options (the Alcantara seat inserts and the heated rear seats), along with the gas-guzzler tax, and you're looking at $61,875.
But if you can swing it.


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