Natascha McElhone and her gorgeous cheekbones are one great reason to watch “Ronin,” a 1998 John Frankenheimer movie featuring plenty of backstabbing and double-crossing and Irish dialect, but the better reason is to witness some of the most incredible car chase scenes ever filmed. Among them, a first-generation Audi S8 is careening around Europe at the hands of actor Skipp Sudduth, whose character, unfortunately, doesn’t make it to the credits.
I watched “Ronin” the night before taking Audi’s brilliant new A6 sedan for a rousing ride through the Santa Monica Mountains, about 36 hours after a rainstorm pelted Southern California. Now, I’m not saying that the performance turned in by the Audi S8 in “Ronin” inspired me in any fashion, but I will say this: the 2014 Audi A6 could use run-flat tires.
The A6 Rocks, but then Doesn’t Roll
As I neared the end of an exhilarating drive, one that had me thinking of applying the adjective “astonishing” to the A6 3.0T’s acceleration, handling, steering, and brakes, I approached a blind right-hander with a steep hillside on the inside of the turn and a steep cliff on the outside of the turn.
Because I drive this road several times per month – and have for nearly two decades – this was a familiar turn followed by a section of straight road punctuated with a lumpy braking zone that’s perfect for testing a car’s composure on bad pavement. Drawing closer, however, it became apparent that recent rain had loosened the hillside, and that a sizeable rock lay in my lane of travel, a couple of feet on my side of the double-yellow line, right about where I would normally want to place the car’s left wheels.
I didn’t think I had time to brake, and, in any case, didn’t want the front of the car to dive and collect the rock into the underpinnings if there was a chance of straddling it. There certainly was no room to squeeze between the hillside and the rock, and I obviously did not want to cross the double-yellow line on a blind turn. So I went wider in my own lane than would be normal, and hoped for the best.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the rock was too big to fit under the Audi, and after contacting the underpinnings it blew both left tires out as I rounded the corner at about 45 mph.
To the car’s credit, the A6 remained utterly surefooted during the impact and subsequent dual flat tires. I pulled it to the shoulder, hit the hazard lights, inspected for signs of damage and fluid leaks and, feeling confident that a tow to get new Pirelli P Zero Neros would have the A6 back on the road, hiked out of the hills above Leo Carrillo State Park to find a cell signal and make a phone call.
As it turned out, those were my last moments driving the A6. Rusnak Audi in Westlake Village, Calif., discovered that the rock had also bent both left rims, damaged the left front lower control arm, broken a couple of underbody shields, and had activated the pre-tensioning driver’s seat belt which, as a result, required replacement. Needless to say, the A6 needed to stay at the dealer for a while, so I schlepped over, retrieved my children’s car seats and stroller, and bid the beautiful and unflappable Aviator Blue A6 3.0T goodbye.
About our Test Audi A6
Redesigned for 2014, the new A6 is Audi’s mid-level luxury sedan, logically slotted between the A4 and the A8. I like the A6 better than either of its siblings. The car I tested was an extremely well-equipped model wearing a sticker price north of $70,000, about $30,000 more than a base Audi A6 2.0T.
Our sample A6 was equipped with the Innovation Package, which includes full LED exterior lighting, a Head-up Display, full-speed-range Adaptive Cruise Control, Audi Side Assist, Audi Pre-Sense Plus, and Night Vision Assistant. We didn’t test Night Vision Assistant, but everything else worked brilliantly, though the HUD is very difficult to see while wearing polarized sunglasses.
We also enjoyed a 1,300-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system complete with gorgeous tweeter speakers that rise elegantly from the dashboard, a Cold Weather Package with heated seats and steering wheel, and ancillary décor treatments.
From a comfort and quality standpoint, the A6’s interior is a terrific place to spend time, with a single exception. The array of MMI buttons surrounding the shifter on the center console is completely unnecessary, and could be construed as downright dangerous. While many of these functions can be performed using steering wheel controls, it seems that Audi ought to relocate the multi-media slots taking up vast amounts of real estate above the climate controls and below the MMI screen, and use that space for a power/volume knob, a tuning/sound knob, and a smattering of hard keys to control the radio.
While we’re talking about MMI, easily the least appealing aspect of the new Audi A6, we’d also suggest that the time has come for Audi to make the screen operate like a smartphone or tablet screen, one that features capacitive touch controls, and which can be swiped, spread or pinched with fingers. Cadillac is introducing that technology on its 2013 model lineup.
The Hardware Story
Our test car also came equipped with a Sport Package that added a sport suspension, shift paddles on the steering wheel, and 19-inch aluminum wheels. This certainly helped contribute to the A6’s stunning athleticism on our favorite mountain roads near Malibu, where the Audi A6 3.0T proved itself far more entertaining to drive than any of its competitors*.
Not only that, but we prefer the A6 3.0T to both the Audi A4 2.0T and the Audi A8 4.2. Equipped like our test vehicle was, the A6 simply feels better fastened to the road, free of the occasional shuddering through the steering wheel that we’ve experienced in its brethren. Driven with vigor, the car feels as though it is exempt from the laws of physics, telepathically tracking around corners like a slot car.
When kinky roads straighten out, the A6 3.0T’s supercharged 3.0-liter is always ready to draw from a deep well of 310 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Peak twist is on tap from 2,900 to 4,500 rpm, and peak horsepower is available from 5,500 to 6,500 rpm, producing instantaneous response to requests for additional power. Audi claims it takes just 5.3 seconds for this car to get to 60 mph. We believe it.
Better yet, residents of regions at altitude know that a supercharged engine gives up less of its power to thinner atmosphere, making the Audi a smart choice in places like Denver.
Standard Quattro all-wheel-drive is great for areas that experience frequent rain and snow, splitting power 40 percent to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear wheels for rear-biased handling. As a result, the A6 displays impressive traction and grip, and we had an opportunity to power the A6 out of numerous corners during the weekend storm that ultimately dislodged that fateful rock.
This A6 3.0T is fuel-efficient, too. We averaged 22.1 mpg in a mix of driving, exactly what the EPA expects this car to deliver.