There was nothing to suggest the gleaming 3.2 FSI manual example sitting in the car park would be any different. Until I drove it: I can’t remember being so underwhelmed for a long time.
Audi marketeers have been pushing how powerful and sporty the new A6 is. With the model we tested, it’s almost as if engineers had taken a list of what makes a car sporty out of My First Car Tuning Book – big, powerful engine, stiff suspension, sensitive throttle, beefy brakes, six-speed gearbox and accurate steering.
The A6 ticks all these boxes and no doubt lots of people patted themselves on the backs for it, but in achieving these feats nobody put them together. They’re just a disparate set of highly – perhaps overly – efficient functions.
There’s no choice of an auto option on the front-wheel drive 3.2 FSI, which means you either have to go for the £26,000 2.4 Multitronic or the £33,525 3.2 FSI quattro auto. Either would be preferable, because the light clutch is irrtiating and awkward to use smoothly, with little feel for the biting point. Even when you get it right there is a clunk on many shifts.
The electronic handbrake is also a pain in the manual, as it can only be released if you have your foot on the brake, which means hill starts could prove tricky unless you can heel-toe or dance from brake to throttle quickly.
The throttle is also too sensitive through its first inch of travel for an executive saloon. So is the brake pedal, where there’s very little resistance early but that’s where all the braking power is, so stopping progressively is hard. All this means simple stopping and going requires an inordinate amount of concentration.
Then there’s the ride quality. Audis are always firm but our version, with the £300 Sports suspension and optional 17-inch wheels, was stiff and uncomfortable. It makes motorway cruising a niggly affair, while on A and B roads the car just never settles. Avoid drain covers at all costs – it hits them like a sledgehammer.
This stiffness would be fine if the steering was as involving but even by Audi standards, it feels disconnected. So the car fidgets while the steering maintains a Buddha-like calm, which is an odd mix.
The 3.2-litre FSI engine is fantastic, though. There is a constant stream of power and it sounds wonderful. With 250bhp, it’ s a quick car and there’s plenty of grip even with only front-wheel drive.
The interior is also put together beautifully, but for your near £30,000 you get non-electric cloth seats, black and white MMI display screen, CD player and climate control, and that’s about it. Even metallic paint is £600 extra. At least there’s lots of room in the back and the boot is cavernous.
I imagine living with certain supermodels is like this. It looks gorgeous, but is aloof and awkward and you never feel as though you’ve got to grips with it. It’s not a car you could fall in love with easily.
Buy an A6 with an automatic gearbox and avoid the Sports suspension, and you’re getting a much more complete, rounded model than this disappointing car.
Audi A6 3.2 FSI SE
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £30,525
CO2 emissions (g/km): 240
BIK % of P11D in 2004: 34%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 17
Combined mpg: 28.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £10,925/36%
Depreciation (31.22 pence per mile x 60,000): £18,732
Maintenance (3.70 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,220
Fuel (14.18 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,508
Wholelife cost (49.10 pence per mile x 60,000): £29,640
Typical contract hire rate: £663 per month
At a glance
Three rivals to consider
All these cars have manual transmissions and six cylinders, but the Jaguar and Alfa Romeo are the best two when it comes to equipment. The S-type has electric memory leather seats, metallic paint and 17-inch alloys as standard. The 166 boasts the same size alloys, leather seats and a six-CD player. The BMW and Audi have cloth seats and 16 inch wheels, although metallic is free on the 5-series. All have automatic headlights and windscreen wipers.
Alfa Romeo £29,702
When it comes to servicing, the Alfa Romeo is way off the pace at 5.00ppm, while the Jaguar leads the way at 3.29ppm. The disparity between the worst and the best is marked. It’s about £1,100: the S-type would cost just over £1,900, while the 166 is a hefty £3,000. The BMW is rated at 4.16ppm, although if fleets opt for the £1,000 Service Inclusive package, they will save a little extra money. At 3.70ppm, the Audi puts in a respectable performance.
Alfa Romeo 5.00ppm
Alfa Romeo would not be too concerned with such dour issues as fuel consumption with its top-of-the-bill 3.2 V6 engine. Instead, it concentrates on glorious noises and silky performance. It shows, with its 22.6 mpg combined figure and 17.69ppm cost. The other three are more evenly matched, although BMW’s excellent straight six is the best and would cost £8,076 over 60,000 miles.
Alfa Romeo 17.69ppm
A definite split between these four cars, with the two German machines performing much better than the British or Italian vehicle. The BMW is the best again, losing 31.04 pence every mile, thanks to a CAP RV of 41%.
The A6 is next best at 36% and 31.22ppm, while the S-type just hangs on at 34.29ppm, although it would lose nearly £2,000 more than the BMW. The 166 gets trounced. CAP values it at a terrible 24% after 60,000 miles, and it would lose almost £22,000.
Alfa Romeo 36.31ppm
Simple truth number one: the 166 costs a fortune to run. It is the most expensive in all areas of wholelife costs and would rack up more than £35,000 in lost value and running costs over the three years. The A6 and 530i do very well, and are both nearly 10ppm less than the Alfa Romeo, with the BMW marginally ahead, thanks to its excellent residual value and fuel costs. It would cost £29,150 to run, and the A6 is barely £400 more expensive than that.
Alfa Romeo 59.00ppm
Emissions and bik tax rates
Yet again, the 530i proves to be the best when all the calculations are done, with a 40% taxpayer paying £4,035 in 2004/2005 thanks to its low-ish emissions. The A6 proves the bridesmaid to the BMW for the fourth time with a tax bill of £4,128. Despite high emissions, the low P11d price of the 166 saves it from a clean sweep of last places, with a bill of £4,158 while the S-type’s higher P11d would land the driver with a £4,490 charge.
Alfa Romeo 297/35%
Despite its high specification, gorgeous engine and stylish appearance the Alfa Romeo fares so badly on running costs that a fleet would find it difficult to justify. It’s much closer with the other three: the Jaguar has the highest equipment levels and the Audi is the biggest, most powerful and best-looking. But the 530i has the best manual gearbox here, drives very well and has excellent running costs. It wins.
WINNER: BMW 530i SE